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The Primary Education series - an introduction


"It’s impossible to recruit staff, retain them and help them uncover their greatest professional selves when they feel untrusted, constantly monitored and uncertain about their value in the organization." Jeremy Hannay, Headteacher, Three Bridges Primary School.
The quote is from Jeremy's School Improvement post 'An Inconvenient Truth' that challenges the default scrutinize and monitor strategy employed by many leaders of schools. He describes it as the 'reassuring default in times of uncertainty.' I read his post earlier today and it made me reflect on the schools that I have worked as a teacher. Were they the type of schools that promoted trust in their staff? Did they provide staff the respect they deserved to get on with the job of teaching? Or did they monitor and scrutinize every aspect of teaching under the guise of improvement?

Over my 20 year career as a Primary Teacher, four of the schools I worked in were, and three continue to be, run in the reassuring default mode of heavy scrutiny and monitoring. There were at least three performance management related observations every year unless you got a low grade on the first which meant you had at least two or three more. Data was collected every half term and you could hear the panic spread across the school when staff realised they only had one week to get all the clicks in. Books were marked in a variety of colours that appeared to appease SLT but the children and staff saw through it. On a personal level, none of the scrutiny nor monitoring helped improve my teaching. It merely helped me learn how to create lessons that could achieve more ticks in the Outstanding boxes when I was observed. As one Deputy Head teacher advised me, 'play the game Kevin, keep your head down and play the game.'
Unfortunately this reassuring default approach is common practice from the conversations I have had with many teachers across the UK. Some of the comments I have heard from other teachers include  'Staff morale is low. 'Teaching is just a job. A paycheck at the end of the month.' 'The amount of marking I have to do is ridiculous and I have to use three different colours!' 'I hate what teaching has become. I work in Year 6 and all we do is practice papers from September until May.' There are many more but you get the message. So what can we do about this attitude towards what some describe as the greatest profession in the world?

We need a sea change in our schools. We need to swim against the tide and refuse to revert to the reassuring default mode of scrutinising and monitoring everything we do in school. We need to give teachers the respect they are due. We need to trust these professionals with the task that we hired them to do. No one goes into teaching for an easy life. Teaching is demanding, it can drain us and make us weep yet we gladly give our all when we are treated with respect and valued for the professionals we are. We need leaders in our schools to develop cultures that empower their staff to be the best they can be. Staff that talk about teaching and want to improve it so that every child can succeed. Can you picture a staff room where your staff gladly discuss their lessons openly, looking for advice that will help them improve and ask others to come and observe them, discussing research and still have time to chat about everything that's important to foster great relationships? 

In the coming months I will investigate Primary Education further. I want to look at everything, the good, the bad, the depressing and the joyous. I want to get to grips with Primary Education once and for all. 




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