Eradicating Fear in School


It is interesting to read articles such as The Secret Teacher: Are you teaching in a climate of fear?  Regardless of whether I believe it to be a fact or not, it is an opinion shared by many teachers and it is a growing malaise.  The key to most of our school’s problems is strong leadership.  This is true both at a political level as well as at school level.  Changing things at a political level is a slow process and beyond the reach of most of us mere mortals but making a difference in the classroom and school is something we school leaders can do.  Don’t let others deceive you of your ability to make a difference.  So how do we make a difference?

I think it is simple.  As school leaders we have one role to fulfill.  To secure the highest standard of teaching.  If we achieve this everything else follows.

I also believe fundamentally, in the teachings of Edward Deming who was largely responsible for changing the culture of many large Japanese businesses transforming them from the widely regarded sellers of ‘Jap Crap’ to merchants of high quality affordable products.  If you have never heard of him click here.

Edward Deming looked at businesses as systems.  Before all of you shout me down with cries of, ‘children are not products’ let us agree on one thing.  Schools are a system.  Therefore Deming’s teachings can be applied to schools too and it is here.

Deming talked about 12 key principles that leaders should observe in running a system, be it a school or business.   They were:

  1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of a price tag.
  5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  6. Institute training on the job.
  7. Institute leadership
  8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
  9. Break down barriers between departments.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity
  11. Remove barriers that rob workers of their right to pride of workmanship.
  12. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  13. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation.

He also talked about seven deadly diseases:

  1. Lack of constancy of purpose
  2. Emphasis on short-term profits
  3. Evaluation by performance, merit rating, or annual review of performance
  4. Mobility of management
  5. Running a company on visible figures alone
  6. Excessive medical costs
  7. Excessive costs of warranty, fueled by lawyers who work for contingency fees

It relation to the original article on fear in schools, my ramblings which follow ponder just this principle.  Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

In the article, reference is made to numerous staff crying in the car parks, suffering from ill health, crying following feedback and so on.  Whilst it is easy to point the finger of blame at OFSTED, politicians and others there is a great deal school leaders can do to counter this disease of negativity which is creeping into our schools, but it means being brave enough to stand up to the tidal wave of bull which political game playing creates.

Considering just point 8, fear can be introduced into schools in a number of ways and it can have different effects. Here are a few scenarios and effects you might like to consider:

  • Teachers who fear data monitoring systems which are punitive in their nature rather than reflective and supportive will play the system to avoid repercussions.  Data reporting will be untruthful so measurements by school leaders will be pointless and strategic responses will be inert since they will be based on untrue, biased data.
  • Teachers who live in fear will pass challenging teaching groups back and forth like hot potatoes to minimize damage to one’s personal reputation.  “If they are not in my class they are not my responsibility”.   Senior staff who are fearful will be more likely to pass on those groups to members of their faculty, especially if relationships with teachers in their faculty are already poor.  This results in staff feeling resentful of their line manager leading to blamestorming (like brainstorming but completely negative and pointless) at the end of each evaluation period.
  • Teachers who work in fear will play it safe in lesson time. Why risk being out there or daring.  We all know it is when we take the risks with groups that pupils begin to appreciate what we have to offer and learning is unleashed and so fear can stymie this.
  • Controlling people through systems of fear stops people questioning their own practice.  They become beholden to the system which dictates what they should do and when.  When staff are fearful of seeking assistance this stalls team work and stops the sharing of good practice.  The very people who know what needs fixing are rendered inert.
  • Performance appraisals based on outputs alone shift the foci of staff away from the processes by which the desired outcomes are achieved.  Where appraisal systems focus on one of two outcomes, namely securing improvements or allowing leaders to move more quickly to measures which lead to dismissal the opposing purposes are in conflict and staff feel insecure.  A teacher identifying a weakness in their practice in order to identify a training need is less likely to happen when bringing such a weakness to the attention of their line manager might also speed up the process by which they may be dismissed.
  • School systems have a habit of grading everything (1, 2, 3 and 4).   In many examples of good practice in marking school children’s work teachers are advised not to give grades or levels and instead identify good practice and things that can be improved.  The rationale for this is that grading pupils stops pupils from evaluating their work.  They look at the grade.  A good grade doesn’t actually motivate them to look for ways of making it even better and a bad grade has the effect of demotivating them.
  • Excessive punitive measures in schools often alienate staff.  Examples might include written warnings over lateness, or a failure to meet a deadline.  So as an example, a teacher who is normally a good timekeeper might turn up late twice in one week.  If the school has a visitor entry system this might then lead to them receiving a written notice to ‘buck their ideas up’.  In the same school it is unlikely that a system for monitoring staff who stay late repeatedly is in place to check their welfare.  Thus a teacher will become alienated by a system that might have been put in place with good intentions to tackle staff who perhaps do need a kick up the proverbial.

