What keeps me awake at night: 'My heart says I'm successful, the data says I'm a failure'

4th September 2016 at 10:02
What keeps me awake
Ofsted fails to recognise that just teaching well isn't enough for some schools who are unable to fully engage some families, writes one secondary teacher

I am ten times the teacher I used to be.

When I qualified to teach in 2005 I got a job in a high achieving secondary school. I took my first GCSE class through KS4 and to my delight, they achieved 100 per cent A*-C at GCSE, significantly above the highest predictions and I barely drew a sweat.

Now I work in a small comprehensive school just a few miles away in a very economically deprived area. We have a very high percentage of students with SEN, EAL and pupil premium, not to mention the challenge of numerous safeguarding concerns, a large number of young carers and the biting invisible oppression of poverty. But, I love where I work.

We take everyone here because we're under-subscribed; kids failing at other schools to whom it is gently suggested they may wish to transfer before they are permanently excluded, asylum seekers, travellers, kids transferring to us half way through Year 11 with barely a word of English.

No school could get these kids five Cs under these conditions but gosh how we try. We support them, encourage them and we do it with compassion, humour and barrels of ambition.

It feels like I make a difference. I work long hours, I work for a good proportion of my holidays, I bring food and drink into revision classes to keep attendance respectable, to keep them motivated and to show to them that I value their effort. I scour teaching books and blogs for the latest good practice. I spend hundreds of pounds on resources that my sub £200 department budget could never stretch to and I do very well in observations.

I am very rarely sick, I am super teacher.

My job devours my life, there is nothing much left of me except what I do, but I do it damn well and this knowledge lifts me up and gives me purpose. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi would say I had my Eudaimonic well-being sorted!

Disappointing results 

However, every year in August I have a growing knot in my stomach. My results this year? Half what they were in my NQT year 12 years ago. Progress-wise? Not bad but not 70 per cent 3 LOP either.

But then there was that kid whose mum was an alcoholic and he was doing quite well but lost focus after Easter (about the same time dad got out of prison) and didn't quite do enough for his target grade B.

There was the lad with a chronic medical problem and 54 per cent attendance who missed his C by two marks; the lad who badly needed glasses but never had them and his parents never returned my calls or came to parents' evenings.

There was a bright but chaotic lad who rarely made it into school before breaktime because his family 'don't do' mornings and my delightful girls from Bulgaria who were doing so, so well writing complicated essays in a foreign language under a strict time limit (one of whom was also dyslexic) until one got a boyfriend and the other's auntie had a baby. She loved babies so much she'd skip afternoon lessons to go and play with it whilst auntie took a nap.

Whatever the reasons for this; poverty, low expectations, parental neglect or collusion or our own school's limitations in being unable to fully engage these families means for all schools operating in these conditions, just teaching well is not really enough.

'I am a failure'

According to the data ofsted will be scrutinising this year I am a failure, along with several other hard-working colleagues.

I give my life to this job and so when the results go wrong it feels a bit like my life has diminished purpose.

My subject wasn't offered at this school until three years ago, but now nearly half the year group take it because they enjoy it and know they will be taught well by a teacher who is passionate, conscientious and dedicated and does everything she can to make it fun and challenging but attainable.

But it's difficult to put aside the data year upon year and excuses seem to run pretty thin after a while. It's difficult to watch the whooping for joy video clips in the newsl. It's difficult to keep seeing our school at the lower end of the league table. 

It's difficult to work under constantly shifting conditions when you don't know from year to year whether you will be allowed to continue under the current management, or what new crazy changes the government will be making to make exams even more 'rigorous' and therefore less accessible and less fair to kids already given a raw deal in the great big lottery of life.

If the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing whilst expecting different results, I wonder, as I lie sleepless in my bed at night, how much longer I can keep doing this and stay sane.

The writer is a secondary teacher and head of department in the North of England 


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