Mr Bigg's Blog A blog about politics, theology, education and the rest…

27Nov/140

“Good enough” never is

Posted by Mike

I had an hour or so to kill yesterday and so I took a wander around Hinchingbrooke Hospital. As I was leaving I noticed the Circle Partnership Credo emblazoned on the wall. I'll reproduce the Principles from it here:

Our Principles
We are above all the agents of our patients. We aim to exceed their expectations every time so that we earn their trust and loyalty. We strive to continuously improve the quality and the value of the care we give our patients.
We empower our people to do their best. Our people are our greatest asset. We should select them attentively and invest in them passionately. As everyone matters, everyone who contributes should be a Partner in all that we do. In return, we expect them to give their patients all that they can.
We are unrelenting in the pursuit of excellence. We embrace innovation and learn from our mistakes. We measure everything we do and we share the data with all to judge. Pursuing our ambition to be the best healthcare provider is a never-ending process. 'Good enough' never is.

As you can see, it is full of laudable ideas that are hard to disagree with. But look again at that last sentence:

"Good enough" never is.

I'll be 33 tomorrow and I'm tired. I'm not just tired because I have a slightly off colour child at home; I'm tired, in part, because of the well-intentioned but damaging "Good enough never is" (GENI) culture that has developed recently.

I'm tired for the staff in hospitals like Hinchingbrooke who are faced every days with words and phrases like "unrelenting", "continuously improve" and "never-ending process". There's an exhausting feeling that nothing is ever good enough, no amount of honest effort and good practice is acceptable, no quality of patient care is high enough. GENI.

I'm tired for teachers. Teachers face a constant sense that if you're not getting better you're getting worse. If your results aren't improving year on year there's a problem. If you're not constantly developing your practice then you are letting the students down. Hit that target? Here's another one to keep you busy. What are you doing to help FSM students? SEND students? G&T students? EAL students? Perfectly average middle-of-the-road students? GENI.

I'm tired for schools. When I was younger satisfactory meant neither laudable nor culpable, neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy. A satisfactory school was precisely that. Not great, not terrible. No-one thought that "satisfactory" was great and people worked to improve things. Now satisfactory means "requires improvement". What an exhausting phrase (with all of the inspection and oversight that goes with it). Even "good" schools must be constantly striving and relentlessly pursuing outstanding status (even though only a few schools can be "outstanding" by definition). GENI

I'm tired for pupils in schools. I suspect that there are plenty of students in our schools who have almost never had a piece of work that simply says: "Well done! This is a great piece of work!" If teachers don't set targets for improvement (however minuscule) then we are "enemies of progress". Poor kids! Nothing they do is ever quite enough! I'm sure many teachers will attest an increase in mental health concerns, often among bright and well-motivated girls, because of that feeling. GENI.

Good enough for what?

If we say that "good enough" never is, then the obvious question that arises is "good enough for what?" What's this "good enough" not good enough for? I'm not suggesting for a moment that we should all put our feet up, do the bare minimum and say "it'll do" every day. There are thousands of things that can (and should) get better. However, we need to be careful of the messages we give out. If someone has genuinely and honestly done their job as well as they can, is developing and getting better in some way, and is committed to what they are doing then we can and must say: "GOOD ENOUGH!" In the early days of my career (when I noticed less GENI language) I wanted to improve and grow as a teacher. I read things to improve my practice, I tried new ideas, I put effort into my own development. Not because I was told to, but because I wanted to. Most human beings want to be good at stuff. Most of us recognise areas for development and seek (within reason) to act on them. The moment GENI-type language comes in (even implicitly) the incentive for self-development goes out of the window. Why bother trying to get better if it'll never be good enough?

All of this is to say that I'm worried about GENI-language. It's laudable intentions can often be counter-productive. While I'm sure that there are some for whom "good enough" means a vague attempt in the right kind of direction, I'd hope that for the majority "good enough" means exactly that and we should acknowledge it as such.

And so, some practical suggestions (first 3 for teachers):

  1. The next time you mark some work make a point of identifying students who have really worked hard and made progress. Set them the following target: "Enjoy a night off school work and tell your mum that Mr X says you deserve something special for dinner".
  2. The next time you observe a colleague teaching a really great lesson make a point of identifying all of the good things you can. If students enjoy their learning and are making progress make it clear that you were pleased with the lesson, mention all of the good points and leave it at that. Only identify areas for improvement if specifically asked.
  3. Challenge nit-picking targets once in a while. Ask the person setting the target: "Was this work good enough?" If they say yes, then suggest that they leave it at that.
  4. The next time you are tempted to complain about something ask yourself, "Was what I'm complaining about good enough?" If it was just a mistake or someone having a bad day rather than representing a systemic failure then perhaps just leave your complaint unvoiced.
  5. Be kind to yourself! If something you've done is genuinely good enough and you can't reasonably do any more, then let it be just that.