I am sure you will identify many more examples of how fear is introduced into the daily life of teachers.  I will conclude my ramblings with some food for thought.  Perhaps senior staff might tackle them week by week in leadership meetings and review their own practice.

  1. Review your appraisal policy.  If it links to capability procedures does it need to?  Isn’t it possible to write a policy which focuses entirely on process rather than outcome?  After all. All teachers would like to see 100% of students in their class achieve the highest grades.  Wanting is not the same as achieving.  The mechanism by which the success is secured is in the process not the outcome so surely objectives should be process focused. 
  2. Instead of senior leaders doing all the lesson observations why not use teachers to do it.  When you ask teachers to work together to evaluate practice and make changes it is less intimidating that the SLT member coming in with the clipboard and OFSTED framework.  Could you develop a team or buddy system to drive staff development?
  3. CPD.  Is it always the outstanding ASTs that deliver INSET?  Outstanding teachers that are as far removed from the new inexperienced staff as can be possible?    Is it once a term on an INSET day when staff are crammed full of ideas and then given no time to implement them? Why not develop a training programme that allows staff to meet weekly for a short period of time and reflect on good practice.  Our school does this now every Monday after school and I look forward to Mondays now.   You can also utilise all teachers in feeding back and sharing good practice; keeping it real for us mortal teachers that are miles off an outstanding grade.
  4.  Does your data monitoring actually achieve anything?  Could you improve your monitoring by reflecting not just on what teachers are going to do to address underachievement but also middle leaders and senior staff so there is a team approach to intervention?
  5. Do you grade everything 1, 2, 3 & 4?  Why.  Does it matter to teachers?  If SLT need figures for OFSTED reporting collect them by all means.  But do you need to have a currency in grades for teachers.  Might you be better of developing a system which identifies good practice and areas that need improving without resorting to grades? Perhaps by failing to label people staff might actually focus on the areas that need to improve?
  6. Do SLT consider the well-being of staff each half term?  Would it be sensible to set up a well-being committee and give them remit to change the most stressful things in school?  Do you know what the biggest causes of stress in your school are?  You could set up an annual survey to ask staff how they feel about various things and compare it year on year.  I use the survey monkey website which is a fantastic way of setting up surveys and analysing data with a few clicks of a button.  You might also read some of the suggestions made by John Tomsett in his blog here which mirror many of my thoughts on the subject.

I don’t hold the monopoly on wisdom and this article isn’t about telling you the right way to do things.  I hope thought that it makes you think and leads to you improving the lives of the teachers in your school.  Happy staff work harder, achieve better results and stay in post longer.  That much I do know.



Changes to the 2014 OFSTED School Inspection Handbook

The latest OFSTED inspection handbook has a number of changes which are highlighted below.

