Mediocrity

I read a quote the other day in a tweet from Cristina Milos (@surreallyno) that seemed to articulate what I’ve been thinking for a while. It is Bogusky and Winsor (Baked In, 2009): “Why are so many people afraid of so many things, but they’re never afraid of mediocrity?” This holiday, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and writing about leadership, and I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting friends and colleagues to talk about different aspects of senior leadership and their experiences. So this blog post is the product of some of these conversations, and my thinking afterwards, where I’ve been wrestling with the concept of mediocrity and its seductive and comfortable OK-ness. Well, it doesn’t sit comfortably with me. It doesn’t sit comfortably at all. Mediocrity risks futures. Mediocrity dulls. It saps colour.

 

Mediocrity in the education system is pernicious. It quietly, unobtrusively seeps into the halls and walls and corridors of schools, and weeps out of them in sighs and unfulfilled futures. And, sometimes, mediocrity is an easy, easy option. It can be the path of least resistance; of fluffy, danced around conversations; of circuitous meetings that end in vagueries; of a seemingly beautiful policy written but not enacted well; a pen decisively dropped on a table, and a self-congratulatory biscuit. But under that suffocating quilt of mediocrity masquerading as a super-hero cloak of leadership is the hollow ring of that’ll do-ness, of document process-ness but not thinking of people, of churning out what we think Ofsted wants-ness. I do not accept this is morally justifiable.

 

Being a school leader is hard. Wrong decisions can be made. We’re human. Sometimes high stakes myopia sets in and leaders set off on paths where angels fear to tread. Sometimes knee-jerk actions abound. But mediocrity is a complacency, an inertia. This is not OK. It gambles with kids’ futures.

 

Mediocrity gnaws purpose and is a pestle and mortar to ambition. It clings tightly to the excuse of “Well, our kids! What do you expect?” and patronisingly eye-rolls the communities schools serve. And at its worst, mediocrity luxuriates on a chaise longue of low expectations, fanning away the irritation of moral imperative and languorously tossing aside the annoyance of improving things, because we’re actually doing OK.

 

Mediocrity conjures the illusion of Do you know what? We’re pretty good when kids are getting an inconsistent deal. Mediocrity is a potent alchemy where teachers and leaders chase their tails in its cloying smoke, growing wearier and wearier as the year goes on, trudging towards the end of term, knees buckling. Mediocrity blames. Mediocrity toxifies. Mediocrity is an excuse-finder. Mediocrity blames teachers for outcomes that aren’t good enough when, given the right conditions, those same teachers could be flourishing and growing and loving their jobs. But mediocrity never looks at itself. The mirror is left untouched.

 

The tragedy is that mediocrity becomes the new normal, and boy does it take root. Lives of pupils and staff are not as good as they could be. Smiles half-hearted; eyes dulled. And bright futures much harder to reach for those kids who don’t quite get to where they should have done.

 

So, what to consider? School leaders, this is about equality of opportunity. It is about a high-quality education for all being an absolute right. We can’t risk children’s futures on a “That’ll do” maxim. Ask yourself: would I be happy to send my own son/daughter/niece/nephew/brother/sister/cousin or any other young person I love to my school? ‘Cos if the answer is no, then have a word with yourself. Do something about it. Because if it’s not good enough for them, then how on earth is it good enough for any other child? That’ll do just simply won’t do.

Advertisements

To cease upon the midnight with no pain: Dad

This year, I have periodically returned to a pretty depressing topic to write about: grief and death. I know that this isn’t the most cheerful of things to trot out in a blog post and that there are many other more lifetastic topics that I could luxuriate in or canter through. I’ll do that soon, but I don’t want to at the minute. Last week, my husband lost a close family member. I’m not going to write about that; it’s still grief-blindingly raw and dizzying for his parents, and for him. It’s not my grief; I’m on the periphery, so it’s not mine to write about, but the after-death routine we’re currently going through has an apprehensive familiarity. Perhaps it’s this that makes me feel I ought to write. Perhaps I feel compelled to write about death because I’m more aware of death’s encroaching shadow as someone who has, so unfairly, lost both parents in the last few years. Or perhaps it’s because friends and colleagues have lost loved ones this year. Perhaps it was the unexpected death of one of my school friends a few months ago. Anyway, I want to explore my experience of death through my writing. I’m very aware that this sounds incredibly self-indulgent. I don’t mean it to be, and I do hope that this post helps someone, somewhere. So I am going to tentatively explore my own experience, and I’m going to metaphorically cough, spit and bleed death all over this laptop. I’m going to try to write about it as unflinchingly as I can; hard, true, bell-like.

