Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Shall Have Prizes?

The newspapers and television carried extensive material last week on the ‘Teaching Awards’. It wasn’t exactly the blanket coverage that ‘Big Brother’ or ‘I’m a Celebrity’ generates but at least it shone the spotlight on teaching in a positive way.

I’ll have to come clean though, I’m not a great fan of any award ceremonies not least the ‘Teaching Awards’. Here we have one of the most prescriptive curriculums in the world that has taken power and autonomy away from teachers, add in the daily discourse of derision from the press and Ofsted, the testing psychosis – it hasn’t created a happy or well-motivated workforce.

Even Ted Wragg, who helped to found the Teaching Awards in 1999, noted that there weren’t many winners from Gasworks Comprehensive. I decided to do a little bit of research on the Primary Teacher regional winners. Ofsted reports always carry some information on the socio-economic background of the school, although ‘poverty is not an excuse’.

The average Free School Meals (FSM) for English primaries is 15.9%. What sort of schools did the regional winners come from? FSM figures were-

East Midlands – ‘well below average’

East – ‘relatively low’

North East – ‘lower than the average’

North West – ‘low’

South – ‘half the national figure’

South West – ‘below average’

North – ‘average’

West – ‘average’

London – ‘very high’

South East – ‘above average’

West Midlands – ‘challenging economic and social circumstances’

I’m not claiming it’s any kind of scientific survey and you could probably claim that the mean average (guess what I’ve been teaching in maths this week?) is close to the national figure, but on the other hand 6 out of 11 below the average isn’t very representative either.

Why aren’t teachers from schools in ‘challenging’ circumstances nominated? One of the main reasons is that schools are solely judged and defined by exam results. I remember a few years ago one of our rare downwardly mobile parents said to me, ‘Justin’s grandmother has just seen the league tables in the Daily Telegraph and wants to know what he’s doing in such a terrible school’. Yeah, thanks for that.

The Teaching Awards doesn’t really make allowances for the special skills that many teachers in tough schools utilise. I remember a few years ago there was a television programme about an independent school head who went into a ‘bog-standard’ comprehensive to ‘show them how it’s done’. After a few days she taught a lesson, it was a disaster, she didn’t know how to differentiate for the different ability levels, her delivery was dull and pedantic, she had no empathy whatsoever with the children. Then their own teacher took a lesson, yes, he’d taught in the school for many years and knew all the children’s parents, but the lesson was spell-binding – well paced, laced with humour and he engaged all of the children in learning. He was incredibly modest afterwards (I’d have had a massive grin plastered all over my face), he admitted the class could be ‘difficult’. The independent head slunk away blaming the ‘unteachable’ pupils.

Maybe it’s just that teachers in ‘challenging’ schools don’t want to be patronised and ‘slavered over by D-list celebs’.

TES letter 2004

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