  1. A few changes to commas.
  2. At page 5 there is a new subscript numbered 9 which reads – Further guidance for inspectors on obtaining complaints and concerns about a school in preparation of an inspection can be found in the guidance issued by the National Complaints Team, Inspector guidance for obtaining complaints and concerns information held by Ofsted in preparation for school inspections.  All other subscripts are re numbered accordingly.
  3. At Page 32 Paragraph 116 there is a minor an irrelevant change to the wording of the sentence.
  4. At page 32  subscript number 32 is reworded and now reads: Expected progress is defined by the government as two National Curriculum levels of progress between Key Stages 1 and 2 (for example, from Level 2a to Level 4, Level 2c to Level 4 or Level 3 to 5) and three National Curriculum levels of progress between Key Stages 2 and 4 (for example, from Level 3 to grade D, Level 4a to grade C or Level 4c to grade C). From 2013, expected progress data between Key Stages 1 and 2 in English are provided separately for reading and writing, but no longer aggregated for English.  Expected progress for pupils attaining below Level 1 of the National Curriculum at the end of Key Stages 1 or 2 is explained in Subsidiary guidance.
  5. At Page 35 there is a new subscript numbered 40 which reads: Inspectors will balance evidence about previous cohorts of pupils with evidence about the progress being made by the pupils being taught in the school currently.
  6. Paragraph 121 on page 37 now reads: Inspectors must not expect teaching staff to teach in any specific way.  Schools and teachers should decide for themselves how to teach. Inspectors should gather evidence to judge and report on how well children are engaged in lessons, acquire knowledge and learn well. Replacing the previous version which read: Inspectors must not expect teaching staff to teach in any specific way.  Schools and teachers should decide for themselves how to teach so that children are engaged in lessons, acquire knowledge and learn well.
  7. In the quality of teaching descriptions at page 40 under inadequate the sentence: Learning activities are not sufficiently well matched to the needs of pupils, has been removed.
  8. Paragraphs 129 from the old handbook has been expanded into paragraphs 129, 130, 131, 132 and 133 in the new handbook at page 41 and they add a considerable amount of detail to the way in which inspectors should evaluate behaviour and safety.  Inspectors will report an overall judgement for behaviour and safety but within the body of the report they are now asked to judge safety and behaviour separately.
  9. Paragraph 130 of the old handbook moves to paragraph 134 in the new handbook at page 42.  The bullet points have been revised.
  10. At bullet point 1 on page 42 there is now a new subscript numbered 45 which reads  For example, inspectors may consider how quickly children settle at the start of lessons, whether they have the right equipment, their willingness to answer questions, whether they remain focused when working on their own, the tidiness of their work and the pride they show in its presentation, and the overall effort that they make.
  11. At bullet point 2 on page 42 there is added the line including the prevalence of low-level disruption.
  12. Bullet point 4 on page 42 now reads rates, patterns of, and reasons for fixed-period and permanent exclusions, and that they fall within statutory guidance and regulations on exclusions.  There is an associated subscript added as well which reads
  13. Bullet point 5 of the old handbook is replaced with two new ones which read pupils’ contribution and response to the culture of the school; how they conduct themselves, including: their respect, courtesy and good manners towards each other and adults; their understanding of how such behaviour contributes to school life, relationships, adult life and work; and also pupils’ respect for the school’s learning environments (including by not dropping litter) facilities and equipment, and adherence to school uniform policies.
  14. The remaining bullet points from the old handbook are repeated.
  15. At page 44 of the new handbook the description for Good Behaviour and Safety has changed considerably.  There are three new descriptors which read Pupils are properly prepared for each lesson, bring the right equipment, and are ready and eager to learn and Pupils respond very quickly to staff’s instructions and requests allowing lessons to flow smoothly and without interruption. Low-level disruption in lessons is uncommon and Pupils take pride in their work, their appearance and their school.
  16. Para 137(formerly para 133) at page 46 of the new handbook is slightly reworded but not of significance.
  17. Para 139 (formerly para 135) at page 46 of the new handbook has two bullet points added which read the creation of a culture of high expectations and aspirations, academically and socially and the establishment of an orderly and hardworking school community.
  18. At page 47 of the new handbook under the section relating to how well leaders  and managers ensure the curriculum……… one bullet point is amended to read promotes the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils, including through the extent to which schools engage their pupils in extra-curricular activity and volunteering within their local community.
  19. At page 48 of the new handbook one bullet point is amended to read how well the school’s strategies and procedures, including the provision of appropriate guidance, help pupils to prepare for life in modern democratic Britain and a global society, including through providing a balanced curriculum, and to prevent extremist behaviour.
  20. At page 51 of the new handbook in the description of outstanding practice there is added a bullet point which reads Senior leaders in the school work to promote improvement across the wider system.
  21. At page 52 of the new handbook in the description of good practice there is added a bullet point which reads The culture of the school is characterized by high expectations and aspirations for all pupils.

OFSTED Subject Guidance Maths 2014

In my previous blog entry I discussed the changes to the OFSTED subject guidance for English and hinted that I would look at the Maths Guidance too.  Well I have finally contrasted the two and apart from the sequence of one sentence the latest guidance appears to be identical to the previous version I had from the beginning of 2013.

It is interesting to note that the Maths guidance still refer to SMSC whereas in the latest English subject survey guidance it is removed.     I note also that the Maths guidance has no reference to safeguarding where as the English subject survey guidance does.  In the meantime if you are a maths specialist you can be reassured that there are no significant changes to the subject guidance but I would be cautious about taking one’s eye off the ball in relation to SMSC and safeguarding.  Whilst it isn’t mentioned explicitly in the Maths Subject guidance the school inspection handbook has clear references to them and teachers from all subject areas should contribute something to them.


OFSTED Subject Guidance English 2014

The OFSTED subject guidance is used by inspectors when carrying out subject surveys.  It should not be used for the more familiar inspections known as Section 5 or full inspections.  For these inspections the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook is the text which should be used.

Who should you be interested in these documents?

Well Subject Leaders should take a look at them since they lay out exactly what Ofsted looks for in a survey visit and they are unsurprising more subject focused than the School Inspection handbook.  They also focus on the curriculum rather than behaviour as a judgement area.  Behaviour still features however in the overall judgements, teaching judgements and leadership judgements.

Do they have any other use?