 

Let’s face it: death is horrible, no matter how much we hope it is quiet and serene and all white sheets and a hummed In Paradisum. Even if loved ones are there at the moment of death, even if they died ‘peacefully’, even if “they didn’t suffer” (are we sure?), even if “they passed away quickly; it’s what they would have wanted” (are we really, really sure?), death rends and claws away people we love, leaving their outline etched in the sobbing air. A death that’s quick can be grief-windingly quick, where death wrenches away a loved one so fast that their breath is still, just, part of this world; their body still deceptively warm as those of us left behind gasp for our own breath, punch-drunk, after life’s lightning-fast concrete slab of an uppercut. I’ve only experienced that once, a few months ago, after I’d found out about the completely unexpected death of a school friend from sepsis. I wasn’t even really friends with her any more; it was an occasional, sunny, Facebooky friendship from years back. I felt pinballed. I didn’t know what to do with those feelings.

 

The deaths of my parents weren’t quick. They were anything but. The inexorable journey towards dusty death, for both of them, started quite a few years before they actually took their last, painful breaths. Dad was diagnosed with liver cancer two years before he died, and he cursed and swore his way towards death, literally kicking and screaming. He was having none of it. Mum had an incredibly unlucky neuro-combo of Parkinson’s disease, MS and epilepsy, with the added complication of Parkinson’s-associated dementia, and in her own gentle way patiently and stoically lived a death many times before it finally came. And when death did come for Mum, it was nearly nine months after her last hammer-blow of a fall that smashed her skull like an egg, and smashed her mind too: dementia was the final victor. The deaths of them both were life-changing for my sister and me. I didn’t realise it at the time. It was horrific, of course, and I missed them dreadfully, and still do. But it’s only now (Dad died in 2012; Mum died in 2015) that I can write about their deaths, precisely because I’ve lived through their deaths. And I’ve lived, and am still living, the aftermath: surges of grief were overwhelming. Sometimes, and thankfully more often now, it’s a gentle nudge of grief. But I feel like I’m still, and always will be, navigating a grief map. And it’s a bloody pointless map, too, cos it doesn’t take you anywhere other than along a circuitous route of sadness and upset, with the occasional respite of a happy memory. Nothing will bring them back, and that gnawing futile fury at the unfairness of losing our parents too young is something my sister and I cart around with us, daily. I know there are people that love us. I know I have a mother-in-law and a father-in-law who are wonderful. But we don’t have our parents. And to any of you reading this who still have your parents: I’m jealous. I want mine back.

 

My parents lived death a long time before death eventually came. And although my sister and I did all we could to make things as comfortable for them as we possible, it was terrible. And I’m not using hyperbole here: it was terrible, and sometimes unbearable, for a long time. In this post, I’m going to write about death and my father. My mother’s death was different to Dad’s, but still useful, I think, to explore at a later date.

 

Dad’s satsuma-tumour (the oncologist said it was as big as a satsuma) was nestled in his liver. It was too big to operate on, and Dad had emphysema that had ravaged his lungs, so even if they had been able to operate he wouldn’t have survived the operation because his lungs were so weak. Dad’s liver tumour meant he could have qualified for traditional chemotherapy, but again, the state of his lungs – like two limp, hole-riddled birthday balloons – meant that it would have caused more pain and risked his life. My sister managed to get Dad on an oral chemotherapy trial; the oncologists were reluctantly happy to give it a go. We knew, although didn’t really want to admit, that this was just scrambling Dad a few more months if he was lucky, rather than saving his life.

