In the independent sector, teachers must usually give a term’s notice of their intention to leave. This means that we are now in the middle – and perhaps at the height – of the Easter Term ‘transfer window.’ Staff who are retiring at the end of the year have said so; a few more have successfully applied for jobs at other schools which were advertised last month when the transfer window opened. There is some recruitment in the second half of the Christmas Term, but most of the activity happens this term, and so just this week candidates have been interviewed for three jobs at my current school.
It so happens that I have also just been subjected to a ‘work check.’
Now I understand that the Work Check is now inevitable. It hasn’t always been: it used to be that a lesson observer would take a look at pupils’ books while in that lesson, and that would be all, and so having known better I do now resent having to gather in books, hoik them up to a senior manager’s office, and then collect them once they’ve been appropriately scrutinised.
But I know that my senior colleagues have been on ISQUAM (Independent Schools Qualification for Academic Management, since you asked) courses, and I know that they have been earnestly lectured by University of Buckingham academics and superannuated headmasters. “You know,” they say in a faintly patronising manner, “there are several things which are actually done better in the state sector than they are by Head Masters Conference schools, and which we can learn from, and one of those is scrutiny. Your first duty is to the pupils and their parents, and you must therefore ensure that teaching in your subjects, or in your schools, is as good as it can be.” And yes, I understand that they need to show that they’ve been doing their jobs, and the easiest way of doing this is to have that paper trail to hand, to show their line managers: here, look, I’ve scrutinised all these subordinates’ pupils’ books.
Anyway. The following therefore occurred to me.
Never mind all the standard, obvious and entirely reasonable criticisms of using pupil results to assess the standard of teaching they’ve received. Let’s stipulate that good teaching equals good pupil results in public examinations.
And let’s stipulate that holding heads of department and teachers accountable for pupil results is important.
I know. We know it’s cobblers. But every Head Master for whom I’ve worked believes this stuff – or, at least, addresses his staff as though he believes it.
Well then. One would presumably expect that teachers who know they’re in their last year at a school would get worse results than those who aren’t in the same position. Retiring teachers, and those who know they’re moving on, will be unaccountable for the results in public examinations achieved by the pupils they taught. By the time the results are published, they’re no longer at the school. And they know that this will be the case, often as early as the January before the summer exams, and almost always by the March of that year.
Okay. You get the point. So is this a phenomenon?
I have, in fourteen years, had two sets of disappointing August results. One was at the end of my first year at a school, the other at the end of my second; on neither occasion did I leave the school that year. Both came at the end of my first year teaching an A Level course: I was about to suggest that this might be the best explanation, but then I worked out that I’ve taught seventeen Sixth Form courses for the first time, so to have only encountered bad results after two suggests that there’s not much correlation. It’s probably nothing more sinister than that over fourteen years, each of which involve teaching multiple A Level sets, to not have two years in which the results were, overall, lower than expected is statistically unlikely.
It’s not just me. No leaving teacher, in any department I’ve taught in, has taught an exam class which performed noticeably worse than expected. The sample size here is rather small though: just four people. But when results in public examinations have been sufficiently disappointing that I have found out about it (usually because the relevant head of department has grumbled to me that he’s being given a hard time about them – I’m regarded, you may not be surprised to learn, as someone who’ll give a sympathetic ear to kvetching about unreasonable senior managers) ‘the class was taught by a teacher who was leaving’ has never been advanced as a reason.
So here’s a question. Does this actually happen? In my experience it isn’t, and if it isn’t, then that has significant implications, I think, for the whole accountability régime.
But I’m well aware of how misleading one individual’s experience can be.
Is anyone counting?