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October 17, 2013 / mrespiers

Let me be clear…I do not want to strike

I do not want to strike, it is a last resort. I would rather be teaching (and not lose a day’s pay).

I am not asking for a pay rise, I am resigned to a real-terms pay cut for the foreseeable future – despite the introduction of performance related pay which is supposed to motivate me.

There is no evidence that PRP works and there is no more money to pay good teachers more. There are also lots of questions about how you judge a teacher’s performance – what if I don’t have any exam classes? Or I only teach kids with Special Educational Needs who might never get a C in an ‘academic’ subject?
There are wider issues too about rich academy chains having more money to attract staff whilst small schools or those in difficult areas or circumstances may struggle.

I am asking for the pensions deal agreed a few years ago to be honoured.

I think private sector workers work hard too and that we should strive for better pensions for all.

I know the economy is screwed but there are other ways of dealing with it e.g. deal with tax avoidance/close tax gaps

I am aware that striking now, for this, is not going to get much support and I would’ve preferred to strike to fight the dismantling of comprehensive education.

Teachers need to be supported, not demoralised, they teach the next generation of workers, thinkers, problem solvers etc

We are not ‘the new enemies of promise’ we are the enemies of policy announcements via the press.
We are not ‘the new enemies of promise’ we are the enemies of the creeping privatisation of education.
We are not ‘the new enemies of promise’ we are the enemies of attacks on hard working teachers.

May 22, 2013 / mrespiers

Top tips for NQTs

This was originally compiled to accompany a contribution to the Guardian Teacher Network

Thanks for ideas and inspiration from colleagues and via Twitter.

Let me know what you think or ask a question below or @yogspiers

– Ask questions of everybody. Make sure people know that you will ask if not sure. You are still learning. You are not expected to know everything.

• Try to avoid ‘compare and despair’. The other NQTs may look like they are confident and assured but they are almost certainly worried about the same things as you. Talk to them. Help each other.

• Don’t spend more time planning lessons than the lesson will take.

• Don’t check your email first thing as you will be working to somebody else’s agenda. Have a short to do list and do something from that first thing – a much better way to start the day.

• Call some parents with some good news every Friday.

• When you have a bad day or a bad lesson drop everything at break or lunch go and talk to some students, they will almost certainly cheer you up and refocus you.

• Build a PLN using twitter and other social media. It will save you time with ideas and planning and almost certainly inspire you.

• Share your passion and enthusiasm. For your subject, for learning, for finding out about people, for whatever you can.

• Be consistent with everything. Praise, rewards, sanctions, homework etc. Follow through on everything.

• Be human. Get to know them. Let them know something about you.

• Be visible. Not just on duty but between classes. Speak to them, ask them to pick up dropped litter etc. Get known.

• Look after yourself. Do exercise. Eat well. Make plans for your work/life balance. Get enough sleep.

• If you are the last to leave – ask yourself if anybody has noticed, would it matter if they had and if you are working efficiently or just a lot.

• Smile and greet them. Especially the group that you dread.

• Remember why you wanted to teach.

January 30, 2013 / mrespiers

The Universal Panacea? The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime.

Kenneth Baker’s Spitting Image puppet. Photograph: ITV/Rex Features

As other more distinguished and articulate contributors have already pointed out, a panacea is fantasy.

It is sound bite material from the mouths of politicians.

A cure-all does not exist.

But reading these posts has been engaging and inspiring and I never tire of hearing or reading somebody in full flow, passionate about their subject. So I have read with enthusiasm and share many of the items on the collective wish list (especially @teachertoolkit ‘s on building in time for CPD). I have also cast my mind back over the last couple of decades to the various pretenders to the crown of panacea and one thing comes up time and time again. Choice.

Choice (or the appearance of choice) was a central and essential element of Thatcherism and therefore the 1988 Education Reform Act. Without choice you couldn’t have competition and without competition you wouldn’t raise standards or so we were led to believe.

Choice brought us city technology colleges and grant maintained schools and more recently specialist schools, academies, free schools and studio schools.

Choice brought us a plethora of qualifications, exam boards and degree courses.

Choice brought us league tables.

My intention here is not to dissect the various arguments for and against these developments but to suggest that the system is still flawed. We still have much to do. Choice has not been the cure-all.

We were told it was what parents wanted but, all the parents I have ever spoken to about it say they just want their local school to be good. Which brings me to my own sound bite. The education system needs to change and the system we need should be ‘of the teachers, by the teachers, for the students’.

The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime? A system set free of political point scoring, led with vision by an independent body of education professionals and based on evidence.

In answer to@kennypieper – the thing that I’m afraid of is that politicians are making massive changes that have long lasting effects without any real consultation and based largely on ideology as opposed to evidence.