Senior leaders might find the documents useful too if they are carrying out what many refer to as a Faculty reviews or the checking of provision for a given subject area.  I have noticed one or two inspectors carry copies of the subject guidance for those subjects that they might be weakest in.  As I said above, full school inspections are based on the school inspection handbook but if you are about to be lumbered with multiple observations of lessons in a subject you might not feel strong in I suspect these documents might assist you in identifying what might differentiate a good lesson from an outstanding and so on. Personally, having taught sciences, maths, PE, business, humanities and technology I find the documents on  Modern Foreign Languages and English particularly helpful to me if I am observing MFL or English lessons in my school.

What’s changed then?  English first!

Having downloaded the subject guidance for 2014 provided by OFSTED here I thought I would start by reviewing the changes in the guidance for English first.  Here are my observations.

A lot of the wording remains similar although the sentence structure and sequences have been changed so it reads better IMHO. All references to groups of pupils have been updated to include Pupil Premium as well.

Section on Overall Effectiveness

  1. The elements referring to SMSC in the good and outstanding descriptions  have been removed.
  2. The outstanding descriptor relating pupils high levels of literacy  contributing to outstanding learning has been removed.

Section on Achievement

  1. The description from outstanding referring to pupils being keen readers  and showing sophisticated insight into a range of  texts has been removed.
  2. The Generic descriptors for outstanding achievement have been updated.  In particular there is a focus on the acquisition of knowledge.
  3. The Subject guidance descriptors for Good achievement remain largely the same except for some being joined together.
  4. The Subject Guidance descriptors for requires improvement are broadly the same except it refers to inconsistency in place of ‘not yet good’   I assume this means that for something to be good there needs to be consistency.

Section on Teaching

  1. The generic descriptor for outstanding teaching reinforces the needs for imparting knowledge to pupils.
  2. In the generic inadequate descriptions there is added “Pupils cannot communicate, read, write, or apply mathematics as well as they should.”

Section on Curriculum

  1. The outstanding grade has had the reference to SMSC removed.
  2. It has also had the reference to effective and imaginative use of literature, film and other resources to promote creativity, reflection, collaboration and self-awareness removed.
  3. The good Grade descriptor has had the reference to SMSC removed.
  4. The RI Grade descriptor has had the reference to SMSC removed.
  5. The inadequate Grade descriptor has had the reference to SMSC removed.

Section on Leadership

  1. In the generic grade descriptors for outstanding the impact of governors is highlighted.  This is repeated in the good descriptor.
  2. In the generic grade descriptors for outstanding the emphasis on pupils securing a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning is now emphasised.  This is repeated in the good descriptor,
  3. In the generic grade descriptors for outstanding the impact on pupil premium pupils is explicit, the relationship with parents is also added and safeguarding is now mentioned. References also appear to these areas in the other grades for good, RI and inadequate.
  4. In the supplementary grade descriptors for outstanding the reference to English making an excellent contribution to whole-school priorities, including consistent application of literacy and numeracy policies is removed.  It is also removed from the other grade descriptors.


There are no surprising or drastic changes to the English Subject guidance.  I will add more as I read through the others.  Most of the changes are subtle and reflect the changes to the School Inspection Handbook.   Here is the list I will be working from when talking to my middle leaders.

  • What strategies are in place to allow Governors to have impact on driving up subject results and how do they challenge subject areas?
  • Although subject areas are not providing direct evidence for impact on SMSC they still have a role to play in terms of a whole school inspection.  What evidence is there that a given subject contributes?
  • Have subject areas kept up with the focus on all groups of pupils in particular PP and SEND.  How do you do it in your school?  What evidence is there that you are impacting on them and closing gaps?
  • The reference to safeguarding in subject areas is interesting.  Surely that is a whole school issue?  On reflection subject areas will be rich in evidence relating to safeguarding.  Areas you might consider evaluating at a subject level include: health and safety, how bullying is dealt with, how pupils with medical needs are supported, how well educational visits are utilised and planned, safe use of ICT and the capacity to discuss other issues as of the curriculum.

Hope somebody finds this useful.

OFSTED Updates for 2014

I have just read through the latest version of ‘The Framework For School Inspection’ published Jan 2014 and compared it with the previous version.  If you are interested in the changes they are listed below.

At Paragraph 93 the note in the text numbered 36 has been removed.   Previously it read

The governing body, appropriate authority or proprietor is required to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that every registered parent of a registered pupil at the school receives a copy of the interim assessment letter within five working days of the school receiving it.[36]

[36] Under section 14A(4) (c) of the Education Act 2005 (as amended).

And as far as I can see that is it.  ☺ Same word count and I have scanned both documents to see if layout has changed in an effort to spot other changes but there are none I can see.  If you spot any I missed please let me know. Merry Xmas.