Uncategorized

Thank you, Mister Robinson!

This week in New Zealand we have farewelled a servant of public broadcasting . Geoff Robinson presented the Morning Report news programme for forty years and today he stood down and headed into the new shores of retirement.

Many listeners have sent messages of thanks to Geoff for his service to the public, always being there during really hard times such as the Christchurch earthquake. He really was an anchor for the public. But it was far more than his long service that listeners appreciated. They loved his calmness and his ability to get answers without being belligerent.

For me, Geoff represented the face/voice of public broadcasting in New Zealand. He was there to serve the listening public. He was a public servant and served our country and its democracy with pride.

Thank you so much, Geoff. As politicians we used to pray outside the studio doors that we would get you, and not your partner…but I learnt that with your quiet manner you often got closer to the real argument or issue. You were not ever impressed with pretension. Nor did you treat us as royalty: we were and are human beings.

Public broadcasting is about keeping the community informed; about serving the community and meeting its diverse needs. It is not about making a profit for shareholders, or obeying the leader of the country, or pleasing certain sections of the audience at the expense of others.

For those of you reading this from England, I am tempted into that old cliche, that you may not realise how lucky you are with the BBC. While New Zealanders do still have a public broadcasting radio service, it does not have a public broadcasting television service. TVNZ is still owned by the government. It is , however a state-owned enterprise and is expected to return a profit. So it advertises around its programmes, and with that, the notion of service to the public takes back seat to winning an audience for specific advertisers and their products.

This sorry state of affairs began with the freezing of the television licence fee. And that immediately led to cuts and to looking at other ways to fund the service. The licence fee was finally abolished by the National Government in 1999.

So, to UK readers, does this sound familiar? the Tory backbenchers are always attacking BBC and urging that the Licence fee be abolished. And I think it has already been frozen which has seen the inevitable cuts to BBC programmes/stations.

Back in NZ,funding was allocated to a body, known as NZ On Air instead of directly to TVNZ. This body was to use the funds to ensure that  New Zealand programmes were made. And although that is so very important, as was the agreement to play 25% NZ music on all radio stations, it is not the only focus of what public broadcasting is.

The exception was Radio New Zealand which did receive money directly to provide not just for programmes but for the running of two nation-wide stations.

Apart from Radio New Zealand,  we the public of New Zealand are not served well by our publicly owned media. They do not provide objective analysis. The television is celebrity driven. There is no equivalent of Newsnight or the Channel 4 news.

So please do not ever be persuaded to look for funding for public broadcasting that is dependent on a government to provide or advertisers to pay for.

And to future Ministers of Broadcasting in NZ….I know that media has changed ( here am I writing a blog)…but maybe someone will get the urge to rebuild a real public service television channel…just one..and keep on funding Radio New Zealand.

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National Standards

Thinking about National Standards in NZ.

So today, I went on to the NZ Ministry of Education website to read all their material on National Standards.

First up. I dislike the name, and not for the obvious reasons that a former Labour member of parliament might dislike the name….NATIONAL standards.

I dislike the notion of a standard in learning. It is too definite, too black and white.

But I did like the description of criterion-referenced assessment, as long as this was only a conversation between the teacher, student and student’s parents. This was because words were used, not a conversion to percentages and numbers. And because it did seem to enable the teacher to gain confidence in knowing the next steps. However, some may not need this and may have a sound professional reason for trying another way forward to tackle punctuation or whatever the problem was.

When I began teaching in the 1970’s, I was not sure what students in the then Form Three should be able to do. Instead the students would write some paragraphs on a topic, and I would work through the areas in which they could improve, because my simple objective was that wherever a student was, they could improve.

The standardisation did not really begin until School Certificate, and if you were a marker there were some wonderful arguments about what marks a piece of writing deserved. That is why I am suspicious of National Standards: I can remember the arguments!

But in simple terms with National Standards this has now all shifted to students from age 5 to 18. And I do not like this. I do not like each child having a number assigned to them against which their personal progress is recorded. This occurs in England. As a teacher I can enter Raise-on-Line and look at the progress of my students  before I even meet them. I can see what standard they can be expected to get by the end of the year. And here is the sting in the tail, as a teacher I can be held accountable if that student does not make the plotted progress.

