Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Chutney Maker has spoken

I was asked to write the editorial for Creative Teaching & Learning Magazine and thought I would share it here too.

‘The Chutney maker has spoken!’
It’s Wednesday evening and as ever I’m glued to this season’s ‘The Apprentice’. I love it, the arrogance of the contestants is breathtaking, their confidence knows no bounds…the fact that this confidence is often misplaced is immaterial, their self -belief and drive make for compelling viewing.
Tonight’s episode was about making sauces and condiments – frankly a disaster but when one team went to deliver their pitch they were given minutes to explain and whilst there was lots of nodding and fake smiles the answer was ‘no it’s not for us’. When they asked why they were simply told ‘The chutney maker has spoken!’ So there you have someone on the outside who observed for a few minutes, made the most cursory of samples, didn’t take into account the team work and decision making that had gone into getting them there, was only interested in the finished item…which simply wasn’t to his standards. Remind you of anyone?
Obviously this is a clichéd view of Ofsted and in many cases it’s unfair. However, a number of facts remain:
Ofsted exist and WILL visit.
When they do visit your life will not be your own for several days and panic will ensue.
Ofsted WILL leave and life will return to normal
The amount of effort required for possibly no observation or 20 minutes observation should NOT be allowed to dictate what you do in your classroom for the next year or so.
The number of times I’ve worked with teachers on creativity based activities only to find that whilst they love the work ‘I don’t think I could use it…what would an Ofsted inspector say?’ My reply to this is ‘who cares?’ What’s more important…20 minutes or pupils engaged in learning and developing as independent learners…? How can I ‘lure the pupils into learning’ when I need my Aims and objectives on the board? I use a lesson on the Plague in Eyam where I place a hessian blanket on the floor with a sign saying ‘Do not touch the blanket’ as a starter – that won’t work if I write on the board ‘Learning objective: To examine the causes of the plague in Eyam, To look at how the plague was carried from London via cloth that was delivered to the tailor’ It’s like reading the last page of the book first! More importantly – stop making excuses, step outside of your comfort zone and if you believe what you are doing is right – explain to the Ofsted inspector or the SLT member ….invite them in, be proud of what you do. Reading Debbie Kidd’s column in this edition made me laugh out loud and I wholeheartedly agree with her stance. (For the record I didn’t write a learning objective on the board when we had an Inspection in Feb and it was still judged as Outstanding)
I’m not suggesting we ignore Ofsted guidelines as some of them make perfect sense but I agree wholeheartedly with Jackie Beere in her latest book ‘The Perfect Ofsted Inspection’ where she says
‘The aim for all of us is to have a school that we are proud for anyone to inspect – any time, any day’ – because we know what we do each day, each week, each year is to offer students great learning. Nothing is ‘perfect’……..this aims to help you to embed best practice over a period of time – not just  for the sake of an inspection but to ensure the best possible outcomes for your pupils at all times.’
We shouldn’t be changing our practice because of Ofsted we should do it despite Ofsted, we should have faith in ourselves and our abilities. If I’m a good teacher does that mean every single one of my lessons will be ‘good’ or better? No of course not, there are days when it’s windy, when two pupils have fallen out, when they’ve just had a two hour Maths exam…….
If we try something new, which as good teachers we do, then the start up process may include some ‘storming’ time as we introduce change. The work in this edition on Solo Taxonomy is amazing but you can’t just walk in and say ‘we are looking at solo today’…we have to allow for pupils to try it out.
We encourage pupils to take risks, be resilient, model how to ‘become unstuck’ – why do we not then afford the same to ourselves and our colleagues? I used to work collaboratively with a special school and loved the poster they had which read ‘no one ever got better by always getting it right’.
If you remember nothing else remember it’s ok to try and if mistakes happen we deal with them!

Going back to The Apprentice – they will happily tell people how good they are- teachers don’t do that. The climate at the moment is that teachers are inadequate, schools are failing, the usual culture where ‘those who can do and those who can’t…..’ Maybe we need to change public perception of us as a profession by starting to say what we are good at and believing in ourselves a little more.
In an interview with an American newspaper  ‘Huffington Post’ with Finland's Minister of Education, Ms. Henna Virkkunen she talks about what others may learn from the Finnish education system.

It's a difficult question. Our teachers are really good. One of the main reasons they are so good is because the teaching profession is one of the most famous careers in Finland, so young people want to become teachers. In Finland, we think that teachers are key for the future.
Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work and they test their own pupils. I think this is also one of the reasons why teaching is such an attractive profession in Finland because teachers are working like academic experts with their own Our educational society is based on trust and cooperation, so when we are doing some testing and evaluations, we don't use it for controlling [teachers] but for development. We trust the teachers.

Look at the last sentence ‘We trust the teachers’ – isn’t it about time we showed the world just how good the teachers in this country really are and then maybe we will be trusted to work on what we know is right.
Excuse me whilst I just Google to see if I could still get The Apprentice on TV if I move to Finland!


  1. I found this blog post really inspiring, thank you! I'm a trainee teacher currently writing a dissertation about trying to teach creatively in an environment stifled by exam culture, after a disappointing experience in a placement school, and this is exactly what I needed to hear : ) Thank you!

  2. Thank you for your comments, if I can be of any help please get in touch Jane


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