I agree wholeheartedly with @aflpie that a key part of this (or any panacea for education) should involve a real discussion about what we want our education system to do. Some time ago I was fortunate to take part in a SSAT Leaders for Tomorrow programme and we spent time articulating our vision for 2020. The SSAT have continued with this good work and it is from organisations and campaigns like Redesigning Schooling, The Headteachers’ Roundtable and Purpos/ed that we can take inspiration.

I love working in education and I think there is so much to be positive about. It is such a shame that so much time and energy is wasted on negativity created by using education as a political football.

We need to build trust and collegiality in our profession so that we can remove fear and develop leaders who will take us forward.

Get started here by checking out the other blogsync posts.

November 20, 2012 / mrespiers

Opening doors

photo by Nicola Corboy on Flickr

Do you want to be a better teacher? Can you do it alone?


We want our students to do the best they can and we know that one of the most effective methods we have to help them achieve this is good quality regular feedback (See the Sutton Trust Toolkit and John Hattie’s research).

So why do we not apply the same ideas to our own development? Here are some sums:

Lessons per week x38 6 lesson obs (min required for NQT) 3 lesson obs (previous union guidance) 1 lesson obs (under current PM/appraisal) Lesson obs required for 5%
A full time teacher with no responsibilities 22 836 0.72% 0.36% 0.12% 41.8
A NQT 20 760 0.79% 0.39% 0.13% 38
AHT 12 456 1.32% 0.66% 0.22% 22.8

Do these percentages represent a proportion that is sufficient for development or quality assurance or anything?

I know we can get feedback about our planning and our marking and other things outside the classroom but if we don’t get feedback on what is actually going on in the room how can we expect to improve?

Self-evaluation and reflection are obviously crucial here but we do not expect students to thrive on this alone, so why should we? We expect them to learn from the skills and experience of the teacher, the TA and the other students around them but do we live up to our own expectations?

Now, please don’t get me wrong, this is not about OFSTED and graded full lesson observations every week to stress people out even more than they already are. (Although under current arrangements schools are finding it increasingly difficult to make evidence based judgements about the quality of teaching and learning due to the restrictions on lesson observations.)

I want this to be about developing an ethos of openness and a culture of support and sharing good practice. We have some much expertise in our staffrooms that we do not utilise as well as we could.

So I implore you to open your doors and welcome your colleagues in. Use this ‘open classroom’ sign from @teachertoolkit and start developing a culture of feedback not failure.

Here are some more tips for getting the most out of observations and feedback:

  • Observe from the front facing the class. This places the emphasis on the learning and less on the teacher.
  • Agree a focus in advance and discuss what you want to get out of the process.
  • Don’t write anything for the first 10-15 mins – get a flavour for the lesson first.
  • Use descriptive words (adverbs and adjectives) in your feedback notes:

‘you greeted them warmly’

‘you explained things swiftly’

‘you dealt with the incident discretely’

  • You can then lead into notes/discussion on what the effect of this was by using TMT (this meant that):

‘you greeted them warmly’ – TMT they were settled and ready to learn quickly.

‘you explained things swiftly’ – TMT the pace was frenetic but not everybody understood what to do.

‘you dealt with the incident discretely’ – TMT the rest of the class were not disturbed and the learning atmosphere remained.

  • Sometimes have a very specific focus and just keep a note or tally about this e.g. questioning, thinking time, feedback, transitions, smiles, boy/girl attention etc
  • Talk to kids about the subject and their learning.
  • Look at books and feedback. Obviously it will depend upon the agreed focus but most observations would benefit from this to some extent.
  • When discussing the lesson afterwards ask which part of the lesson had the best learning and why?
  •  Agree a format for feedback e.g. WWW+EBI, ‘Have you thought about…?’

Please add your tips, ideas and experiences below

June 23, 2012 / mrespiers

2 simple but effective things I observed this week

Two great things I observed this week:

One NQT who had his class lined up outside and got them hooked before they even entered the room by telling to look out for clues and be careful where they stand.

So simple and effective.

There were dinosaur prints everywhere and they were working out their speed and looking at accuracy and reliability of data.

Another NQT with the confidence (built on solid and respectful relationships) to ask at the end of his lesson ‘what could I have done to make the learning better today?’

Well done to the NQTs.

May 14, 2012 / mrespiers

The purpose of education must be to nurture optimism.

The purpose of education must be to nurture optimism.

Just take a look at the #500words posts so far: hope, independence, community, curiosity, connecting.

I too share the optimism and last year described (with a little assistance from AS Neil) the purpose of education as helping people to discover their inner compulsion and then nurturing it and I am happy to report that I have made some progress towards this on a personal and on a professional level since last year’s post.

