College of Teaching House of Commons Reception Speech 21/01/2016

The College of Teaching will serve to unite teachers within a diverse system, enabling shared and portable standards and accredited learning to be developed.


It’s a privilege to be a part of that process and I firmly believe that continuing to develop and challenge teachers throughout their careers – as the College of Teaching is planning to do – will enhance the role they play in the education system.


I am not a loud voice within the world of education; I’m not a member of an expert panel; I’m not in senior leadership in school, nor am I a teacher within a multi-academy trust or academy chain. I don’t live in the south of England with easy access to educational events, debates or conferences. In short, I’m exactly the sort of teacher that needs the College of Teaching and who should be integral to its make up.


I’m a middle leader within my school, with a significant professional development remit both internally and within local schools through my role as Teaching School Coordinator.


I regularly see young teachers enter the profession from a range of different routes. I see them develop skills and depth of knowledge and understanding over the years, very rapidly at first; and I see them then either plateau, or I see them blossom and flourish and move into more senior positions – often taking them out of the classroom in the process.


There is of course a broad middle ground, too – and these are all teachers I feel are in need of the College.


Much of the system’s input into teacher development is front-loaded and once a certain base level of expertise is reached, many teachers are then left to tick over in the same way as they always have. I believe we are losing too much potential – the wasted years in teaching, if you will – in leaving teachers to operate in this way for perhaps thirty or more years.


At the national conference of ResearchEd in September last year, Schools Minister Nick Gibb told us that: “There’s never been a better time to be a teacher” – and I agree. In fact I will always agree. At all points throughout my 25 year career, there has never been a better time, in spite of the many disorientating changes I’ve seen, which have often left teachers bobbing about like corks on a turning tide.


Teachers that I know feel the same; there’s a huge impetus within the profession to make long-term commitments to improving our schools. The College of Teaching will provide a central focus and act as a coordinating hub for this commitment.


There’s an emergence of a new sense of responsibility among teachers to lead the way. The school-led system has been so successful in developing local networks, working groups, research clusters and professional development alliances that teachers are now in a much stronger position to develop the tools and strategies for self-improvement as well as school-improvement.


Teachers want to use this sense of self-awareness and professional responsibility to add to, and absorb, new information about educational practices to make children’s learning as effective as possible. There is currently a hole in the education system that the College of Teaching needs to fill. It offers many potential opportunities for teachers in terms of professional and career development, access to professional knowledge, mentoring, accredited courses and portable qualifications.


It’s exciting to think that teachers could access these benefits for themselves, independently of the school, trust or chain that they work within, enabling us to further our commitment to the education system, the teaching profession, to pupil progress and our own personal development.


In 2015 I made a resolution to get out of Cumbria. Not to leave, but to open myself up to the best of what was available nationally, perhaps internationally. I wanted to take back to my home county the successes of London and other regions, and of trusts and chains that don’t feature very prominently in the Cumbrian educational landscape. I live about as far away from a Free School as it’s possible to live; schools in my area form small clusters and it’s not always easy to travel between them. So last year, I made a point of getting to meetings and conferences that I wouldn’t normally have considered.


I found that successes in other regions often hinged on a sense of professional community between and within groups of teachers. In northern, rural, coastal and outlying areas, teachers often lack the connectedness that exists in other areas. In looking for more for the profession, I found the opportunity for this connectedness in the Claim Your College campaign and the group’s proposal for the College of Teaching.


The College of Teaching can offer this connectedness to all member teachers, regardless of region, school type, or phase. All teachers need this throughout their careers, to prevent the plateau research tells us can happen when teachers are not as stimulated as they could be, or as supported as they should be.


So what’s a teacher from the north of England to do in London on a school day, as I will be tomorrow? A gallery or two, maybe? Shopping and lunch in a trendy bistro? Actually, I’ve already made plans – because what else can a teacher from the north of England do in London on a school day, but visit a school? I shall be continuing the journey by visiting Michaela Community School in Brent to see the work they do.