Don’t misunderstand me. I want all teachers to work with their students on improving their skills. I never ever want to hear a teacher say, as I did hear in NZ and in England, “These students cannot learn because they live in those streets….”. But there are better ways of working with teachers to improve progress for all students than National Standards.

There are two really scary aspects of National Standards.

The first is with narrowing the curriculum. Imagine not reading all of Romeo and Juliet, but just concentrating on the  love sonnet, the balcony scene and say  the final deaths of both Romeo and Juliet. Many teachers will do this and text books will be written by the same examination boards, focussing on say these scenes, speeches. Why? because that is what the examination board will ask questions on ( this will be made quite clear), so why waste precious time really enjoying all of Romeo and Juliet…just study in depth the parts that will be examined, because it is important for your students to get the required grades. And the students will know the vocabulary they should use and the examples given to get these grades. This is machine learning….in fact it is not learning at all.

The second scary aspect is the school league tables. I finally found the New Zealand version as published on Stuff. I compared my two local primary schools and I was so so sad. What is the purpose of doing this? Is it to give parents choices so they choose the school where children are above the national average? This is treating education like a commodity, that is bought and sold. What do those statistics say about bullying in the playground? What do they say about opportunities for leadership/creativity/ exploration by the students? And neither do the ERO reports say much, if anything about those issues either.

So I do not wish for the system and practices that lie around these so-called National Standards.

I do want to have guidelines as to what an average child ( whatever that is) might be able to do, or what we might aim for them to be able to do, aged nine in mathematics.

But I do not want that to become a personal record for each child , or a measuring stick for teacher and school to be judged by.

In England they worried because more and more students began to attain the necessary grades. So now their Minister says that the standards are too easy and they readjust them. It becomes a nonsensical game.

Please, please New Zealand, do not go down this path. Do not have little five year olds sitting tests and crying from fear and confusion as has been reported from California.

PS dear readers, soon I will learn to do links…I know that I am scoring below average in this skill. But to hell with the score. I know that links will show evidence to back up my assertions!!! I do not need a score to tell me this.

 

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student progress

How is progress measured?

The New Zealand Minister of Education noted in an interview that the government was considering new ways of improving the funding of new Zealand schools.

“The government is considering” is a phrase to cover either there is a working group inside the Ministry looking at this issue, or this came up in a recent conversation.

I tend to think that there is a group inside the Ministry of Education reviewing funding mechanisms for school.

For readers of this blog from outside New Zealand, schools here receive funding for everything apart from total capital cost of new build and salaries of teachers. Each school receives a staffing allowance of the equivalent of how many full-time teachers will be paid for by the government. So a school might receive finding for 84.65 FTE (full-time equivalent teachers) and this will include time for special duties as senior reading teacher or Head of mathematics etc. Unlike in England where you you receive  bulk moneys for staff, so it is of advantage to replace an experienced teacher with one at bottom of teaching scale. Our unions in New Zealand fought a very successful campaign against bulk funding which has made it just a little more difficult to begin performance pay for everyone. Although I do have big worries that this is in the wind following the publication of Morris/Patterson study.

However the worrying element of the Minister’s comment over funding linked to student progress is that this too can reinforce  performance pay.

Her comment was really about performance pay for the school. The school would receive more from the government, if its students could demonstrate progress during the year.

In simple terms that does sound good. because we all want our students to make progress. But for most of us progress is defined in a number of ways. It can be that a student stops using “gay” in a pejorative sense; it may be that a student has completed a task when their prior history has been to give up; it may be that the student who is a reluctant reader has read five books at home in last month. These are all elements of progress.

But the English method of measuring progress is both more strait-jacketed and convoluted than that. And there is always the outsider measuring whether progress has been made in every lesson that is observed.

So in England we have Raise-on-line data and also the data collated by Fischer Family Trust (www.fft.org.uk). Every child is in the system from the first time they are “measured”, and then their expected progress is plotted. So a child of a lawyer and a medical doctor who scores well initially will be expected to make 5 levels of progress  between the ages of nine and fifteen. While the child of immigrant cleaners will not be expected to make so much progress. This is a very bald description and I do apologise…you can find clearer descriptions on their websites. So, if in your school the students are not making expected progress then under Hekia Parata’s proposal the school will not receive as much money. And that could affect a well-to-do school as much as a school in Manukau.

