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Diary of an NQT Results day arrives...

I ONLY taught a few A level classes during my PGCE, and teaching whole A level groups was one of my biggest worries as I started my NQT year. I’ll admit I find it hard to pitch the lessons

correctly and it’s something I am constantly working on. However, I still look forward to the lessons as they are an opportunity to try out a few new ideas. Ideally I try and make the lessons engaging and interesting, and often what I have found works best is to help the students to make structured notes. Unfortunately, one of the quickest ways to do this is “chalk and talk”, which during my PGCE we were told to avoid. I remember being told that

the “jump” from GCSE to A level is the hardest “step up” in education. From what I’ve seen this year, I definitely agree. I encourage my A level students to research and enhance their own knowledge and some lessons act as a taster rather than covering everything they could need to know. In many ways this is how an undergraduate is expected to behave, which I suppose is what many of the students will soon become. With the results for both GCSE and

A levels coming out last week, I was almost as nervous as my students, because how well my students do is how I am to be judged as a teacher. On the whole, thankfully, my students did as well

as predicted, with some excellent grades. I found it really great to have a few year 11s knock on my door at break and excitedly tell me their marks. What really shocked me, though, was that they thanked me.

Teach it like Torno! Dream fools

“TAKE EVENTS in your life seriously, take work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously, or you’ll become affected, pompous and boring.” Shelley Duvall. Towards the end of June last year I was approached

by a representative of Jamie Oliver’s television company, Fresh Productions,who asked whether I would be interested in taking part in a programme called Dream School. The aim of the project was to

highlight the plight of the many thousands of students who leave school every year without achieving five A* to C grades. Mr Oliver himself had left

school with only two GCSEs and had felt let down by the education system. His mission was to bring together 20 disaffected youngsters and seek to give them another shot at education by exposing them to some of the most “inspirational teachers” in Britain. The role that I agreed to audition

for was that of an advisory teacher who would provide coaching to the likes of Cherie Blair and Daley Thompson. In the end, they decided to use a headteacher, John D’Abbro, to fulfil this role. I was somewhat disappointed, but at the same time a little relieved because there seemed to be an agenda to show how “ordinary” teachers had failed these kids. Having completed the

programme, Mr Oliver has had to review his idea of teachers and effective teaching. The experiment has shown that it is not easy to walk into a classroom and automatically get the respect of the students, no matter who you are. In fact the programme has also made a mockery of education minister Nick Gibb’s comment days after coming into power. He said back then that he would rather have a graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE. Cue Professor David Starkey, one of our foremost

historians and Cambridge giant, who was asked to take a history class. His intention was to take them “on a grand tour of our nation’s history”, but within minutes he was engaged in a slanging match with one of the students which he himself had initiated. At one

stage he told the boy “you’re so fat, you can barely move”. The student then responded with comments about Prof Starkey’s lack of height. This very much characterised the lesson, at least what we saw of it. There are two problems with Mr Oliver’s concept

of a dream school. First, why did he think that his chosen personalities could do a better job than the teachers they have already had? And second, why did he tell them that they have all been failed by the school system? Surely if these kids are going to make something of themselves they need to look deep inside themselves and take some responsibility. Teachers can only do so much and, in many cases, it is a continuing battle between the school and home. I’m pleased, however,

that the general public at last are seeing what some teachers have to put up with on a daily basis. What the programme has ended up showing is the fantastic job that teachers already do. The ability to keep calm and still seek to motivate others is a skill which is honed over time and does

require training. Moreover, teachers cannot afford to be pompous like Prof Starkey. They

can’t take themselves too seriously and must be the ones who remain in control. Who else would put up with the rudeness and lack of focus that many of these students displayed. It also served to highlight the naïvety of people like Mr Gibb who clearly feel that Oxbridge graduates can waltz into the classroom. Perhaps most importantly, it raised the very real question of what actually happens

to these students after they leave school. Many fall into unemployment or even long-term abuse, and though some go back into the system at a later

date they are few and far between. Let me be clear, I admire Mr Oliver and all of

these celebrities who have risen to the challenge, but at the end of the day, the real teachers are the ones who deserve our praise.

• David Torn is a professional tutor at St Edward’s School in Essex. He is a former Teacher of the Year for London and co-author of Brilliant Secondary School Teacher. He is passionate that the purpose of education is to change lives. He returns in April.

Indeed over the last few weeks I’ve noticed

several students thanking me for lessons as they leave. Initially I wondered whether there had been an outbreak of some sort of infectious politeness bug or that maybe it was “thank a teacher week”, but it seems to be continuing. I’m not going to complain, I quite like it, and if the student has contributed well, I thank them too. So far I’ve managed a week

without caffeine and am just about feeling normal again. The first few days were a total nightmare; it was like someone had removed my “mojo”. All my classes asked if I was ill as I just didn’t have any energy – my head pounded continually and I had very little enthusiasm. Naturally, I began

noticing quite how much caffeine students (and teachers) take during a day. I was really shocked to see one lad downing a can of Red Bull before form period. Indeed, many of the worst behaved students seem to drink energy drinks continuously. I’m fairly certain they’re riding along on waves of caffine euphoria and that their “bad” behaviour probably occurs in the come down. I am wondering if a detox

may help improve their behaviour. I’ve been encouraged to persevere by a few

of my students who have also given up things for Lent. They are counting the days with me until they can have tea or chocolate again.

• Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of science from a secondary school in the East of England. He returns in April.


Donaldson: a question of delivery

Graham Donaldson’s wide-ranging review of teacher education in Scotland, published in January, has set out 50 recommendations. Sam Phipps looks at what he is saying and

what the reaction has been N problems with it. If it’s part of a raft of models

for improving consistency and quality, that’s fine. We just have to be careful and certainly not have it as the only model by any means

But what are they and what will they mean? There are 50 in all but among the most striking

includes one to set up a network of hub schools, along the lines of NHS teaching hospitals. Another is to phase out Bachelor of Education degrees, introducing studies not aimed solely at school teaching. There is also to be enhanced CPD and more

rigorous selection of trainees for literacy and numeracy. Throughout the recommendations, the emphasis

is to build on current practice but take radical action where necessary in order to get the best outcomes for young people. The goal of specialist training hubs, staffed partly

by university tutors as well as qualified teachers, would be to provide a more consistent level of practical training for probationers. At the moment, trainees attend hundreds of different schools across Scotland, with an allegedly wide disparity of useful experience. Maureen McKenna, Glasgow’s director of

education, said the focus of skills and resources in a few schools would help raise standards. She explained: “It will allow us to build expertise

and make the teachers part of the learning process as well as the students. Teachers will also feel much more supported in the assessment of students because it will be done much more jointly with university tutors.”

8 But the retirement, early or otherwise, of more than

100 secondary headteachers in Scotland in the last three years, and a cut in senior local authority staff via budget pressures, has robbed the profession of capacity, expertise and experience, he says. “These three things are all sitting together just now

and will make it really quite difficult to deliver some of the very important recommendations. We also know that from a financial point of view things are not going to get any better for a long time.” Moreover, another key change to Scottish education

is in the early stages of implementation. Curriculum for Excellence, which started officially last autumn, has yet to bed down, while its new qualifications have yet to be developed. To add to all this, the Donaldson report implies a

reliance on local authorities to deliver at a time when they have reduced capacity to deliver, reduced expertise to deliver, and there is even debate about whether they are in the best position to continue as Scotland’s universal providers of state education, Mr Cunningham argues. Education secretary Michael Russell has encouraged

parents and local authorities to explore alternative forms of governance for primaries and secondaries, with East Lothian among those proposing trusts.

SecEd • March 24 2011

O SOONER have Scottish classrooms started to get to grips with a new three to 18 curriculum then another radical shake-up is announced – this time to the way teachers are trained. If the early response to the

Donaldson Review has been broadly positive, it is tinged with a good deal of apprehension about what shape its recommendations will take in reality. The harsh economic climate is obviously a key

concern. Another is the sharp fall in the secondary headteacher population over the last few years, and with it a loss of expertise that would be vital for driving through change. Fundamental questions about governance, namely

the future role of local authorities in providing Scottish education, also hang over the implementation of the report, which was formally accepted in the Scottish Parliament this month. Skills minister Angela Constance said: “We fully

accept Mr Donaldson’s recommendations, but we are clearly not the only body that needs to do so to make the review findings a reality.” A National Partnership Group comprising

government, headteachers, teachers and various organisations will now take forward the recommendations by Graham Donaldson, a former head of HMIE.

Glasgow City Council and Glasgow University are

setting up hub pilots in Hillhead, Knightswood and Notre Dame. However, Ken Cunningham, general secretary of

School Leaders Scotland and a former headteacher of Hillhead High, said of hub schools: “The jury’s out. There could be serious problems with it. If it’s part of a raft of models for improving consistency and quality, that’s fine. We just have to be careful and certainly not have it as the only model by any means.” Schools are liable to have specific departments of

particularly high quality at different times, he argues. As student teachers are in school for subject development as much as for what he calls “whole school stuff”, i.e. to gain more general experience, hub schools could have a detrimental effect on non-hub schools by effectively sucking up talent – or not utilising it to trainees’ advantage. Mr Cunningham, who gave evidence to the report,

continued: “You can get high quality departments at some schools that would not be viewed as potential hub schools. And it would be a shame not to be using their abilities as well.” But his reservations over Donaldson’s review go

much further, focusing on doubts about implementation. “We certainly welcome the report because it has laid open in a very coherent fashion the whole framework for teacher education in Scotland, and takes it beyond where it has been before,” Mr Cunningham said.

The jury’s out. There could be serious

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