This week last year, part of a blog I’d written was read out at the SSAT Wellcome Trust review dinner. In this blog, I’d written from the perspective of a teacher twenty years hence….

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the College of Teaching. I wouldn’t have received the mentoring, support, stimulation to develop my teaching, or the confidence to engage with others on a broader platform had I not committed to the College all those years ago, when I became an NQT.  I’m now part of a profession which has grown and grown in status and professionalism since the early days of the College. Teachers’ voices are heard and respected, of course they are. Views are sought about professional development, examinations and assessment and curriculum. Of course they are.

A number of changes have taken place since then-

  • The Claim Your College proposal was finalised and submitted – all of those involved in the Claim Your College coalition should be thanked for their tremendous hard work leading up to this point
  • Last spring, the proposal was accepted
  • Questions in the house prior to the last election enabled further discussion – I feel I should certainly offer my gratitude to Charlotte Leslie MP for all she has done to help further this cause
  • A selection committee was created and tasked with recruiting for and appointing a board of trustees
  • And after a rigorous selection process, those trustees are now in place and undertaking significant amounts of work to enable the advancement of a whole organisation.
  • As the phases of development continue, as the College takes shape and its provision for teachers becomes embedded in practice, I believe that there will come a point when teachers look back and wonder how on earth there was ever a time when we didn’t have the College of Teaching as our professional body. Thank you.



Back to the Future 1

Back to the Future 1 – personal reflections on my visit to Michaela Community School

What is a teacher from the north of England, living about as far from a free school as it’s possible to live, going to do when in London on a school day? Visit Michaela, of course. I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was about regarding the values and methods of this young school.

I’ve often said that I’d love to be starting my teaching career again. I’d make different choices, go down one of the newer routes that are available now to graduates looking for a career in secondary education. Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I found myself wanting to turn the clock back further. If I could start year 7 all over again, (and had the option of doing it in Brent, which I would never even have heard of when I was an 11 year old in Lincolnshire…) I’d start it at Michaela Community School.

At 11, I needed and loved structure, organisation and order. I was the kid who ran her own bedroom library and issued books to dolls and teddies, complete with tickets, a membership log and a catalogue. It mattered to me that everything slotted into its proper place, at the proper time and for the right reasons. It all added up to a type of security that I valued and enjoyed – maybe not for everybody – and it’s the same sort of security at Michaela. Expectations are super clear. Time is used efficiently, every part of the day is a learning experience and the self-control and good manners that are perpetually encouraged in each individual serve to propel the whole school through the day in a positive frame of mind.

Routines at Michaela – a school still less than two years old, remember – are solidly embedded into the running order of the school day. These have been commented on elsewhere, so I’m not going to relay every detail. The important factor from my point of view was that the routines that were most visible were actually the most useful, and they were there to enhance learning. Some routines serve to pace an ‘admin’ activity, such as when gluing a sheet into an exercise book; some serve to signal transition points in lessons, or to ensure that a short discussion returned smoothly to the main topic. With many of these routines though, came gentle reminders, quiet prompts or a clear simple gesture. It wasn’t overbearing. It really wasn’t. It was efficient and made it clear what the children needed to be doing at that point.

Gaining factual knowledge, and remembering it, feature highly at Michaela. I’m one of those people who teaches things to kids. Often not even in my own class. In fact, I don’t even have to be in a school, let alone my own school. Give me a child, and we talk about stuff, and I see my role as an adult as being about helping them learn. That might be learning, experientially, in the moment – “what would happen if you tipped that into there?” – or it might be something away from the child’s direct realm of experience – “why do grown ups go to work?” – but whatever it is, I like the child to have grown in some way as a result. I probably will have done, too. At Michaela, I explained some of the poetry of G M Hopkins to my year 8 guide, and she questioned me about the context in which he had been writing. I discussed the use of animalistic similes in chapter one of Of Mice and Men with some year 7s, and encouraged them to remember the quotations we highlighted. It was great to be able to converse with children who held in their memories a tapestry of increasing complexity, colour and intricacy, representing some important cultural milestones.