That was the problem I was sent in to address in a school in a well off town in England. But the measurement is still based on the tests: pen and paper tests on a very very narrow curriculum. I was thrilled one day when the shyest girl in my year nine English class gave an explosive and well argued speech about how it felt to be constantly looked down on because she came from Essex. But according to the tests she only made minimal progress that year. I saw differently.

And this is the crux: as teachers we are professionals. We are making judgements every day. We adapt our classes every day to ensure the progress of different students. I want my wide-awake thinking students to grapple with a different point of view from what they are familiar with. I want my shy one to be listened to..you get the picture. Those progressions cannot be measured by tests.

I and all teachers love and are committed to progress for every learner. Tying money to that progress will mean that progress will have to be measured and therein lies the major major problem!!

 

 

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Uncategorized

Support for caution re. Leadership proposals

This morning as I was struggling on my get-fit regime, I was so heartened to hear the news that NZEI (a teacher union in NZ) was working with their members on the proposals announced by the Government on school leadership. They were not just rolling over with hands outstretched for the money.

I have some real doubts on the model proposed. Because there seems to be an implicit decision to have an executive principal working with up to ten other schools. That was me doing the sums in the original announcement.

So who are these executive principals?

Are the other schools to be worked with to have any choice in the matter? If I had been asked to work with a Principal whose education values I strongly opposed, I might well have resigned.

In the group do we all have the same issues?

I tried to do something similar in Northampton three years ago. It only took off when the heads chose who would be members of the group. When I, as a Council adviser, tried to put the schools together, two school heads walked and went to other schools. But the school initiated grouping has taken off. And they have managed to stay away from being academised or taken over. I understand that similar things are happening in Birmingham.

Teachers know who they can work with. They want to see constant improvement. They want to work together…but like all other places of work they do not want to be forced to collaborate: it is an oxymoron!

Note to readers: I am planning to do more responses that are shorter as well as my more detailed essays. In planning is a response to the paper by John Morris and Rose Patterson.

My nervousness about the direction of New Zealand education is increasing. The Morris/Patterson report introduces performance pay.

Then there is a report that ERO are using a school’s national standards score as an indicator of success.

And yesterday the news that charter schools are exempt from the obligation to have trained teachers.

All these strands build into a floodtide pushing NZ down the way of worst examples from USA and UK.

New Zealand does not need this. Yes  improvement is a must on the agenda of every teacher and school.

And dear readers, any hints as to layout or topics would be greatly appreciated. I seek improvement in using this new tool.

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Uncategorized

Meet Mick Waters

As I have been reading, I chanced on “Thinking Allowed on Schooling” by Mick Waters.

It is brilliant.

Mick explains the English schooling system in detail, as well as giving  an historical perspective. It is this perspective that resonates with educators from other states. You get an insight into the driving forces of politicians…and it rings true to me. I got involved with a political party when as a Principal I had become despairing of the nonsense spoken by politicians. But politics is very strange…I became Minister for Environment, rather than playing a lead role in education!…another story.

But not only does Mick put all the changes in English schooling into perspective, but he gives hope.One of the things that has worried me while writing this blog ( very much in the beginning stages) is how dismal a picture I paint of English schooling, when I am aware of how much brilliant teaching and learning does occur , in spite of the system.

Mick refers often to wonderful happenings in schools up and down England.

And not only that, at the end of each chapter, he concludes with a dot point list of  ‘What We Should Do?’ pertinent to what was discussed in that chapter.

Who is Mick Waters? I had heard of him from my colleagues in Birmingham City Council School Effectiveness Division. Mick has been in every part of the education system: student, teacher, head teacher, teacher trainer,local government education authorities ( Birmingham and Manchester) and before it was dismantled, the QCA ( Qualifications and Curriculum.)

I have never met him personally, but I am ever grateful to the Dunedin Public Library for purchasing a copy of his book for their collection. I have since bought my own online copy.

For teachers in England, he does give some ways forward at all levels…things to enact in the classroom, school organisation, and broader actions to take back the ownership of schools from the ideologues.

