Paradise lost and found

24th April 2015 at 01:00

I think I might have died and gone to teacher heaven. Having spent the past few years working in a pressure-cooker environment, I finally jumped ship to try the job somewhere else before chucking it all in and retraining as a plumber. The change is amazing.

For a start, there's the staffroom. At my last school this had become a people-free zone. It's been so long since I used a staffroom properly that I was genuinely mystified as to where all the teachers vanished to at lunchtime until halfway through my second week, when I popped in and found it packed to the rafters.

Then there's the actual teaching. American researcher Professor Judith Little, often quoted by the brilliant Sir Tim Brighouse (no relation), argues that one of the ways you know you are in a good school is when "teachers talk about teaching". In this school they do - all the time. Staff meetings are focused purely on teaching and are full of subject content and ideas for how topics can be taught in a way that stretches and engages all the pupils.

And teachers can actually make decisions for themselves here. When I asked the headteacher if I could change the way my classroom was organised, he told me I could do what I wanted as long as it was helping the children. I had to physically stop myself from falling at his feet and weeping with gratitude.

CPD is important, too. For the first time in years I'm getting to see other people teach and having my own teaching observed in ways that involve more than a clipboard and a disapproving stare. Management's common-sense approach to paperwork (write stuff down only if it helps children to learn) also means a much more manageable workload and increased time to plan lessons.

More importantly, the school genuinely strives to make sure every child is happy and experiences a broad and balanced curriculum; in reality, not just on paper. "Because we provide the children with so many experiences, it gives all of them a chance to find something they're good at," one of the teachers told me. She was right. I've only been here a term and there hasn't been a week when children weren't going on trips, doing drama or art projects with visitors or spending the day dressed as Romans or superheroes.

I used to think being trusted and happy in your teaching job was the norm. But the current educational landscape, with its threatening rhetoric and data obsession, has made it very easy for school leaders to rule through intimidation, whether they mean to or not. Fear of Ofsted and of slipping down the league tables presses down on schools like a heavy weight, and all too often the reaction is to narrow the curriculum, micromanage teachers and subject children to endless cramming sessions. Although this might raise results, it definitely does not bring out the best in teaching staff.

It doesn't have to be like this. My new school is living proof.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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