Lunchtime conversation threaded through different topics, centring on the day’s theme of ‘rumours’. I listened as the children talked through various hypothetical situations. At the point where they seemed to need more of a framework to hang their thoughts on, I introduced the word ‘verify’ to them, leading into more talk about words sharing the same origins. The Michaela staff and pupils call this ‘family lunch’ and that’s how it felt. It was like a meal we’d have at home, with adults shaping and reinforcing where needed, and children chatting and exploring ideas, asking questions, finding exceptions and then moving into a new cycle of enquiry. Ours ended up with a discussion about rumours and truth, which led to truth and narrative, and whether narrative worlds could collide.

It was when a point of speculation was reached regarding a Harry Potter/Star Wars hybrid, that the dining hall was called to order, with a simple raised hand signal, and appreciations began. A handful of children were selected to offer a simple message of gratitude to another person or group in the school community. A swift double clap reflects the whole group’s acknowledgement, and off we were in to the next. With each child, something was happening beyond surface appearances. My table had also been discussing the appreciations they might offer as they’d been eating together. One boy supported another, helping him with the vocabulary he might use. Another encouraged a friend to speak a little more loudly so that people could hear him properly. Some of the children selected were ‘first timers’ in speaking to their whole year group and this development was recognised too.

Learning really matters at Michaela, and every single minute really matters for learning. We hear a lot these days about teaching to the point of liminality, of spacing and interleaving, of working memory and long-term memory – and we also hear about deep learning and analytical thinking and  independence. I saw all of these in the many lessons I observed, and not just in the content that was being delivered, but equally in the manner in which it was organised and presented. Many of the potential pitfalls that could occur are just eliminated from the teaching equation…kids don’t lose their places when reading, as they always keep a ruler under the words, and lines are numbered to enable reading to recommence after a quick question and answer session. These are simple shortcuts, the sort that a parent might use with their children, to keep to the family to deadlines and keep the clutter organised.

I saw plenty of lessons on my visit. I was allowed to go anywhere and everywhere – thanks to headmistress Ms Katharine Birbalsingh for this. I saw two maths, two English, two French, one history and one music lesson, lunch break time in the yard and a calm and friendly mealtime. I was due to be picked up at 2, but had I been able to stay longer, I’d have been on the brink of offering to take a class or some form tutor time.

If I ever go back, I will.

Finnish Take Away – something sweet for dessert

Yes, I am a Finnophile.

I do get dewey-eyed and warm and fuzzy when discussing things I saw and heard on my visit. I was shown the good stuff, I know that, not the disadvantage, the unemployment, the underperformance and the disaffection. I know.

And I’m happy with that – I know what a world we live in. I’ve just chosen to promote the positives of the world rather than perpetuate the deficiencies.

Finland isn’t England, or the UK, I know that too. I know that the uniqueness of Finnish history and culture have brought it to a place that can’t just be emulated or reproduced here or elsewhere. And we shouldn’t be trying to do that.

In many ways, though, Finnish collective efforts and belief in betterment for all offer something of a key with which to unlock some of the complexities of our times.


Simple things. Strong messages. Clear aims.

For instance, in Finnish schools, pupils serve themselves lunch. Meals are free and the food is set out in trays and they take what they need. You might think this would lead to clumsy, silly behaviour – no, I saw 7 year olds managing perfectly well. You might suggest greed or wastefulness – but no. Pupils have to eat what they take. They are encouraged to take only what they think they can eat and no more – and there are no waste bins or trays left out for them to scrape their plates into. Sure, if they want more, they can go back, butter themselves some bread – yes, 7 year old with knives, shock – or get a glass of milk, or a piece of fruit. But there is no waste – no advantage in taking more for yourself at the expense of the rest. Lessons learned early in life.