 

Dad was a proud, proud man. And he was a smart, stylish man. He was a man with a head of silver hair, and with a very precise parting that was pretty much in the same place as it had been 70+ years earlier when he had won the Christchurch Bonny Baby competition, 1939. Dad liked to dress elegantly. He ironed his clothes with precision and polished his shoes – always on newspaper, always with very specific polishing accoutrements – to perfection. Dad even did this when emphysema made its home in his lungs; when even just picking up a pencil from the floor made him out of breath. Amazingly, Dad had lived with emphysema since 1992, when he finally conquered his 70+ a day cigarette habit, to the huge surprise of us all. By 2010, the emphysema had progressed, as we knew it would, and his breathing had become rapid and shallow and frightening. And when Dad was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in that year, and was cruelly shoved by the Fates onto the death travellator, it meant that, eventually, he couldn’t leave his bed. It meant that his hair, his wonderful head of hair, wasn’t how it should have been. We did what we could, and Dad’s carers did what they could, but it wasn’t ‘just so’, as Dad liked it. Encroaching death didn’t care that Dad was a proud man; it flayed him of dignity. Again, we did what we could to alleviate the upset, and to try and make him feel as smart as he could, but when you have to tell your daughters that your bed is urine-soaked because you couldn’t wait for the carer to come with a bed pan, that’s hard. When you simply cannot control the constant, rib-snapping coughing, and, spluttering through breaths, regularly hoik up sticky green phlegm into a tin bowl next to your bed, that’s hard. When you want to hug your wife but have to vomit acidic stomach juices into the same phlegm bowl because the chemo is making you feel so wretched, that’s hard. Dad became a tiny, concentrated version of himself. A membraned skeleton, spectre-thin, coughing and vomiting, but still Dad. Dad won a final stand-off with pneumonia before he died, but there was very little of him left. He returned home from hospital, I could see, to die. Dad could manage short conversations, but was very tired. One of the last things he said to me on the evening before he died, in his flat-vowelled New Zealand accent, was “When is that bloody head teacher going to make you deputy?”. I loved Dad for this – but there was no point, then, explaining to him that I was nowhere near ready to be a DHT. Instead, I said I’d ask my head teacher. I didn’t, of course, but it made Dad feel better. I’m glad I did that.

 

And then Dad died. It was an angry, defiant death. I wrote about it here. Dad did not go gently. I love – I hate – that he did not go gently. Irrespective of how I feel about it, it was entirely in keeping with my Dad’s furious, flaming, recalcitrant, wonderful self.

 

I’m not sure where I’ve gone with this post. It was an attempt to look at death more closely. But grief is so personal that I can only explain how I feel and have felt, and I can only describe the death of my father through my own experience. Mum’s death was no less upsetting. I will write about that another time, and I’ve written about my grief for Mum here. What I’ll also write about is how, even in terminal illness and in death, things can be funny. They can. My sister and I take solace sometimes in what our parents laughed at about their illnesses. Our Mum and Dad were an exceptionally funny pair.

 

My parents were wonderful human beings. I’m glad I miss them as much as I do; their loss remains, imprinted on my sister and me in a good way, etched into the world. Etched into us.

Curriculum: A Warning, Part 3: Thou shalt not pay lip service

In May, in exam season build-up haze and in new Framework fervour, I wrote that curriculum is in the ascendant. Now that I’ve had a chance to stop, to talk to friends and colleagues, and to think really, really deeply with them, I’m not sure it is. I thought this would leave me a bit flat. It hasn’t: it’s re-energised me. There’s much work to do, and I want to get cracking.

 

Lots of school leaders are talking about curriculum, or what they think is curriculum, but what is one person’s curriculum convo is another person’s option block diktat. This is problematic.

 

And, I guess, there’s the rub: there are, and always have been, many different interpretations and definitions of well-worn educational words. Take ‘pedagogy’. You might think Rosenshine; the school down the road might think pipe cleaners and plasticine. You might think pedagogy is driven by the subject discipline; someone else might think it’s post-it notes a go-go. Words are slippery and nuanced and easily misinterpreted. So what’s a school leader to do?

