‘No marking, no planning’: is this the best job in teaching?

16th June 2017 at 00:00
One highly-rated school has won praise from teachers by making a concerted effort to reduce ‘pointless’ workload – including a ban on graded observations

It is an advert that would make any teacher think they were dreaming – a job that involves no lesson planning, no graded observations of their lessons and no marking.

A job where the successful candidate is expected simply to teach – and the headteacher has vowed to get rid of “pointless” workload.

“You have to have a unique selling point about your school and why it is a good place to work,” Clare Sealy, head of St Matthias CE primary, East London, who created the advert, says. “A lot of adverts say, ‘This is a wonderful school with amazing children, and you have to be an amazing person to work here.’ I feel tired just reading them.

“I wanted to say, ‘We’re a school that looks after you, that cares about you. We’re not going to ask you to do things that are pointless.’”

For Sealy, the unique selling points of St Matthias, a 200-pupil school, include “sensible and successful” teaching practices, as well as a commitment to reduce workload.

So when, last month, she decided to advertise for a teacher, she did it by sending a short tweet to her 1,500 followers, saying simply: “No marking, no grading, no planning...” with a link to her blog, where the advert and approach were detailed.

It got an immediate reaction: “This is so cool! Hope it gets a big response,” tweeted Daisy Christodoulou, head of assessment at Ark Schools.

“Never read a primary school job advert like this. Apply if you can – I’m sure you wouldn’t regret it,” said teacher @Mr_Chadwick.

Monitoring staff and pupils

But, if the school has ditched marking, grading and planning, how does it monitor staff and pupils?

No planning is perhaps the simplest shift to manage – teachers do plan lessons at St Matthias, but there is no requirement for those plans to be submitted to the senior leadership team.

“If a newly qualified teacher wants to go through their plans with their mentor then they would, but why would I look at everyone’s planning?” Sealy asks.

“They can just get on with it and I can see the results of their planning when I look at pupils’ books or observe lessons.”

Those lesson observations are not high-stakes termly events and are not graded. Sealy likes to “desensitise” her staff by coming in to watch their teaching for 10 minutes. This happens most weeks.

“I want the observations to be useful for me,” she says. “They are about finding out how effective I’ve been as a manager. If we introduce a new way of teaching reading, say, and then I go and watch a lesson, that [observation] is not telling me whether that teacher is ‘good’ – it is telling me whether I have explained things clearly enough.”

But the decision to ditch marking, made last July, was a much tougher decision. After all, St Matthias had been praised for its thorough marking by Ofsted.

A 2014 report on the school, where more than 60 per cent of pupils are on free school meals, rated it as good and noted: “Pupils’ books are neat and well presented.

“There is good evidence that work is marked frequently and that pupils respond well to the helpful improvement points and guidance provided by their teachers. This is a consistent strength across the school.”

Sealy admits that she was “really nervous about getting rid of marking”.

“It wasn’t just Ofsted,” she says. “Whenever we did moderation events, people would say: ‘The St Matthias books look really good, the marking is really amazing, it’s a real strength.’

“But what is it that’s strong about it? It looks impressive but if it is not making children make better progress, then it’s not worth doing.”

The school had been an early adopter of “triple marking”, which means that after marking a piece of work, teachers would also write a question for the pupil to answer and then mark that answer too. But last summer, initially in response to workload concerns (see box, left), Sealy banned her teachers from doing any marking at all.

Harminder Dhanjal is a Year 4 teacher at St Matthias. He used to spend an hour to 90 minutes a day marking literacy books alone, but now that is down to a maximum of 30 minutes.

“I just look through the books and get an overview of the main issues,” he says.

“The following day, the children spend time and effort finding their own mistakes and putting them right. Before, the teacher was doing the driving and the children were passengers.”

So has Sealy’s approach proved attractive? More than 1,000 people read her blog and four people came to look around the school. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to overcome the capital’s teacher recruitment problems.

Two people put in an application and both were lined up for interview, but withdrew after being offered permanent posts elsewhere.

“The advert was a long shot because it is for maternity cover,” says Sealy. “The post is still open.”

And on Twitter, she adds: “My staff think the lovely but hyperbolic response to my ad is hilarious. They want you all to know they still work bloody hard...”


@teshelen

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