At the Education Department on the final morning of my stay, I heard another of these lessons. One of the officials told me of something she learned as a young teacher, that education was for the whole person, for the hands, the head and the heart. It’s a thought often attributed to St Francis of Assisi, and has been reworked many times. Finns speak openly and unashamedly of their beliefs and values – there is no need for “Finnish values” to be a curricular item, as they are enacted daily and upheld through discussion and decision-making on a local and national scale.


Like many of the buildings in Helsinki, sunk into the granite base-rock of the landscape, these values seem unshakeable. I hope so.

Finnish Take Away – Main

How enlightening can a journey from an airport to a hotel really be?

It’s always interesting – OK, I’m a bit funny in this respect – to see the road signs of different countries. The way a traffic system is run reflects so many of the assumptions of the society itself. And so it proved with Helsinki.

Take speed limits. Not very glamorous in themselves, but the way transgression are dealt with in Finland reflects, actually celebrates, so much about the beliefs of the people. Be wary of going over the speed limit – you could be stung with a big fine, particularly if you’re a high earner, as in Finland the amount you are fined is determined by your income.


Earlier this year, the BBC reported a speeding millionaire who was given a “whopping 54,000-euro fine”. The rationale is that the punishment has to impact everyone the same way – but that doesn’t mean it has to be the same punishment.

So many decisions in Finland are made with this sense of social well-being in mind. When you travel through the city by tram, you might enter at the centre of the carriage. Realising that it could then prove difficult for parents with young children to manoeuvre through other travellers to get to the driver to pay, or might even have to leave their child unattended to do so, authorities decided that parents with children in buggies didn’t have to pay for their journeys.


Two signs of the times, though, have put this provision in jeopardy. Firstly – some people now play the system. Tales are told of ne’er-do-wells bundling closed-up but childless prams onto trams in order to claim a free ride. The consternation as this is discussed is both prickly and palpable. Secondly, technological developments have negated the need for the discount – many trams are now fitted with contactless payment consoles at different points. Mixed blessings.

Times are changing in education too.

Remember, Finland only became an independent country in 1917 when freedom from Russia, and before that Sweden, was finally achieved. Finland is a modern country in an ancient land. Until the 50s, education was limited as the country worked to build its industrial base. Reforms gathered pace and by the 70s something like the current system, its structure of comprehensive school followed by high school, emerged.

A few key points-

Finnish children start formal schooling at 7, the equivalent of our year 3.

There is a year of pre-school before comprehensive schooling starts, where basic literacy and numeracy instruction begin, though the emphasis is still on story, games, talking and play.


The research lab of the Playful Learning Centre at the University of Helsinki.

Finnish comprehensive schooling is of 9 years, from age 7 to age 16 in the same school. Primary-style topic based teaching happens in most schools until the ages of 10-12, but this can vary – each school can prioritise according to its own needs.

At age 16, children choose whether to continue into academic or vocational education. Over 95% of children stay in education, roughly half to each direction. They can move between the two if they wish.

At 19, Finnish students graduate from high school or vocational college. Many continue into university, which is free.

A quirky feature of the Finns’ completion of their schooling is the wearing white caps for their graduation parties. It’s a feature of a number of Nordic countries. (Later, some degrees, in fact, can earn you a top hat, even a sword.) One of my hosts explained the origin of this tradition – apparently, during the early nineteenth century, around the time of the Napoleonic wars, it was thought that students might harbour revolutionary thoughts, so it was wise to have them wear a uniform so that they might be identified in public gatherings.


And so…the successes grew in the Finnish education system. Following the curriculum reforms of the 70s, the demise of private schools, the creation of the matriculation system (whereby students take a final series of exams at 19 but no other formal public exams before this point), Finnish performance, by 2000, seemed to be the envy of many countries.

Within a generation though, all was not well. PISA rankings have fallen slightly, partly due to internal pressures and partly related to the rise of the ‘Tiger’ education systems of south-east Asia.