 

This is a short blog post. And in it, I’m going to tell you – secondary school leaders in the main – a few things from my point of view about what not to do if you really want to be a school that prioritises curriculum. And so the first commandment is: thou shalt not pay lip service.

 

This is what I mean.

 
1. Don’t blag on behaviour. Don’t make noises about good behaviour and pay it lip service by a 5 minute slot on an INSET day in September and mentioning it in a staff meeting a couple of times over the course of the year. Don’t sit in your office all day, or slope off to the staffroom to nab a Hobnob when you can hear a class kicking off down the corridor. Just don’t; staff will see through you like a Windowlened pane. Be highly visible, be present, support your colleagues. Create the conditions – the time and the space, as one friend said – for colleagues to think their curricula deeply, to plan, and discuss, and teach. Consistently apply sensible policies. And practise the application of those policies. Intentionally design the culture you want to see, and make the routines habitual, so a habit simply becomes what we do here*. Because without good behaviour, nothing – and I mean nothing – will stick.

 
2. Don’t pay lip service to curriculum by shoehorning in an inflexible, generic T&L approach. So you might be super-keen on your new teaching and learning strategy, but if you myopically juggernaut it through and don’t recognise that it will look different in mathematics, in French, in design, and if you don’t respect the subject discipline and listen to your experts in that subject, then you’re hubristically treading a path fraught with difficulty. Respect the subject.

 
3. Do not pay lip service to curriculum by ‘doing’ knowledge organisers and booklets immediately. God knows we’ve seen photocopiers churning out knowledge organisers and knowledge booklets at the rate of knots. If you want to do this – fine – but do not do this until your subject experts have carefully designed their curricula. Otherwise they’ll probably have to re-do those curricular tools. And this bastardises the curriculum before it’s been properly considered; they become artefacts in a process rather than outcomes of careful thought and curriculum design. Do not pay lip service by doing this.

 
4. And so do not pay lip service to curriculum by saying it’s ‘knowledge-rich’ simply because you have pulled together knowledge organisers and knowledge booklets: these are poor proxies. Knowledge organisers and knowledge booklets on their own do not a knowledge-rich curriculum make. They really don’t.

 
5. You are paying lip service to the importance of curriculum if you do not prioritise expertise in subjects. We should be rejoicing in subject experts and actively seeking out the most knowledgeable subject colossi to craft our curricula.

 
6. Do not pay lip service to curriculum by thinking that when curricula are completed, that they’re ‘done’. They’re not. Our curricula are evolving, moving, undulating. They’re never fully ‘done’. We need to be comfortable with that.

 

And so, to end, a reminder of my cri-de-coeur: an era where curricular thought enables our children to participate in the great conversation of life; where there is plurality of discourse; where we all inherit and own knowledge passed on to us: batons of truth and beauty in our hands. Lip serviced, supposedly curricular actions do not do this. They strangle and restrict; they sully subject disciplines, their truths unclear in a murky world of process and documentation. This cannot happen.

 

So there’s work to do. Let’s get cracking.

 

*With thanks to Tom Bennett. Please see his 2017 report where much of this is outlined in detail.

 

Curriculum: A Warning, Part 2

I wrote my first warning back in May. It was a gentle nudge and prod of a reminder. Because for those of us that believe in curriculum being at the centre of a school, being both the enabler and the anchor, this is a time of great opportunity. Notable shifts in thinking over the past year or so are an extended clarion call for returning to the beauty of our subjects rather than the frippery of past pedagogies. Pedagogies that hacked at and shoehorned subject disciplines into gruesome genericism. It’s a time for careful thought about curriculum narrative and content; for conversations in faculties about the what alongside the how. Good.

 

And so, yes, sound the curricular trumpet. Sound it across the land. And it has been, and continues to be; its notes echoing through staffrooms and classrooms and school halls. Hurrah. And yet in parts, the embouchure’s not quite right; the notes are off; the placement skewed. Curriculum is a little flat, or a little sharp. The clarity of note is clouded.