For New Zealanders and other readers of this blog around the world, you will find such connection with the concerns we all share and it will give you time to reflect about next steps.

This is not an advertisement as such, because Mick Waters is donating any profits to Shelterbox ( disaster relief).

from page 19:

” We need an ‘education spring’ – a rising of intolerance about the way schooling is being manipulated in a piecemeal and uncoordinated way to serve too many purposes with unclear measures. We need to build a rational, apolitical debate and ensure that schooling moves away from undue, short-term political influence.”

from page 170 on what good teachers do…

“Create limelight for every child. There are children in the school system who seem never to get noticed….they never get asked to sort out the cupboard, feed the fish or water the plants. They never collect money for Poppy Day and they never meet the mayor. Some get so fed up with this that they do bad things just to be seen. Surely every child should at some point be acknowledged, applauded, celebrated, praised or recognised by their fellows. Every child should experience the limelight on themselves.”

“Teachers are amazing people. The vast majority are extremely committed to the pupils they teach and believe they are part of the development of society. They enjoy being with young people and seeing them grow. They grapple with the challenge of making the world make sense to youngsters, whatever their background. However, many of them are worn out and many more are caught in a game they don’t fully understand.”

Just from these few quotes I hope you want to explore this book more. I did find it on line as well…..for those into e-reading…I now have to learn how to make notes as I read on line instead of annotating in pencil on the margins of a Paper book.   We never stop learning and adapting…that is the joy of living!

 

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Accountability in education, education, New Zealand, performance pay, schools, Uncategorized

Performance Pay:Sounds good but does it improve learning for students?

Thanks for all the interest, particularly from England, although I am trying to attract New Zealand readers, because I do not want New Zealand to follow the English schooling model.

This is the third blog on education comparisons between England and New Zealand…it is on the vexed question of performance pay.

My major concerns are the unreliable ways and measurements to be associated with annual appraisals which affect whether the teacher gains a pay increase; the disconnect between performance pay and improved learning for students and the thorny question of what happens if all our teachers are outstanding all the time…can we afford this, or will the goalposts shift?

One of New Zealand’s teacher unions, PPTA, clearly acknowledges in their blog, Pigeonhole  of 24 January, that we all are engaged in a level of performance pay. If we do not turn up for work, we do not get paid. If we are appointed to Head of Science, we are paid for the extra  responsibilities inherent in the job. So obviously there is some performance pay.

And in England it has been similar.  When a teacher takes on extra responsibilities and is awarded a TLR, they are being paid for performance.

A subtle change was introduced in England when teachers had to prove that they were achieving prescribed standards to meet the threshold for the Upper Pay Scale. Again this had problems. because awarding this was dependent on the professionalism of the classroom observation systems extant in the school. If the proof depended on unsubstantiated judgements of an HOD, there could be issues. In recent years Ofsted has been asked to check the systems. In one school the report agreed with the process in one part of the report and in the other noted that there was no whole school action on graded lesson observations.So there was a lack of consistency in the judgement, or the members of the inspection team did not join the dots or ticks.

But from September 2014 all that has changed. Previously a teacher, in England, in his/her early years could expect to move up the pay scale automatically. That has now gone. And in September 2014 any movement will be determined on how well that teacher has performed in the previous school year.

And the performance appraisal is based on the revised Teachers’ Standards, which  came into effect in September 2012.

The Standards themselves are worthy, although a little daunting for a beginning teacher. Well I do not think I would have had the confidence to enter teaching if I had had to meet all these every day, for every class in my first years. In fact I have strong memories of my first Principal at Hillmorten High School, quizzing me on how many of the 28 lessons that I taught each week would be excellent. I staunchly replied that all of them would be. He looked me in the eye and said I would be lucky if two were!!! or otherwise I would be burnt out by end of the first term. And he was a principal who really understood about building excellent teachers and future leaders. At least four of his HODs became successful principals in their own right within the next ten years.

But, I digress. The problem with these standards is the alignment with pay progression and the turning of abstract goals into concrete proof for performance pay purposes.