Increased international mobility and migration have led to broader ethnic and cultural diversity, and a corresponding reduction in the homogenous nature of the Finnish population. Students – from as far away as Somalia or Bangladesh – arrive in Finnish schools with no Finnish or Swedish language. Migrant workers from Estonia bring their children into the country and settle into a new life.

Pressures on the Finnish authorities to accommodate these new communities – and other economic and cultural changes – have impacted on the education system, which characteristically is run on less party-political lines than in the UK. Changes are planned for 10-15 years ahead, with consensus and consultation, reviews and stake-holder discussions key features of the process. I heard talk of the “22nd century skills and workforce”. Holders of public office in the present feel a shared responsibility for the society of the future.



Another road sign – depicting a shared use of space, by the harbour.

I was told of some of the arrangements for children who don’t speak Finnish or Swedish coming into schools. They have the option of taking a whole year to learn the native language(s) before being taught in mainstream classes. As soon as they know enough Finnish or Swedish, they can transfer into some of all classes of their peers. At the same time, these students are supported in the literacy and language development of their own community – two hours a week are dedicated to this, in the belief that continued mother-tongue literacy has multiple benefits, socially and in formal education.

Schools attempt to integrate newcomers into the community, with classes and meetings for parents who might not understand the Finnish systems and who might not have had a lot of formal education themselves. Finns I spoke to about this were keen to explain the role of interpreters – they never use children in this role. It’s not for children to deal with adult problems. Schools and municipal authorities have to provide linguists to ease families’ transitions.

In the midst of all this, curriculum upheaval is rumbling through the whole system. I’ve written about this elsewhere (TES 30/10/15) and will add a link if one becomes available. Permeating all the intricately linked elements of Finnish educational and social systems is a seemingly, hopefully, unshakeable belief in the common good. All children attend their ‘local’ school – there is no understanding of competition between schools in the sense we know it. All schools aim to be the best, for the benefit of all, not at the expense of another.

Teachers feel valued because their ideas are considered, their voices are heard and their individual contributions are meaningful.


Finnish Take Away – Starter

My first views of Finland, arriving on an afternoon flight in early summer, were of the hundreds of lakes and islands that freckle the landscape. Land meets water meets land. Land surrounds water surrounds land. The landscape in itself reflects the many dualities with which Finns are quite comfortable.


Finland is open to the Baltic sea, with the gulfs of Bothnia and Finland to the west and south-east respectively. Helsinki, the tremendously splendid and beautiful Nordic capital city, stands its ground with its various harbours facing Estonia to the south and Russia to the east.

Finland is neighbour to Sweden and Russia and still feels their many influences, in language – all the signs are in Finnish and Swedish, both are taught in schools – and buildings. I recognised much Russian-influenced architecture, reminiscent of a visit to Hungary in 1991 when they’d only just loosened their border controls and bullet holes were still visible in lots of walls, scars of former skirmishes with soviet forces. I digress…but I brought something of that understanding of occupation, and independence, into my encounter with Helsinki.


Helsinki airport sits in the northern district of Vantaa – the city itself has a core and several outlying ‘sub-cities’ now virtually merged into one. It’s the visitor’s first experience of the country as a whole and the Finns certainly use their airport to send messages to the rest of the world.

One of the first facilities to greet the weary traveller is a Chinese restaurant – not a cheap and cheerful bland copy of Chinese food as you’d find anywhere in the world. Real Chinese food, provided by real Chinese people – what better way to welcome visitors with whom newly developing business partnerships are actively being nurtured? The Finns are thoughtful people, a nation of planners and speculators, and the placing of a Chinese facility in a prime airport position is no accident at all. The city, the country, courts Chinese and south-east Asian business. It invites multi-nationals to use conference facilities in the city, in the hope, the expectation – no, the planned-in inducement – that these business people will return with their families to Finland as part of their European holiday explorations. They think things through, the Finns.

