Tuesday 5 April 2016

Freedoms in Academy Chains? Teacher responds to my Guardian article today

Let me offer some examples of the 'freedoms' given to the teachers working at the MAT in our area:
- all children to work from the same page in the same textbook at the same time of every day in each of the MAT schools. So all children in Year 3 will do page 7 of their maths textbook at 9am on a Monday morning. Except...some of the children won't be able to do that because they can't yet count to 25, and some will be way beyond that page because they can already do those particular sums. But while the teacher is allowed to help individuals, they are not allowed to not work on that page. They can't set alternative work. They can't say 'let's go back a few pages until you understand' or 'go to page 17 because you already know this'. Oddly, this leads to behavioural issues - who knew that children who are made to feel stupid or who are bored out of their minds would act up??? Where is the freedom to teach here?
- all teachers in the MAT schools can be moved at will between the schools regardless of their own preference or the experience of the children. So on a Monday, Mrs Smith might work in School A but on Tuesday she might be forced to travel 35 miles to School B to teach a different class full of children she's never met, plus leave cover work for a supply teacher for the kids not being taught in School A. This does not - ever - lead to good outcomes for the children. It is far better for them to be taught consistently by a teacher with whom they have a good working relationship. And never mind the fact that actually Mrs Smith doesn't like School B, wouldn't ever have accepted a job there, would never have applied there in the first place.
- the behavioural systems in place are the same in every school in the trust. Sounds reasonable, sounds consistent. Doesn't work in practice. School A is in a leafy suburb and has mostly well-behaved children of aspirational parents. School B is in a much more deprived area with parents too busy or too disengaged to worry about their child's education, and behaviour is extremely poor. The fact that different systems need to be applied to create safe, effective working environments for the students is not a factor in the decision making process - it is more important for the MAT to be seen to have a 'brand' (same uniform, similar names etc) than it is to actually make things work. This means School A is working well (as, in fact, it did before) and School B is getting worse.
- decisions about pay for teachers comes not from the headteacher of the school but from their CEO. The headteachers of both schools have both received hefty pay rises (despite the drop in behaviour and results in School B) but there is apparently no money to reward the best teachers in either school. So much for performance related pay. Equally, targets are set from above from people in management with no idea that the numbers relate to actual human beings. So one teacher, who moved to my school, described her performance management targets of 100% making more than expected progress across all possible subjects, tests etc. Never mind that attendance of some children was below 70% and therefore their progress was never going to be good. Never mind that some children progress in little spurts, then level off, then have another spurt...nope. 100% or you're a failing teacher. She had excellent results, but she simply could not accept that a single child's fallibility meant she would be considered failing.
- the head's 'welcome' on first day of academic year essentially went like this: "This is the way we do things here. If you don't do it this way, we will make your lives miserable and then you will be fired."
- students on the SEN register were not provided with appropriate support. There was no SENCo at either school and parents found it impossible to make contact with anyone who could help with assessments, referrals etc. They quietly disappeared into other - local authority - schools.
- there were weird discrepancies between how many students began Year 10 and how many took exams at the end of Year 11. Oddly, at my school, we picked up between 10 and 15 students who were seriously underachieving in these two years who transferred to us from the MAT schools. Their poor results went on our record set instead of the trust school who'd taught them for 4 years. It was peculiar how it was entirely underachieving students who were unlikely to make their grades that transferred.

None of this shows any more accountability or any more freedom. In fact, the staff at these trust schools reported far less freedom and far more bureaucracy. Worryingly, turnover at these schools is massive in terms of staff. I certainly wouldn't send my own children to either of them - unhappy staff leave, often leaving unqualified or supply staff to fill in.