As I left England and English schools , different schools were introducing appraisal grids for staff approval. These grids were to be the means by which core teachers would be measured  for their appraisals and  consequent recommendation for a pay rise in September of 2014. I saw schemes which stipulated that if you were going for your third pay rise in about the third or fourth year of your teaching then the last three lesson observations had to be scored as outstanding. And that would mean that all the students in those last three observed lesson had been making rapid progress in each of those lessons. Every English child has their progress expectation mapped out based on  previous recorded scores and other variants. As teachers in England you access these through Raise-on-line. So, no troubles at home for students or teacher, no weather events, nothing untoward in those last three lessons! This is unreal. In fact trying to make that into a measurement is dishonest.

Classroom observations were only one facet of the grids…the grades that your students made would also affect your pay rise chances. We all want students to make progress: we would not be teachers otherwise. But what of the English examinations of January/July 2012 when the grade boundaries were changed between the two sittings? Such inequity in the future could well affect student results and teacher pay.So if these grids are to work, everything in the system must also be working perfectly, which is a little unreal if my experience of the last five years is any proof.

I am not sure how you judge effectively whether your teaching has promoted children’s intellectual curiosity, especially if they have had to engage in rote learning of the monarchs of England.  But promoting children’s intellectual curiosity, a worthy teaching standard, also formed part of the appraisal that determined a pay rise. How is this judged objectively? As I write I am sure that right now some consultant will be designing a course to show how this can be assessed and how you the teacher can score an outstanding grade.

And in this judgemental environment, you would also be judged on how effective your relationships with colleagues was….another worthy teaching standard. I find this ironic, when the one matter which will militate against collegial support and development will be this pay performance routine.

The disconnect between performance pay and improved learning for teachers. Like every citizen I want to see learning improve. But the accountability systems being put in place to check whether improvement is actually happening, work against such improvement in reality.

A key measurement in England are the test/examination results. Summative assessment can have a stultifying affect on a student’s curiosity….well more on the teacher’s willingness to let such curiosity flower. I doubt whether any English  Year 10 classroom would allow a class to read several  plays by the same playwright as one extension class did at Hagley High, nor to spend time on the South Brighton  ( NZ) shore line measuring erosion. There was no exam attached…but teacher and students were learning successfully and they were negotiating what they explored, which in itself has value.  The examination prescriptions make a mockery of the wonderful ideals in the curriculum. But what teacher whose performance is now measured by exam results and lesson observations will leave those prescriptions aside and really develop a student’s curiosity and ability to argue. This is the risk of such a system.

It is like stating that a Cabinet Minister be measured by the quality of answers to oral questions in the House. Who judges? Who agrees the criteria for outstanding?… the Speaker, the Opposition, the Journalist? And what difference does this make to the health of our democracy?And if such a system existed, then the oddball who brings life and a different perspective will be shut out by the standard for outstanding politician and corresponding pay rate. As I write this I worry about how unfortunately similar some of our politicians are.

And the final issue with performance pay is to follow the stated reason for performance pay to its conclusion. The objective is to improve teaching standards.If the policy succeeds in practice, then all our teachers will be outstanding and on the top of the salary scale. Has this been budgeted for? Or will there be a ceiling applied and then comes the comparison between who is outstanding and who is not really as outstanding as the other, because the school budget cannot afford to have 100% outstanding teachers.

Mr Gove argues that he is trying to narrow the gap and lift all state schools to the level of private school. There is an assumption within that , that I do not agree with. But I might buy into it a little way if the funding per pupil was the same. That way a school can afford to have 100% outstanding teachers and the support systems and staffing to work with the full range of staff.

Performance pay in schools is a political construct. It has nothing to do with better learning opportunities for students. They are all different and need exposure to a range of styles. It is that range that is likely to disappear. The risk taking, the diversions will all go.

There is no need for the Associate Minister to go to Shanghai. England is well on the way to producing a one size fits all model that has nothing to do with learning and everything with accountability that purports to be measurable.

I believe that this system has crept up on the English schools, with all the different pieces of the jigsaw being introduced innocently. Each piece looks harmless, until aligned with the others. In new Zealand we need to be very conscious of the component parts that lead to this.

 

 

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Accountability in education, Uncategorized

My Experiences in England: lessons for New Zealand education.

