The ‘Outstanding’ school fallacy (It’s not one where the staff work twice as hard as the kids)

This week an insurance firm specialising in coverage against teachers being off work published some revealing figures showing that stress causes twice the amount of time off as common ailments with the firm’s director Harry Cramer noting that “among men it is the single biggest reason.” In another (admittedly less rigorous) study, a preliminary online survey of 3,500 members of the NASUWT showed that 67% of teachers felt that the job was adversely affecting their mental health, with 76% saying they are “seriously considering” leaving the profession.

The usual suspects rolled out are Ofsted, consistent curriculum changes, poor behaviour and increased bureaucracy but one thing that’s rarely mentioned is that in many schools it would appear that teachers are working significantly harder than the pupils in their charge, and not so much because the kids are lazy but rather because of an institutionalised miasma that is obsessed with measuring everything (usually poorly) that privileges the spreadsheet over the individual and which has infantilised the process of learning to such a degree that actually knowing stuff is deemed less important than merely appearing to know stuff.

What are the contributing factors here?

1. Ownership of results 

 For whatever reason the ownership of student achievement has somehow transferred from pupil to teacher. We now talk about *our* results, not *their* results. Many teachers start off in September with a well intentioned focus on ‘independent learning’ only to end up in Feb-May doing a series of lessons that look more like the Gettysburg address. If results now *belong* to the teachers, why should the students work as hard?

 2. A culture of Spoon-feeding.

In a culture that audits itself purely in terms of readily quantifiable measures against often arbitrary targets (with very real consequences for the teacher as opposed to the student) the inevitable outcome will be for teachers to do ‘whatever it takes’ to hit those targets, and this has led to some of the most unethical practices ever seen and yet those same schools are deemed ‘outstanding.’

3. The “shrinking of intellectual aspiration.” 

Can’t claim credit for that phrase, I heard Tony Little say it last week and it struck a chord. Something I find more alarming than the proportion of kids who lack basic foundational knowledge (in terms of culture/history/politics) is the amount of teachers who think that’s ok. Too many schools now are bastions of anti-intellectualism that exist only to hit targets and where being clever and culturally aware comes second to passing an exam.

In a school culture that seems to think purely in financial terms, it will view individuals as expendable and the inevitable outcome is that canopy of meaningless bureaucracy and stress where teachers are more skilled at data entry that knowing their subject. And the saddest thing is that the kids then begin to think in this fiscal way, and demand ‘painting by numbers’ style teaching in order to pass exams and one day inevitably utter the most depressing sentence you can hear as a teacher: ‘but will this be in the exam?’

An outstanding school is not one where the teachers are working twice as hard as the kids. It’s a quivering house of cards that is constantly on the verge of collapse.

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