 

This clouded curriculum note made me worried in May. And I’m still worried, and probably even more worried as the academic year draws to a close. Because as we wink and nudge and chuckle knowingly at past errors – at Bloom’s hook-a-ducks and Bullseye plenaries and plasticine and pipe cleaner poetry starters – we run the risk of doing the same with curricular thinking: of ‘doing curriculum’. Some of this is because some school leaders and MATs are in desperate search of magic bullets and cure-alls that will transform outcomes into a GCSE Lazarus. Often seeking another salve – whether that be the foul ‘engagement’ of the errors listed above, or, now, the curriculum cure-all, the curriculum miracle. Curriculum is the answer! Let’s curriculum it, everyone! Genuflect at the curriculum altar!

 

And goodness knows I’m a curriculum apostle. Like Ruth Walker, curriculum is my king and country. But if we really believe in the power of curriculum to transform our pupils’ lives, we need to be in it for the long game. So let’s stop for a minute. Just stop. Stop and think before we do anything. Turn off those photocopiers churning out knowledge organisers we think we ought to have in place. Beware the ‘curriculum kit’ companies want to sell. Resist the lure of consultants who obvs know exactly how to address intent, implementation, impact in our schools. Stop. And MATs, stop panicking. Nationally, the proliferation of very senior cross-MAT curriculum roles in the past six months or so are dizzying. And sometimes those in these vertiginous positions haven’t prioritised curriculum in the past. U-turns and lip-service abound. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m fine with people changing their minds. God knows I did. But don’t try and blag that you’ve always been a curriculum champion when you haven’t. In some parts the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intent, implementation, impact intensity. Curriculum notes are off; their placement distorted; the embouchure wrong. The clarion call a distortion. Where this happens, there is no clarity, no real truth. I see you.

 

And when this happens, the falcon cannot hear the falconer. The curriculum gyre keeps turning. I want this to be an educational epoch of subject disciplines, not genericism, of curriculum narrative rather than easily packaged lessons that don’t reference what’s come before or where the journey is headed. A time where we return to the rhythm, ebb and flow of our subjects that reveal our true values as schools: as Tom Sherrington says, “This is what we are. This is what we do. And we’re proud of it.” This is my cri-de-coeur: an era where curricular thought and action enables our children to participate in the great conversation of life; where there is plurality of discourse; where we all inherit and own knowledge passed on to us: batons of truth and beauty in our hands.

 

We have such an opportunity to embrace. And yet I can’t help but worry as I listen and watch. And so I urge you: question. Question for all it’s worth. Because, if we’re not careful, what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Curriculum: A Warning, Part 1

‘Curriculum’ is a lovely, concrete noun. And, like concrete, it can be pretty hard to shift once it’s in place. So, in this post, I’m offering a warning before stuff that’s a bit rubbish becomes too embedded to move. A big, concrete caveat to counterbalance the big, concrete curriculum narrative that has, in some parts, started to warp.

Curriculum, I think, is in the ascendant. Whether we believe a curriculum should be cross-subject and thematic, or steeped in knowledge (it should be the latter, obvs), it’s a narrative that everyone’s talking about. And a hand-clapped, whooped bravo from me for that. The more we talk about what we teach, the better. I also think it’s important that we talk about how we teach alongside discussions about curriculum. Pedagogy was, and still is in some parts, overrated (Stuart Lock, 2017), but the how should have an interwoven, richly tapestried relationship with the what, dictated by the subject discipline. But that’s another blog.

