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Primary Education News
News Secret Teacher: why can't training days be useful for once?
Inset days that actually lead to better outcomes for the students are rarer than hens' teeth
At the beginning of this term we had an inset day. I had hoped it would be a day when we all sat together in the hall, discussing strategies for improvement. The best practitioners in the room would share their wisdom while the rest of us would nod admiringly and frantically scribble notes on how to become a better teacher. Coffee and cakes would be on hand at all points in case our attention began to wane and we needed a hit of sugar or caffeine; the senior leadership team would begin the morning not with a PowerPoint presentation (gasp) but with an off-the-cuff, from-the-heart, passionate speech about what hard-working, conscientious and effective teachers we all are before segueing beautifully into telling us to have an hour to chat about our best lesson this term. No one would mention the words Ofsted or outstanding.
The focus would be entirely on the students we teach, all of them, not just the ones that Ofsted want us to be interested in, and how to improve their experience. By the end of the day, we would have forgotten the stack of marking on our desks, the reports we still had to write by the end of Friday, and our imminent monitoring visit from HMI (Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools). We would be enthused, buzzing and excited about teaching again.
Sadly, the reality was it was the same as the majority of inset days; the day consisted of a series of PowerPoint presentations, which were read to us, just in case we couldn't do it for ourselves, that laid out in minute detail exactly what we are doing wrong. An endless repetition of jargon spewed forth from the mouths of SLT: "Outstanding lessons," "learning outcomes and objectives," "success criteria," "Kagan structures" and my personal nemesis, the "mini-plenary". Depressing sheets of sugar paper were handed out so that we could do some kinaesthetic learning. Surely, I can't be the only one who doodles little pictures of themselves hanging from a rafter when handed the sugar paper because, ultimately, I would prefer to be doing something productive. And the focus was firmly on impressing the most important people in the equation; not the students but Ofsted.
Now, I don't actually care whether my lessons always tick the 'outstanding in Oftsed's eyes' box, as long as my students get the best education they can from me. I didn't go into teaching to be outstanding in the eyes of a stranger who may never have even set foot inside a classroom. I went into teaching because I wanted to share my passion for my subject. I went into teaching because I wanted to improve the lives of the children I taught. I went into teaching because I genuinely believed I could make a difference. Yet our training days so rarely focus on the children themselves that you could almost believe that they were a distraction from the all-important A4 lesson plans.
Let's be honest. Inset days that actually lead to better outcomes for the students are rarer than hens' teeth. If we organised our lessons in the same way that these days are organised – all sit at a table for seven hours, don't talk or in any way annoy SLT and read the slide – we'd be awarded an inadequate grading so fast that our heads would spin. If we were as consistently negative about our students as SLT are on these days: "Yes, 85% of you are now good or outstanding, but the rest of you are crap. So let's spend the day talking about how to make you not crap even though most of you aren't," then we would be firmly reminded that praise is more powerful than criticism.
Just for once, I would like a training day that actually serves its purpose; to make me a better teacher. I would like to know how the best teachers in the school do it differently from me and how I can make sure that little Jimmy D-grade can be little Jimmy gets into college. I would like a jargon-free, criticism-free day. And, most importantly, I would like a day that doesn't focus on how to ensure that Ofsted like my lessons; but on how to ensure that the students like the lessons.
Is that too much to ask?
Secret Teacher is a head of English at a secondary school in the south east of England.