I was in London for a few weeks before flying back to Africa, to Uganda then Zimbabwe. I met a friend of mine for lunch in Carnaby Street. (I don’t know when it got so media-trendy, wasn’t it once all DM boots?) My friend was a teacher with me and is now working as a consultant for the financial sector. Sure it’s fast-paced and sure there’s money in it, I said, but isn’t it a hard slog, isn’t it stressful? No it wasn’t. Not when you compare with it with our lives as teachers, she said.Now that doesn’t make sense does it? Consulting for the finance sector, in arguably the world’s premier financial centre, at a time when the financial markets are roaring, is altogether better remunerated and less stressful than being a teacher? How can we hope to recruit teachers, how can we ever expect to maintain a decent education system, when the choice for bright graduates is as stark as that? Because, we will always need vastly more teachers than financial consultants. And teaching should be an attractive career. It can’t rely, like the priesthood, on an altruistic ‘calling’ to fill its ranks.
The problem is that we’re sending new recruits into structures that are utterly unsupportive.
I’m co-leading a chapter of a Teach First policy document to be presented to the House of Lords in November. The chapter looks at the organisational structures of schools and attempts to find solutions to four key problems we’ve identified. Please take a look at Jacobkestner.wordpress.com to see these problems explained, and take me to task on whether or not we’ve identified them correctly, and if our solutions stand up to scrutiny.
The fug of learning (…and the need to think horizontally)
In most schools teachers are incentivised to think principally in terms of, and held accountable primarily via, departments. We can call this a vertical organisational structure. There is little time for meaningful cross-departmental analysis of pupil progress or to coordinate teaching strategies. This, combined with the failure to make explicit the ‘big picture’, means that pupils are too easily and too often lost in a fug of learning.
The ammunition run (…why relationships matter 1)
The ammunition run was the name given to the several-times-a-day dash my History corridor colleagues and I had to make from our classrooms to the photocopying room on the other side of the school. Inevitably the dash would result in our being embroiled in all manner of low level disruption. Involving relatively little hassle if you happened to teach the perpetrator, an inordinate amount of time was wasted if we happened to confront one of the rest of the school who remained strangers to us (and us to them).
Crushed by numbers (…why relationships matter 2)
One of the problems with the structuring of urban complex schools is that they do not take into account the central importance of relationships for effective learning and meaningful accountability. Quite simply teachers are jointly responsible for too many pupils. Pastoral responsibility is dispersed and so diluted between too many adults. Joint responsibility, shared between so many people, too often equals no responsibility.
The hoodie problem
Urban comprehensives, particularly, are blighted by a critical mass of students ill prepared for education. Too many schools have allowed the negative influence of a minority to prevail, drawing in others, and resulting in the extremely high incidence of low-level disruption that we see today. A tipping point has been reached – antisocial behaviour has been allowed to become the norm.