I am delighted that knowledge has finally shaken itself free of the engagement mind-manacles of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Remember, knowledge-enthusiasts, we used to be the pathetic little creature languishing at the bottom of that pyramid – the creature that shook a little Gollum knowledge-fist at the evaluation and synthesis heavens in futile exasperation. As Willingham says, teachers had become “wary and weary of knowledge” (Daniel Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School?, p.26). Heck, school leaders were really wary too. My playing of Britney’s ‘Toxic’ at the start of a lesson on Browning’s ‘The Laboratory’ (a totally tenuous and embarrassing link, I know) was praised in an observation more than my expert questioning of the pupils. Because ENGAGEMENT. There are numerous examples of this. Rebecca Foster started a wonderful but painful thread on it fairly recently. And it’s not just embarrassing, it’s horrific. It’s disgraceful that time was wasted on practice grounded in what Tom Bennett calls ‘folk’ teaching: stuff that’s been heard in the staff room, or what I was told as an NQT: “Don’t worry Claire, you’ll work it out eventually”. I don’t want colleagues to have to work it out eventually. Our children’s futures are now. We don’t have time to waste.

We gambled on the futures of our children with the toss of a snakes and ladders ‘revision lesson’ die and the spin of a Bloom’s question wheel. Practice like this was a joke, a circus. I reckon if I’d unicycled in lessons that would have gone down a treat, especially if I’d swapped de Bono hats with a flourish while doing so. And as for Bloom’s, remove knowledge and the rest comes fluttering down in a flimsy house of laminated card sorts. We did our children a huge disservice and we did our colleagues a huge disservice. I am embarrassed to have been complicit in this nonsense at the time. But more so, I’m furious that so many young people had their futures risked in an explosion of glitter and frippery pedagogical ‘good practice’.

So it’s all very well us laughing knowingly in 2019, chuckling at our past errors and eye rolling at our ‘engaging’ origami fortune teller starters collecting dust, but I’m worried. I’m worried that this welcome focus on curriculum could mean that new knowledgy and curriculumy ridiculous practice will emerge. And it already is. Here are some examples. Beware. Challenge, question and raise a sceptical eyebrow where it rears its curriculum lip-serviced head.

1. Knowledge organisers

Now these can be brilliant or rubbish. Many schools have seen them as a magic bullet, and immediately churned them out of photocopiers at terrifying speed. This isn’t because schools and school leaders don’t care. They do, of course. But the knowledge curriculum narrative has been leapt upon in parts by those who think knowledge organisers will lead to an immediate improvement in outcomes, or that it will tick a box for Ofsted, or that it looks good on a school website. There sometimes hasn’t been careful thought about the curriculum narrative; sequencing is perhaps non-existent and subject leaders haven’t been given the time to consider curriculum properly. This dearth in curricular thought has led, in parts, to significant underperformance and the gnawing poverty of low expectation in many of our schools. So where schools have given primacy to curricular thought, knowledge organisers can be brilliant (as long as the climate for learning is good so teachers can actually get to teaching, and the careful consideration of pedagogy linked to the subject discipline is prioritised too). But knowledge organisers on their own do not a curriculum make.

2. Knowledge booklets

See number 1. These can also be brilliant or rubbish. Thankfully, most I have seen have been pretty good. But without the bigger curricular considerations and conversations, they are a well-intentioned lip-serviced resource. Waving them around on Twitter does not mean a curriculum, or indeed a school or MAT, is necessarily that good. Again, knowledge booklets on their own are not a curriculum.

3. ‘Knowledge checks’

This is a sly one. Using the perceived new narrative of ‘knowledge-rich’, these, in some parts, are the ultimate lip-serviced nod to knowledge. But, painfully, they’re mini-plenaries by another name. We all know about poor proxies for learning. Mini-plenaried ‘knowledge checks’ every 15 minutes to prove or evidence (gah!) learning are indeed a poor proxy for learning. I can teach you something and then check you remember it 15 minutes later. You probably will remember it. But will you remember it tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or in six months? Learning is invisible. Waving a ‘knowledge check’ sheet around and claiming this knowledge has been learnt in a lesson is a very, very poor proxy for learning. As Greg Ashman says, a good proxy might be something like a delayed test. It is not a ‘knowledge check’ every 15 minutes in a lesson. Stop hijacking the knowledge narrative with poor proxies and poor practice.