The second main ‘showcase’ within the airport is the shop of the Finns’ favourite design group, Marimekko. Vivid, bright, modern, colourful fabrics, accessories and trinkets tempt visitors and are a sign of things to come. Finns are artists and creators – the design district of Helsinki rivals that of any other major city.


A Marimekko design on a Finnair ‘plane

Helsinki is a city of competition and consultation. During my stay, posters and news articles declared the most recent developments in a competition for the design of the new Guggenheim centre. Public votes and comments were harvested daily. Waiters discussed the developments – in six or seven different languages – with visitors in cafes and restaurants. Helsinki residents enjoy this sense of collaboration and the feeling that their voices count because their opinions are based on both good knowledge and good sense. At the university, the Kaisa library was co-designed by the student body, and what a fantastic job they made of it. I could have spent a week in this place, an inspiring space.


With such a sense of collaboration and effort for the common good, mixed with innovation and creativity and a significant chunk of Nordic pragmatism, no wonder I was excited for what was to come…

Don’t Throw It All Away

This September, our NQTs are arriving full of trepidation, yes, but also full of up-to-date subject knowledge, recent experience of other settings and a new, but possibly fragile, commitment to teaching— let’s make sure our school provision and induction arrangements value these new starters and their qualities.


Time and again we hear of widely varying NQT experiences, from those who have joined departments or schools with active and effective support protocols and CPD practices, to those who have been treated neglectfully by the people or systems around them. What can we do to make sure we don’t throw away all the potential NQTs offer?



The A – Z of NQT induction


A address issues as they arise – a little guidance and advice, offered regularly from the sidelines, is more likely to be accepted as a normal and constructive part of the relationship between NQT and team leader, than a once in a while focus on a serious problem which might have more emotional strain attached.


B book appointments in advance – make regular discussions part of the mentoring process. Doing this allows time to talk and for the NQT to mull over some ideas, or respond to a target, before the scheduled appointment. Committing to a time and place sends a message that this time is important.


C class management induction – beware the honeymoon period. Keep an ear to the ground and check with your NQT and other colleagues – is your new recruit coping OK after the start of term dust has settled? Chat to key form tutors to see if any informal feedback has been offered by pupils.


D departmental routines might be second nature to you, but can seem overwhelming to the new starter. Make sure key events, are flagged well in advance.


E ebb and flow – the workload of a teacher is often irregular. Encourage your menthe to plan ahead for the busy times so as not to overload themselves.


F follow up any niggles, from your NQT, pupils, other staff, parents – misunderstandings need to be unraveled and a relationship built on finding solutions sets the tone for future development


G go the extra mile for your NQT, if it seems appropriate. You won’t want to hold their hand and encourage them to be dependent on you – but at the same time, they are looking to you to assist them in completing their professional training – and they are entitled to your support.


H home life is important to all of us – be aware of any particular issues that might affect a new starter’s settling-in.


I information – make sure data, important internal documents, online forum membership details, usernames and passwords are shared. Leaving your NQT in a position of ignorance is unfair.


J jointly prepare and plan – if you’re not sure about an NQT’s confidence in the classroom, build some shared planning into your meetings. You’ll want to keep an eye on the ’quality control’ within your department/phase anyway. I’ve known Heads of Department meet NQTs each day after the last lesson to discuss outlines for the following lessons – in so doing, you’re scaffolding and modelling your expectations, and you’ll soon see when you can reduce the time needed to oversee.


K knowledge development is so important to teacher development and an expectation that the newcomer will continue to work on their subject knowledge and signature pedagogues is essential. Even in the early days, you might be discussing what the NQT might be teaching the next year, and what they will need to develop in the meantime.


L listen to what the NQT doesn’t say, as much as to what they do. Did you notice that when discussing their classes, they avoided mentioning that year 10 class? Did you wonder why..?


M merge, match and mentor – coordinating a team is about finding the right combinations of individuals for specific projects. Try to match up your NQT with a suitable buddy for part of a key project.


