The first part of this post was originally written as a reply to an excellent essay on Teacher Burnout, by Alex Quigley, an Assistant Headteacher and English Subject Leader at Huntington Secondary School, York.
‘Autonomy, mastery and purpose’ wrote Dan Pink, and his short essay/presentation on motivation is an easy watch – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc. Having led a school now for 33 years, reinvented myself and the school on a number of occasions, I certainly subscribe to the ‘under-challenged- burn-out, and indeed I am losing a talented middle leader to a Deputy headship for that reason. We couldn’t move quickly enough, nor should we have done, to keep him recruited. In many ways, I think it’s the job of good schools to ship their talent onward and outwards, because that prevents the conditions for ‘ground-hog day’ developing.
I am working in a number of collaborative cells involving the state and independent sector currently, and it is very evident that the current climate/impoverishment, aka lack of money, that the financial ‘crunch’ is having on provision in state primary schools. What worries me most though when I work with colleagues on initiatives is the incredibly tight ‘what will ofsted think’ straightjacket that embraces those primary schools. All will now study an MFL at KS2 and make substantial progress in 1 by age 11 is the current bold dictat from DfE. My take on a solution – start with a couple of European Languages in Y3, go culture and other alphabet in Y4 (Mandarin, Farsi, Russian, Arabic), go classical or germanic and integrate the myths and legends in Y5 and then having opened up the young minds, step in with 60 minutes a week in Y6 with one of the EMFL that suits the schools you feed. “Isn’t there an App or programme that can do that for us” asked one of the cluster?. When I dug deeper, it was quite clear from the Advanced Skills advisory teacher that her take was progress each year in the same language. “But that’s not what it says here” i respond, highlighting the curriculum directive. “No” came the tart response, “But I’d much rather our cluster focussed on meeting these assessment objectives (24 of them, in 4 layers)” and that way assist the teacher in showing Ofsted that every one in the class was making progress across the 4 years. Classes of upper 30s, taught in the PPA time, so the main class teacher (who has the relationships built and class management under control) is absent leaving the visiting specialist just 30-40 minutes a week (it will be some one different next term.year) to demonstrate that all are making progress every lesson. Now that is the imposition of conditions for overwork and breakdown. 30 teachers in the room, all lapping up every word of how to script for Ofsted, not how to do it right for the child. You write “Our hard won working conditions need to be protected with lock-jaw tenacity. School leaders must maintain a strong school culture built on the right values and in full defence of their teachers. If not, teachers will simply burn out or fade away”. In our meeting, I was the only headteacher. The kind deputy who got the room ready in his secondary school which hosted the meeting acted the janitor – there at the start and there at the end, but sadly not there in the middle to rail against the machine, self-imposed by the willing majority that just want something simple given the them on a plate. Just 2 nay-sayers – both from the Independent Sector. Where is the time and autonomy if a teacher is to race around umpteen schools, delivering the token MFL or coding to show primary years are making progress and as Mr Gove would expect ‘so that this would create young people able to work at the forefront of linguistic acquisition and technological change”. As if.
So what is the alternative to little slivers of knowledge rationed across the primary years, taught perhaps by non-specialists, for no-one person can be an expert in it all? I have written previously about the purpose of Education for me – here