4. Intent, Implementation, Impact

I really like the new Ofsted Framework; I make no bones about it. I have faith in Amanda Spielman and her team to listen and engage with practitioners and school leaders. But some schools hurriedly leap onto Ofsted language in a frantic bid to ‘do curriculum’. I’m not blaming them, necessarily. This has been what many schools have done for years with different permutations of different frameworks, and those of us who have been in teaching a while, particularly those of us in senior leadership for a while, will have seen this many times. But in this specific example, it is often schools who haven’t, for whatever reason, prioritised curricular thinking. Intent, implementation, impact sounds snappy, right? Again, for some school leaders who love a process, it’s a magic bullet, or a curriculum ‘action’ ticked off the list. Ofsted will love it! It’s on the website! Look at us using their language! And, sadly, I see ‘implementation’ misinterpreted as descriptions of GCSE modules, weightings of GCSE papers, lengthy descriptions of content, rather than considerations around the narrative and sequencing of the curriculum. I worry that schools view this as a scrambled, frantic attempt to show everything for Ofsted, rather than giving careful thought to curriculum development. Please don’t do this, head teachers and school leaders. Curriculum thought and development does take some time. But it’s a joy. Give your subject leaders back their subject; free them from the shackles of pedagogical ‘engagement’ and gimmicks. Allow your teachers and pupils to love subjects for all they are, not for a GCSE question rolled back to year 7, not for ‘engaging’ music played in lessons if it’s not a music lesson, not for unnecessary and distracting carousel activities.

5. Senior leaders named as being ‘in charge of curriculum intent, implementation, impact’

This has become more and more apparent in the last few months, both in job adverts and in descriptions of senior leaders. Please stop. What you mean is ‘The senior leader in charge of curriculum’. That is fine. Please stop warping language because you think it sounds like what Ofsted want to hear.

Curriculum is in the ascendant. We’re returning to conversations about what we’re teaching. This is awesome. But curriculum is far bigger than a process. It’s what your school is. As Tom Sherrington says, “Your curriculum is your school…This is what we are. This is what we do. And we’re proud of it.” Please think about this carefully before churning out the above. Curricular thought is good. Lip-service is not.

A Gentle Grief

I found death today, twice. I wasn’t expecting it, and it caught me unawares.

 

My first encounter was this morning as I was getting ready to go out. I had nipped onto Facebook. I don’t often bother with Facebook much, and when I do, I expect the usual scrolling stream of friends’ babies and updates and cuteness. This morning was different. I had missed some shocking news: one of my school friends – Jody – died unexpectedly last Sunday. She leaves behind her little boy, her partner, and devastated friends. She was 41.
She and I were friends at school: we were in the same maths set and both adept at larking about, so gravitated towards each other like detention magnets. We were part of a wider social group. When we got older our group of friends used to frequent all the house clubs in Birmingham, so we knew each other pretty well through the various nights out over the years. We weren’t especially close friends and we were probably more acquaintances than friends over the last fifteen years or so, but it was an easy, sunny, Facebooky friendship. We shared photos of old hair dos and chuckled about memories of the 90s. We made each other laugh.
And now she’s not here. I find this difficult to process. I don’t know what to think really, or what to do. I’ve written before about how, when it’s difficult, I like to ‘fix’. I want to make things better and I want to help. There’s nothing I can do to help. There’s not even anything recent about our old friendship to grieve. So it’s an odd, hollow sort of grief that’s quietly shuffling about. I don’t even know if it’s grief. I don’t think it is. It’s just a strange sadness for a life cut cruelly short.

 
I found death again late this afternoon. I was faffing about in the study – tidying, reorganising piles of paper, opening drawers and cupboards. I noticed a flush of pink and a frayed edge, and pulled out from under a pile of random stuff my PE kit bag from primary school. Mum had made it for me from scraps of old fabric. It was one of my most prized possessions when I was a little girl. I’m glad I’ve found it; I didn’t even know it was in the house. Grief nudged me. It wasn’t steamrolling, flattening or deadening. It was a gentle surge of grief, a sweet sadness. The simple beauty of Mum’s bag meant the chain stitches bind our love across the years; a love which ran in the running stitches, and still does. I feel its tender pulse.