N new developments happen all the time but NQTs don’t yet realise this. Being able to support the team through change from whatever starting point or focus they currently have is all part of steering the team in the long-term.


O observations need to be arranged, in as many forms as possible. Enable the NQT to observe other teachers in the department and around the school – they need to see what the standards and routines are. It would be unfair to judge them on these expectations without giving them these opportunities first.


P pressures come from all angles – and the newcomer can’t always separate the major from the minor – encourage some perspective through humour, shared experiences and discussion with a range of mentor figures.


Q question your NQT all the time – you’re the leader and there’s a lot about the day to day work of your team that you need to know about. Set the expectation that you’ll be asking about homework, test results, behaviour, etc – from here, it’s easier to mould and shape rather than acting retrospectively after a formal review, observation or intervention.


R reporting to your Local Authority or other senior body needs to be timely and accurate. Ensure that you’ve planned your own time in terms of observation, feedback, review, data collection, etc, so that you’re properly informed at the appropriate points in the year.


S share your anecdotes, disaster stories and worries – your whole team, and your NQTs in particular, need to see that mistakes can be rectified and barriers overcome.


T timing – gradually aim to increase the challenge and independence experienced by the NQT. Share your thoughts with them, and encourage them to plan their stages of development with you.


U understand that the NQT’s field of vision is not the same as yours – some NQTs can barely see to the end of the lesson, never mind the end of the day, week or term – if there are worries about their performance, you’d hope to have been alerted to this by the ITT tutors, but if this isn’t the case, you might need to contact them to ask for more information about how to support your NQT


V variety of input – experienced mentors draw on a broad range of strategies to help the development of NQTs: other colleagues, internal INSET, external training such as through the LA, your academy group, Teaching School or other partnerships; printed materials, podcasts, videos and internet sources – knowing which to offer when is part of your getting to know your mentee.


W wishing they were different ain’t gonna make it so – once appointed, this teacher is in charge of the education of children. Make sure your interventions and supports keep this as the main focus.


X x-ray vision, 6th sense, 2nd sight, intuition, radar, call it what you will – if you get ‘that feeling’ that something’s not right, it’s best to check it out.


Y you – mentoring an NQT can be a great pleasure and privilege. It can also be draining, frustrating and time-consuming. Pass any serious concerns to your line manager and look after yourself.


Z zoo, zither, zinnia and zumba – we all love our treats, so a little gesture of appreciation once in a while, a little act of kindness, even something as simple as stepping in with photocopying on a really busy morning, making the coffees or leaving a Ferrero Rocher on the desk just says ‘I know what it’s like’ – and that might be all it takes to give a boost to a new starter looking for a little reassurance.

And finally….remember what it was like when you started out. If we could all pay back in to the system all the support we’ve been given along the way, we’d be a stronger profession for it.






I will if you will

Dear Primary Teachers,

As a secondary school English teacher, I know that I know very little about how you work or how you get the best out of your pupils with all the pressures that you face. I know that we are not as good at the key stage 2 to 3 transition as we should be and I know that we all feel that if we had more time and opportunity to get together and understand each other’s perspectives, then it might make all our jobs a little easier, and more successful. I know that visits between each other’s schools, sharing some teaching maybe, or some planning, might help. I will if you will. Any takers?

I’m pleased and excited, now that my school has become a teaching school, to be able to work with some primary colleagues through our partnership arrangements. We’re making a priority of transition work, and shared projects to improve reading and writing in particular. We’ll have to share our worries, and our triumphs. This is something happening round the country. I want to find out how to make this work. I will if you will. Are we ready for this?

Within our English departments, we’ve been anticipating feeling the effects of some of the changes that we’ve heard have been happening in primary. I shared with my English colleagues the glossary outlining the language terms that KS2 pupils will soon be coming to us with. Some gulped, their fears based on a sense of bewilderment at this terminology. Most secondary English teachers are Literature trained, and know they’ll soon be facing language lessons themselves in order to develop appropriate schemes for new pupils. English teachers with linguistics knowledge will be called upon to share and disseminate – and maybe this is something that we should all be doing more readily – within our departments, between partner schools, across phase boundaries? I will if you will. Should we talk about this?

