February 2017

The know zone

  • Modular to linear
    Curriculum and Assessment Specialist Suzanne O’Farrell highlights 12 key points schools could grasp as they move from modular to linear assessment in the classroom. More
  • Paws for thought
    During his formative teaching years, Gareth Burton jotted down memorable moments and exchanges that continue to have a bearing on his teaching career. More
  • Speed-date for inspections?
    Under the present Ofsted inspection system, schools that are rated ‘good’ only have to undergo a shorter day-long Ofsted inspection every three years. What are your views on this? What is your experience of short inspections? How well do you think they work? Here, ASCL members share their views. More
  • Free resources to promote careers
    Focus on… National Careers Week 2017 More
  • Identifying children struggling to understand the written word
    It is easy to overlook, in any battery of statistics, the different patterns that lie behind the main conclusion. More
  • Leaders’ surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Generating income
    At a time when school budgets are under serious pressure and with some schools already hitting a financial ‘brick wall’, Business Leadership Specialist Val Andrew looks at ways in which schools could generate income to ease the burden. More
  • Close to the edge
    Small primary schools are facing a bleak financial future unless the government intervenes, says Julie McCulloch. More
  • Retiring thoughts
    Planning for retirement is something that many of us put off until we are almost at the age of retirement. Pensions Specialist Stephen Casey says it’s important that members prepare well in advance to avoid any nasty shocks. More
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During his formative teaching years, Gareth Burton jotted down memorable moments and exchanges that continue to have a bearing on his teaching career.

Paws for thought

I am often asked the question ‘Why be a teacher?’ There are so many answers that I could give but, ultimately, the one that I cite most often is that teaching is a ‘people’ job. From the moment that I walk (or cycle!) through the school gates until the moment that I leave, my days are full of connections with people – students, colleagues, parents, members of the community, governors, I could go on.

It is rare that I get to 11.10am, the beginning of morning break, without having had some form of a conversation with at least 100 different people; each connection offers something unique, both in terms of what I contribute and what I take from each one.

During my first few years of teaching, I began keeping a log of connections that either had a profound impact on my career or, conversely, were moments of uncontrollable laughter often – although not exclusively – resulting from a conversation with one of my students.

I feel it would be remiss of me not to share a few of the entries with you. The stories (1 and 2) are mine and are genuine (neither of them occurred in my current school). The words of wisdom (3) are not mine; I am simply the messenger.

1. The practical joke

A long-standing tradition at my previous (very rural) school was for the outgoing Year 13 cohort to play a practical joke on their final day – nothing too silly, yet silly enough to set the benchmark high enough for the following cohort.

As the day unfolded and students began to arrive at school, it appeared the Year 13s had forgotten and it was business as usual.

A few moments later, staff and students caught sight of the caretaker chasing two sheep through one of the school corridors. They had kindly been allowed entry by one of our Year 13s whose father was a local farmer.

2. Bingo things

In my first year – actually, the first week – of my newly qualified teacher (NQT) year, in a very challenging school in the centre of London, I was playing a game of maths bingo with my new Year 7 classes. Towards the end of the game one of my students, whose name I didn’t yet know, began having a seizure.

He began jumping up and down, throwing his arms around uncontrollably and shouting unrecognisable words across the classroom. I quickly recalled the brief training that I had received at university the previous year. I summoned two students to go immediately to get help from another classroom and call the emergency services, while I moved the tables and chairs from around him to prevent injury.

At the time, I noted a few students sitting nearby beginning to laugh, which made me even more frustrated. What sort of a person would find this type of situation humorous? A few seconds later, I realised that the student was not actually having a seizure at all; he had won the game of bingo, become incredibly excited and didn’t speak any English whatsoever.

3. Values above all

Remind yourself frequently of the values that underpin your leadership. Why? Because it makes decision-making easy. The communication of the decision may take some careful thought and canny footwork but the decision itself will be based on sound judgement, aligned with what matters to you and for which you would be happy to nail your colours to the mast.

Sixteen years after joining the profession, I have now built up a collection of about 30 entries in a small notebook. I have used this on a couple of occasions during the past year: once during a speech for a departing colleague and once following a challenging few days at work when a little light humour and words of wisdom from past colleagues served as a perfect antidote.

I am sure that you, too, will have your own similar collection, either written down or perhaps in your head to which you refer when the moment is opportune.

There are many variables in the current world of education – qualifications change; schools’ performance in the most recent league tables will undoubtedly fluctuate over time; there’s a new staffing issue to contend with most days; and unforeseen emergencies happen, taking an inordinate amount of time to respond to.

However, there is one certainty: schools are all about people and it is people who make teaching the amazing profession that it is.

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

Gareth Burton is Associate Headteacher at Cheltenham Bournside School and Sixth Form Centre.