My aim is to write a number of blogs on different aspects of schools in England. Governments, both Labour and Conservative, wanted to see major improvement for all students in England. They therefore began the search for accountability, and in so doing have created formulaic responses that in the worst cases have taken the creativity from teaching and from learning.

I will focus on the following:

Judging a lesson

Performance-related pay.

Teachers’ Standards

Judging a lesson. When I left teaching in New Zealand (1996) we were edging towards improved lesson observations. We were building the expectation within schools that every term someone would come in to observe the learning in your classroom. I must admit that the emphasis was more on the teaching than on the learning. We were exploring hierarchical observations vs collegial observations. We were building programmes which focussed on teacher growth rather than on judgement.

So I was surprised to find in English schools a wealth of advice on how to judge a lesson, led by the published Ofsted guidance on lesson observations. Lessons were graded, as were schools: outstanding, good, requiring improvement ( was called satisfactory until 2011) and inadequate. In most schools these observations were carried out by HODs or members of  the senior management team. Sometimes the observations were announced and sometimes unannounced.

Until last year the quality of teaching/learning was not related to teacher pay. That has now changed. But the records of observations done by the school were asked for by the Ofsted inspectors and those who did the observations also did observations with the inspectors to have their ability to classify verified by the Ofsted team. So the  routine practice of lesson observation was seen as particularly important in assessing the school.

If you go online you will find many many guidelines, books written on what makes a good or outstanding lesson. Ofsted expected that such observations were routine within a school. In some schools that was not so, and school leaders had to learn how to observe. And so a wealth of courses grew up and consultants and books. It became an income source for many in the consulting industry, and a cost to schools particularly at a time when local government education support was being cut back. Such support is now privatised.

I am confident that I could always classify teachers into outstanding, satisfactory or needing support, and as a principal in New Zealand I did, but not based on one lesson and not using that terminology or recording it. And yet I did see this happen in England, although I do believe that that was very poor practice. Poor practice saw these observations become judgemental rather than supportive. Poor practice saw the judgements recorded, but the necessary support not eventuate, leaving the  judged teacher losing confidence in their teaching.

And even more serious is when that judgement is based on half of one lesson alone.So much can happen within a lesson. The teacher may be trying group work for the first time. Not all students are going to adapt to that with fully focussed learning from the very first group work exercise. Under poor observation practices and judgements, because all students are not showing progress in their learning the lesson can be judged as inadequate or needing improvement. That mitigates against risk taking and experimentation. You might be observed just when you are trying out a new way of student learning.

Another issue I became aware of was the fine line between a good lesson and an outstanding one. In an out standing lesson every student is making rapid and sustained progress. While I can make that assessment for a class of students over a term, I find it really difficult to make that judgement over part of one lesson. And maybe it would not matter so much if these judgements were not so vital to a whole judgement of the school or to one teacher seeking promotion or a pay rise.

Every classroom teacher In England is expected to have a lesson plan, detailing what they expect to be learnt in that lesson, and detailing what levels each student is currently at, and what specific learning needs different students have. And that is good, but it can be turned into an exercise to please the senior management, rather than a means to teach better. It is possible to have all that written out, ready to be handed to the observer, and the learning still not be meeting the different needs of each student, because the teacher does not know how to do this. So sometimes the tasks become a barrier, another hassle rather than a means to improving the learning. In a good school, the support would be in there before the observations had highlighted the problems.

When an observation is made it is now common practice to ask one or two students to describe what they had learnt in that lesson. Student voice is really important in lifting standards in schools, but  in the wrong hands it can be misused. On the other hand students can be wonderfully honest. I watched  as one student advised the Ofsted inspector that this particular lesson , in which the student was obviously bored, had been taught twice by that teacher in the last week and the student thought that it was being repeated for the inspector!

The other activity carried out by most lesson observers is to look at a range of student exercise books. The aim here is to look at the feedback that the teacher is giving to the student. Feedback is very important, and  parents often complain that their children’s homework is not marked. A tick alone is not feedback that can help the student improve. Again in England there are a range of guidelines and advice on the different ways to feed back positively to the student. Sometimes that feedback is tailored to how the student might attain their target grade for that term in that subject and where the particular piece of work fits in. So an exercise book where there are no grades or advice or targets mitigates against that teacher gaining a satisfactory grade for their lesson.