I now know, since reading Michael Tidd’s blog, more about how English teaching has been changing in primary schools and I know we’ll need to think again, and again, about how to build on the work being done in primaries over the next few years. I guess we’ll have to adapt the schemes that we’ve only just implemented since the rewriting of the national curriculum. It’ll be tentative at first, as we get used to the new ‘profiles’ of the pupils coming through to us. I’ll admit, we’ll be relieved to see new Year 7s with better spelling, but we also know that it doesn’t end there. When new starters come to us, their 4 hours a week in English are dwarfed by the other 21 hours of subjects in their timetables which might not focus to the same extent on the explicit development of reading and writing skills – spellings which are taught, practised, marked and corrected in English might be deemed less important elsewhere, by some of their other 12 or 13 teachers, in about 85% of their week, in fact. What messages do the children take from this? Our ‘Literacy Across the Curriculum’ expectations need to be watertight. I think we need to learn from the primary experience here. We should compare approaches. I will if you will. Shall we give it a go?

More of a focus in primary on whole text reading, on poetry and on analysing the craft of the writer sound great to most of us in secondary. It fits with the eventual movement towards GCSE and A levels, especially in their new forms, so we’re hoping that the children will feel a smoother ‘join’ between the two phases than their older siblings might have. Like you, we’ll be glad to get rid of some of the fragmentary and formulaic approaches to text production and reception that we’ve had in recent years – maybe we could actually meet up in our communities of schools, secondaries and feeder primaries together, and air our concerns, chat over a coffee and give each other a few pointers? We’d love to know more about phonics, for example, to be able to build on the learning already experienced in primary. I will if you will. Who will you bring?

And the things that happen in secondary?

Well, when our new Year 7s arrive in September, we will retest them in some way. It’s not because we don’t trust the tests they’ve recently taken, or your judgements, but we know most children will have forgotten some of their Year 6 learning over the summer, so we need to have a new measure of what they can do at the start of their new key stage: we can plan for the children in front of us when we know for sure what they can do ‘right now’. We’ll need to add more detail to the broad brush strokes of levels and sub-levels. And that child whose results were a disappointment to you? You knew they could really manage more but they messed up on the day – we’ll spot that soon enough. But maybe we’d spot it sooner if we shared pupils’ work more readily between us? I will if you will. Maybe I should give you a ring?

For similar reasons, we will cover some aspects of the topics they will have studied before – I need to know, for instance, what my 7M class know about different types of punctuation, before setting out to teach them their next steps. My school takes children from almost 30 feeder primaries, so we need to find a quick way to set our own standards and get the pupils going on their new key stage learning. We’ll then take these children through a whole range of texts of different types, from different periods, different writing projects and some spoken debates, recitals and presentations. Our data collection schedules dictate that a range of skills are covered each term – it might seem like a rush, but on only 4 hours a week, we have to plough through the topics to show progress in the different areas. I suspect there might be a better way to do this. I imagine that, having built relationships with your classes over longer periods of time, you might have found more subtle ways of keeping track of pupils’ learning. We should meet up more often to discuss these things. I will if you will. When do you want to do it?

With so many changes to our curriculum plans, new testing arrangements and the ‘raising the bar’ initiatives that are happening at the moment, we’re all worried about getting it right. Assessment procedures feel like a day out at the old funfair ‘crazy house’ where reflections are exaggerated, the ground shifts beneath your feet and perspectives are distorted. We could be facing a crisis in results and reputations could tumble if we don’t adapt quickly enough. We might suspect that such uncertainties are put here to test our resolve and initiative. So these are the challenges we need to respond to by taking control of all the elements in our reach. More liaison between phases might help us both adjust and develop. I will if you will. Your place or mine?

With thanks to @MichaelT1979, @shinpad1 and @thinshadow