 

Quite a few friends and colleagues have lost loved ones this year, and now this includes my other school friends who were close friends with Jody. There’s ravaging grief, lonely grief, postponed grief, numbing grief. Battering grief – grief that juggernauts and tramples. Grief that rends. But it does, at some point, turn into a gentler grief, at least for a while. I wish that gentler grief as respite for us all.

Tes Education Resources: An Open Expression of Concern

This post has been agreed by several teachers and is shared across several blog sites.
In the last couple of years, we have openly expressed concern at the approaches taken by Tes Education Resources to plagiarism and copyright violation, theft of resources, and the selling of resources that violate copyright. This is not a blogpost intended to cast disapproval on those who sell resources. It is a simply an open expression of concern at the approach taken by Tes Education Resources, when these incidents are uncovered. We also wish to make clear that this is not about an individual or anybody working for Tes Education Resources. We believe that this is a systemic problem that should not fall on one person to solve.

 
We feel that the following issues need to be properly addressed by Tes Education Resources:

 
· The fact that people upload and sell plagiarised resources, which have been clearly copied from free shares on Twitter, Facebook, and sometimes from colleagues.

 
· The fact that although Tes Education Resources offer ‘goodwill’ gestures to those who give public challenge, and offer compensation when they recognise plagiarism, the onus is on the victim of theft to report and prove the theft.

 
· The fact that customers are being advised to buy resources to check the content if they suspect a theft has occurred, and then claim the money back.

 
These issues need addressing because:

Plagiarism can constitute copyright violation, which is covered by legislation in both UK and EU law, as well as being a feature of international treaties and agreements. We believe that this is not being taken seriously by Tes Education Resources, who provide a platform for the sale of resources which have been taken, copied, and presented as original resources by the thief. Tes Education Resources describe themselves as ‘one of the world’s largest peer-to-peer platforms for teachers to trade and share digital teaching resources’ (Tes Education Resources Ltd: Annual Report and Financial Statements – Directors’ Report 2017). We feel that a company of this scale, regardless of financial status, should not be placing the onus on individuals to identify instances of copyright violation.

 
A goodwill gesture is something given on a case-by-case basis. It means that those with the time and tenacity to challenge instances of copyright infringement are being offered compensation, but there are victims who are unaware of the issue, or perhaps who do not have the time and resources to prove the provenance of the resource. We believe that the Tes Education Resources could and should ensure there is parity here.
Tes Education Resources have conceded that only 5% of their resource downloads are purchased. The rest are free downloads. We appreciate this valuable resource, but feel that the 5% are being prioritised over the 95%. It is understood that the 5% is the download, rather than the upload, figure – but the point still stands – 95% of people downloading from Tes Education Resources are downloading free resources.

 
We also believe that asking people to buy resources to check for copyright issues, in order to then claim a refund, is an unfair and illogical request. Perhaps most pertinent is the fact that all of these issues are contributing to our workload. The Tes recognise this too. In fact, they have an entire section of their website dedicated to this issue – you can read this here: https://www.tes.com/news/hub/workload. In refusing to adapt their practice, either by demonetising the site or by taking further steps to prevent these incidents, teachers are being forced to spend time searching the site for their own resources. When teachers locate stolen resources, the expectation that they buy their own work and prove its provenance is onerous and frustrating.

 
What Tes Education Resources Can Do:

 
– Have a long-term aim to demonetise the site and subsidise it, to enable an entirely free sharing platform for those working in education.

 
In the meantime:

 
– Improve checks on resources to identify plagiarism and/or copyright infringement.

 
– Allow for full download with retrospective payment, rather than asking people to buy resources simply to check for copyright infringement.

 
– Enable reviews of paid content without purchasing – so that copyright infringement which is clearly evident in the preview pane can be challenged in a review.

 
What you can do:

 
– Avoid downloading from Tes Education Resources until the long-term aim (above) is fulfilled.

 
– Use your Social Media account to inform your followers that you are doing this.

 
– Share your resources through Dropbox and any other suitable medium.