In a judgemental school where the senior team are trying to lay blame for poor progress on the teachers, the observation routines can become a means of putting teachers down, rather than of lifting the learning.

Lesson observation is a positive means to improving how we teach. But when  this tool  is used for pay  and promotion purposes and for judging the school, it becomes a whip, something to be feared, rather than something to be welcomed, because you, the teacher can learn from it.

I believe that where we were in New Zealand in the 1990’s where observation was collaborative and supportive, is where observation can be of most benefit. I value observations including the emphasis on feedback to students, the use of the student voice and evidence of knowledge of where each student is at in their journey, but I am very wary of how these good practices can be abused and actually work against good learning and teaching.

Most importantly, the purpose of such lesson observations must be clear. They cannot serve two different purposes: lifting the learning and teaching within a school AND a tool for pay/promotion progress. That confusion of purpose endangers the really good things that can come out of a positive observation practice within a school community. Sadly, it is in schools where their relatively poor student achievement indicates that improvement in learning and teaching is urgently needed, that the different purposes of lesson observations can become so confused and where poor practice in observations is the norm.

My next post will be on performance-related pay and what has happened in England.

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Uncategorized

Is school leadership the answer to lifting student progress?

One of my favourite sayings is that attributed to Lao Tzu:

“The worst leader is one whom the people despise; the good leader is the one whom people obey and acclaim; but the best leader is one  whose aims are fulfilled and yet the people say ‘we did this ourselves’ “.

I was reminded of this saying when the current government in New Zealand announced a major boost to education expenditure,  focussed on improving student progress by introducing the concept of executive principals and change principals.

The Executive Principal will be expected to lead a group of 10 schools and focus on the improvements needed. There will be 250 appointments. There are 2538 schools in New Zealand. It will be interesting in the South Island with schools such a distance apart, finding ten schools that want to engage with each other!

There will be 20 Change Principals appointed. They will be appointed to schools who are judged to be struggling and whose Boards cannot afford to pay the extra money to attract an effective leader.

There are several assumptions here. How is a struggling school defined? And is a great leader  one who will be persuaded to apply only because of a possible $50,000 extra each year of the appointment? Or is there some other way of assessing great leadership potential?

I have just returned to New Zealand after five years working in education in England. Three years were spent working in local authorities, supporting schools  deemed from their examination results to be failing. The last two years were as a interim head teacher, put into a school whose results were not as they should have been. The  English experience has left me with much to reflect on.

It is my assessment that reliance on a Principal to achieve the necessary change is not the healthiest long term answer to lifting student learning.

Five years ago in England, the notion of hard and soft federations was being actively explored. These were schools who volunteered or were persuaded into a federation with another school. The hard federation included the appointment of a joint Governing Body and of an Executive head teacher/Principal. The soft federation left the governing bodies and head teachers for each school in place and provided some money to allow for collaboration etc.

These federations always needed the school that was being helped to improve to see that there was a need to improve, and that there needed to be changes. In my experience with a range of programmes, initiated from Whitehall, and actioned by the local authorities, there was normally an element of force applied within a short timeframe. So there was definitely little time allowed for  honest self analysis and acceptance. It was not unusual to see the head teacher, most members of the senior team and some pivotal Heads of Department removed and paid out. Sometimes that would have been the best way forward, but there were other ways to achieve the same result for the students.

Federations were mostly achieved with State schools within one local authority. The Labour Government had also introduced academies. Most state schools in England receive their funding from the state after a % has been taken by the local authority for a range of support.

The first set of academies replaced local authorities with local businesses and new governing bodies. These local businesses took the % that had formerly been deducted by the local authority. These first academies were the struggling schools, and in the most part they were secondary schools. And the schools were not given choice : they were academised.

When the Conservatives formed their coalition government in 2010, they expressed the desire that all schools would become academies. And there became two forms of academies. If your results were good enough your school could apply to become an academy in its own right.  And thus they gained all the money from central government and there was no % for local authorities. It was very like Tomorrow’s Schools in New Zealand. Such ‘converter academies’ became autonomous units.