I have tried to plan for this in my teaching and in my learning and the result has included: a student dressed as Spongebob Squarepants teaching a lesson in which the class designed a new house for Spongebob using pieces of fruit; a boy who had not said more than two or three words per lesson for most of the year teaching a lesson on mythological creatures without the use of any notes or powerpoint and having the class hanging on his every word, teaching myself how to use my camera and enrolling on my first online course.

I am optimistic that giving the students more autonomy to teach lessons about things that they know well will develop their confidence and their skills. I am optimistic that they will enjoy school more as a result. I am optimistic that developments such as Coursera will lead to more options for more people to engage in more learning.

My optimism is rooted in my own experiences of being a student and a teacher and also in the knowledge that education can be transformative in the most powerful ways.

I am however, troubled by some other incidents that have taken place in the last year: a boy was not excluded for being drunk on the school site because to exclude him would be to send him home to his drug addicted mum; I spent several hours with the police and lots of students trying to sort out quite a nasty incident of homophobic bullying; I read that 7% of children attend independent schools yet they produce 70% of high court judges, 32% of MPs and 54% of FTSE CEOs.

The cuts are biting and schools are expected to do more for less. There will inevitably be some compromises and I am less optimistic that students at comprehensive schools will get the chance to be a judge because schools are distracted more and more by the social work they are doing.

Perhaps my opening line should read ‘The purpose of education must be to nurture optimism despite political and economic realities’. Perhaps the key is to distinguish between what the purpose of education should be and what it actually is or appears to be. I remain optimistic that the purposed campaign may be the beginning of something that brings the ideal and the reality closer together.

I also like my friend’s idea that the purpose of education is to do better than ‘this lot in charge’.

Thanks for reading. @yogspiers

Other contributors –

#500words Take 2 –

May 7, 2012 / mrespiers

Those who can’t…

I have neglected to post for a while and have gone for a lazy option of reproducing the following that first appeared on the Guardian Teacher Network in September 2011.

One NQT has left for a different career but the others have made excellent progress.

A fresh new post will follow soon.

Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Those who can, do.

Those who can’t, teach.

Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.

I have always found this to be over simplistic and I suspect routed in a little jealousy.

There are obviously a multitude of reasons why people choose to teach but I am fortunate to have worked with a majority of teachers who love what they do, or at least like it, or at the very least don’t hate it. So when I say jealousy, I mean jealousy from people who hate their jobs, jealousy of the holidays (obviously) and jealousy from other teachers who don’t get to teach teachers, because believe me it is one of the best parts of the job.

I am four weeks into my new job as assistant headteacher at the John of Gaunt school in Trowbridge and one of my responsibilities is for the induction of the NQTs. It is a role that I previously combined with the training of the PGCE, GTP and OTTs too and is a role that I have missed and that I genuinely love.

I love the enthusiasm and energy. I love the ideas and commitment and I love the way that these qualities often shake up the order of a school or a department. Some staff embrace the influx of the new, some shun it and mock its naivety with comments such as “that won’t last”, “you’ll learn” etc.

I love that they will try things without prejudice and support each other as they do.

I love watching them grow and develop seeing the impact that they have and the lasting relationships they form with other staff and students.

I have overseen the induction of some excellent teachers and some that would become excellent. I have also had to have some very difficult conversations.

I have worked with some incredible mentors who had never mentored before and some awful mentors who had been doing it for years. I strongly believe that the mentor is the most vital element of the first year. You could be in the most challenging school in the country and have an amazing experience with the right mentor and obviously the reverse is equally true.

I have observed lessons which sounded like there was a gas link – “ssssshhhhhhhhh”. I have seen NQTs sleep through their first day of induction after arriving late directly from Glastonbury. I have seen them literally fall flat on their arrival in reception and throw up at the Christmas do. I have seen NQTs get married, but not to each other, yet. I have met new babies. I have made some lifelong friends.

If you are an NQT, I wish you well and hope you enjoy the year.

If you are an NQT mentor I wish you well too. I know you are probably not given any protected time and certainly no money to do a vital role but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

If you are not an NQT mentor speak to somebody about becoming one, you will love it.

