I'm all for things that make a difference, but much of what is fashionable today is a turn-off for would-be teachers

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
A friend teaches in a primary school which seems the essence of everything demanded by officialdom today. It has top management, senior management and middle management. There are mission statements, planning meetings, appraisal sessions, lesson evaluations and lots of documents, and everything is monitored in detail. Plus it's in a pleasant, leafy catchment area. The LEA loves it, but the most important people - the teachers - drift away. Sixteen have left in the past three years.

My school is identical in size, but in a deprived area. We are popular, and heavily oversubscribed. I have a small advisory team of teachers who've been with me a long time and know the school and the environment intimately. We talk about ways to keep moving forward, issues affecting the school, problems we're encountering. Often, we just talk about education.

We don't meet regularly; we're too busy with the job. Middle management? No fear. Why do we need that? Top management? Yes, if I'm worried about something I'll chat to my deputy in her classroom after school, because problems need to be resolved quickly and fairly. We've never had difficulty recruiting staff, and in the past 15 years, the only teachers I have lost are those who have moved home or gone on to deputy headships. The atmosphere is exceptionally pleasant, the children and teachers work happily, and our SATs results are far higher than the ones achieved by the leafy school.

I've spent 40 years in primary education, and loved it. But when I look back, and think about the constantly changing fashions supposedly improving the way we educate children, a tinge of cynicism creeps in. I'm all for things that make a difference, but much of what is fashionable today is a turn-off for would-be teachers. We're encouraged to be obsessed by charts, targets, value-added percentages, league tables. We must plan lessons down to the tiniest detail, and never deviate from our plans. All this is frequently forced on us by people who've never taught, or who've escaped from the classroom because they couldn't do it anyway.

I'm visited three times a year by my LEA link adviser, a pleasant man.

Before his last visit, he sent me a document, now adopted by many LEAs, designed to help us evaluate how good our school is by using "self-evaluation performance indicators". The document has 90 pages and, as I thumbed through it, I wondered why it's necessary to patronise us.

When I became a head, much needed to be done in the school. We selected the most important things and attended to them. Nothing else was given priority. As the situation changed, we moved on to the less important things, and then the minor ones. We didn't write it down; we knew where we were going because we discussed it endlessly. After all, aren't heads, deputies and senior managers supposed to be appointed because they can see the wood for the trees, not produce a mountain of documents, a practice that takes them away from getting things done? A page in the document tells us to "identify the school aim you will use to indicate current expectations. For example, it could be to ensure that all pupils achieve and make steady progress in their learning." Can you believe that? You can imagine how I felt about the other 89 pages. Come here, Grandma, I need to teach you how to suck eggs.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove primary school, London borough of Southwark. Email:mikejkent@aol.com

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