But still there remained those schools deemed by their results to be failing. With an end to local authorities having much role in school improvement, there was a stronger move to private companies and continued forced academisation. In another blog I will focus on the privatisation of education in England and the development of academy chains.

All the emphasis has been put on super leaders being the answer to student progress in learning. But the model has not worked in the short term. The schools in the academy chains, mostly those forced to become academies, have not had the rapid improvement that was expected of them, despite the super leadership and the attached bigger salaries.

The strongest school head teachers that I met and worked with in England either elected to stay outside the academy chains, or to work with other schools in mutual and agreed support. I did see a few remarkable leaders of hard federations, whose salaries did not increase and who were focussed on rebuilding those schools with whom they were working into independent entities as soon as possible. But they were rare.

A culture of depending on one person to lead a school through major change, begs the question of what do you do when that head teacher/leader falls ill, wants to retire, before they have built a sustainable school that can grow without a super leader.

And when you want to build communities of ten schools with an executive principal, as with the proposed New Zealand model, there is the issue of building a consensus among ten very different schools as to which are the issues that they wish to concentrate on and who is the best to be deemed the executive principal. I can see some fun ahead between primary and secondary schools. And do early childhood groups fit into this grouping?

Can a Principal who has demonstrated success in an urban decile 8 school be just as successful in a small town low decile school, where children do not choose to come to this particular school. Smaller schools can have so many different issues. Is there just one stereotype of leader which can be applied to all the different situations. Is there just one formula for a successful school, that can be applied universally without regard for the different learning contexts?

For the New Zealand government to have put so much money into this proposal does concern me. I do see value in collaboration. And I do see value in funding such collaboration, but the money should not be so much for the leader, but for teacher release, for coaching within the schools and for the very important first steps when schools analyse their strengths and weaknesses. This model requires facilitators, not executive principals.

We need to avoid the blame game and the judgement just on results. A school with good examination results can still be a school where bullying is rife. Learning is so much more than achieving good scores at whatever level. And successful leadership is so much more than the achievement of those examination results.

In my mind a good school is one where everyone claims a role in contributing to that success, where all the talent is used, where all the talent is recognised. Those who develop and work in such environments rarely put up their hands to be super or executive principals.

 

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Always the last to catch on!! Why I have begun writing a blog.

My name is Marian Hobbs.

Recently I have retired from daily timetabled work earning money.

Now i have time to think, to remember, to assess and to argue….and to dream of winning  Lotto to pay for the curtains!

So I want to do some of those things on line. I want to share my observations, memories and arguments.

I have had a busy life. Most of my working life was in education, as a secondary school teacher in New Zealand. I held most positions in a secondary school, although I never wrote a timetable! After seven years as a Principal of Avonside Girls’ High school in Christchurch, I entered the New Zealand Parliament as a list MP for the Labour party.

I served in Parliament for twelve years. For six of them I served in the Labour Cabinet. For nine of them I represented the wonderful constituents of Wellington Central. I have been both a list and a constituency MP.

In New Zealand, where the parliament is small in number, Ministers hold a number of portfolios. My main portfolios were Environment, Disarmament, New Zealand Aid ( as Assoc Min of Foreign Affairs), National Library, National Archives. There were some roles in Education, Biosecurity and Justice. The experience in these roles has given me access to ideas and viewpoints that I would not normally have been exposed to. I watch the news with different eyes now.

I want to share my observations with a wider audience. Education is my life work, and once I left the New Zealand Parliament in 2008, I travelled to work in England, to regain my privacy and to reconnect with the community. I worked in two local authorities: Birmingham City and Northamptonshire County. My work involved supporting schools not meeting the goals set by government, joining schools into a support network, preparing a school for being turned forcibly into an academy. In the last two years until I returned home to New Zealand in October 2008, I was headteacher at a secondary school in a market town in one of the counties. There is much I want to share from my English education experience. There are places that I do not want to see New Zealand going.

But while education is my life focus, from helping start a state alternative school without walls ( Four Avenues) when in my twenties…1972…to serving on the committees which wrote the Education Development Plan for NZ in the 1980s..to being a head teacher in the 1990s, I have also involved myself in the peace movement, environmental issues and issues around overseas aid.

So the blogging adventure begins with this my first post.

 

 

 

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