Please see my top tips for NQTs here on the Guardian Teacher Network

January 15, 2012 / mrespiers

5 things I learned in 2011

This is a bit late I suppose.
Late in the sense that this post is a reflection on 2011 and late in the sense that I haven’t posted at all since November.
Still, I didn’t make any resolutions about posting more often or every week (although I did start this) so better late than never.
I visited some beautiful places (Berlin, Montreal, Snowdon, Pompeii) and had some incredible weekends with friends. I have learned how much playing football with a great mate every week or watching rugby with other great mates can do for your well-being. I have learned how much fun it is to take a 2 year old swimming and how much I love to have a bonfire.
…and here are some other things I learned in 2011, in no particular order:
1, I learned to drive and over 19 years since my 17th birthday I passed my driving test (at the second attempt).
If I had stayed in London I would probably never have bothered and I fully expected to be awful at it and hate it but, after a slow start I began to quite enjoy driving. I learned that I should continue to try things out, even when I’ve put them off for years. I learned that the worst thing about the whole process was the anticipation and I learned that 7 small mistakes (2nd test) is better than one big one (1st test).
2, I learned about ‘communities of practice‘ as I started my MSc in Education, Technology and Society.
I learned a lot else besides but Wenger’s work on ‘communities of practice’ has stayed with me as I have started my new job. The most enjoyable aspect of starting my MSc was remembering how much I love learning. I also met some great people and look forward to picking up the studying again later this year.
3, I learned what PLN stood for and how useful one could be.
2011 was the year when my Twitter use really started to take off. I gained about 100 followers over the year but, more importantly, it really started to feel like the main part of my ‘personal learning network’. Through Twitter I learned about TeachMeets and attended my first one at Clevedon School (thanks @ictevangelist) (and learned loads more things). It was via Twitter that I found out about Purposed and subsequently started my own blog so that I could take part in the 500words campaign. It was a combination of Twitter and my blog that then led to me writing for Creative Education and the Guardian Teacher Network (and I hope to repeat this in 2012).
I had one of the best meals of my life because of a Twitter recommendation and within hours of asking had several offers of people who were happy to mentor some of my students.
It took some time but Twitter has really come alive for me. Give it a try if you haven’t already and stick with it when you do.
4, I learned what Alfie Kohn meant by The Myth of Homework…
…but also learned how deeply entrenched people’s beliefs about the value of homework really are. As a response to what I learned I have thought about homework more than I have for years and as a result have set two of the homeworks that have produced the most interesting results in over 10 years of teaching. I will be writing a post about this in the near future.
5, I learned how low the wrong job can make you feel and I learned the opposite.
I was reminded everyday for quite a long time how incredible my wife and friends and family are. They helped me through a very difficult time and I learned a lot about myself, some of which I liked and quite a bit that I didn’t. Some I may share here some time in the future and some I probably never will.
Finding a new job where I have to learn new things and remember old skills has been brilliant and the staff have been supportive and welcoming and I look forward to the rest of 2012 with optimism.
November 29, 2011 / mrespiers

Let me be clear…

I do not want to strike, it is a last resort. I would rather be teaching (and not lose a day’s pay).

I am not asking for a pay rise, I am resigned to a real-terms pay cut for the foreseeable future.

I am asking for the pensions deal agreed a couple of years ago to be honoured.

I think private sector workers work hard too and that we should strive for better pensions for all.

I know the economy is screwed but there are other ways of dealing with it e.g. deal with tax avoidance/close tax gaps

November 30th will not cost the economy half a billion and neither did the Royal Wedding.

I am aware that striking now, for this, is not going to get much support and I would’ve preferred to strike to fight the dismantling of comprehensive education.

Teachers need to be supported, not demoralised, they teach the next generation of workers, thinkers, problem solvers etc

June 15, 2011 / mrespiers

Mr Gove saves Aston Villa and the Premier League

I support Aston Villa. They finished 9th this year with 48 points. It was not a great year, we diced with relegation for too long after finishing 6th on 64 points last year. In the four
years prior to that we finished on 62, 60, 50 and 42 points. Our 6 year average is 54.3

How would most Villa fans or football fans categorise this? Inadaquate? Possibly but we didn’t get relegated and finished in the top half. Satisfactory? Again, possibly, especially after finishing 6th last year. Would anybody call it a good year? Surely nobody would go as far as outstanding?

Manchester United won the title with 80 points this year, came second with 85 the year before and have a 6 year average of 85.7points. Most people would agree that they are the outstanding team of the last 10 years.

So, it is with great thanks and appreciation to the education secretary Michael Gove that I have the answer to Aston Villa’s problems. We will be become outstanding and, in fact, so will
every other team! And the solution is simple. All the head of the Premier League needs to do in order to raise standards across the board and ensure that all teams become outstanding thereby cementing the Premier League’s place as the best league in the world is to impose a minimum acceptable points tally! For too long we have passively accepted that somewhere around 40 points would be enough to stay up, well no more. I propose (and again I must thank the secretary of state for the idea here) a minimum acceptable points tally of 50.

The managers will try harder, so will the players. The fans and owners will be supportive and everybody will move in the same direction.

It won’t matter that Wigan’s average attendance was less than 17,000 last year compared to Man Utd’s 75,109 or that some teams have massively wealthy owners who can recruit the best
players and staff.

Aston Villa fell short of the 50 points total this year but it was probably because they weren’t trying hard enough. If they fall short again next year the Premier League should send in inspectors to check they are trying hard enough and  they could be taken over by a more successful team if they persist in underachieving. With that incentive I’m sure things would look up (even if we pay £5m in compensation for the manager of our relegated arch-rivals).