Let's try to put the GENI back in the bottle. (Sorry, I couldn't resist).

17May/140

Reframing KS3 – Critically real religion,  philosophy and ethics for inclusion and  progression

Posted by Mike

Zach Beamish-Cook and I were awarded a Farmington Fellowship last year and developed a piece of work around the theoretical underpinnings of our more critically real approach to KS3 RPE (or RS, RE, Beliefs and Values). It never really occurred to me until yesterday that anyone might read it or find it useful.

However, yesterday I received an email from a HoD in Norwich thanking us for the work and so I thought I'd post the work here for anyone else who might find it helpful. If you're trying to develop your RPE to make it more rigorous and inclusive I'd encourage you to have a read. Hope it's of some use to people! We've also found it useful for justifying and explaining the subject to those in senior leadership. (On that note, if anyone is going to this year's Farmington Conference you might like to hear my colleague Richard Kueh, whose fellowship has been looking at exactly the way we explain the rationale for the subject to senior leaders, governors, other departments and parents).

You'll find our full report here: Reframing KS3 – Critically real religion,  philosophy and ethics for inclusion and  progression

17May/141

OCR A2 Philosophy of Religion Notes

Posted by Mike

Attached below are some revision notes for OCR A2 Philosophy of Religion. Most of these are written be me and colleagues at Comberton Village College.

There are also some topic summary sheets:

You may also find helpful:

Enjoy!

Tagged as: 1 Comment
6Apr/142

OCR AS Philosophy Revision Notes

Posted by Mike

I've recently been writing some one-page revision notes for my AS Philosophy students (based around the OCR specification). They are included here for the reference of anyone who might find them useful!

You might also find AS Past Questions by Year and Topic (1187) useful.

There are also lots of useful videos outlining key topics from Philosvids.

Comments welcome!

15Jun/110

Teachers: To strike or not to strike?

Posted by Mike

In short: to strike.

As a teacher and a member of the ATL I feel quite strongly that we should take action against the government's pension proposals. Teachers are being asked to contribute more to their pensions (6.4% up to 9.6%), to work for longer before pensionable age (up to the age of 68), and to receive less of a pension when they finally do retire.

As much as I'd love to say that teachers are in the job for the love of it (which most are), it's not quite as simple as that. There is a social contract between teachers and society. We understand that we are unlikely to earn what we could had we become lawyers or bankers. We work long hours, which are often draining intellectually and physically (and yes, the holidays are good, but most of us do work in them). In return, teachers ask that they can retire comfortably. The government is undermining the substance of this social contract with their pension reforms. In 2006 the unions agreed changes to the Teachers' Pension Scheme that was intended to take into account the problem of increased life expectancy. The changes now feel more like an attempt to plug a hole in the public finances rather than come to a fair arrangement.

Pension reforms will damage education

The government has already axed much of the funding for teacher training and cut training places. This already discourages good candidates for applying to the profession. To significantly reduce the benefits of a teacher's pension will further discourage people.

Also, who wants their children to be educated by people well into their 60s who want to retire (and is disgruntled about their pension)? I, for one, find the prospect appalling.

A discontinuous strike will not harm children's education

A day towards the end of the summer term, when students aren't to be sitting exams, will do no long term damage to a child's education. For the government to suggest that it will is disingenuous.

An irritated profession, who have their good-will stretched further, will be damaging to education.

United strike action is essential

I'm fortunate enough to work in a great school. I love going to work! It would be tempting to think that causing trouble in a school that I like is counter-productive. However, it's important that teachers send a message to the government as a whole. We shouldn't necessarily strike for our own benefit, but consider the future. My mind is not fully made up yet, but my inclination is that I ought to strike for all of those teachers who struggle every day with difficult students and over-bearing management. I ought to strike for all of those would-be teachers who may be put off from the profession. Ultimately, I ought to strike for the students whose education will be damaged by these ill-considered reforms.

3May/110

Job application clangers

Posted by Mike

Recently I had the privilege of looking over job applications to shortlist applicants for interview. I don't get to do this very often so it was interesting to see how it's done. With almost 30 applications for the job I thought it would take ages to whittle it down to 4 or 5. However, I was surprised that it took well less than an hour and often it was simple mistakes that put serious question marks over otherwise reasonable applications. In a competitive market you need to make sure an application will get through the initial "sift" so it is more likely to be read fully.

Therefore, I thought I'd make a note of a few common "clangers" that put an application closer to the bottom of the pile. None of the things listed below would instantly lead to the dismissal of an application but the moment alarm bells are rung it becomes less likely that an application will be shortlisted. I hope these may be helpful for anyone applying for a teaching job in future!

Your covering letter is a letter!

Many of us email job applications these days. However, even if you email an application your covering letter is still a "letter". Therefore it should have your address in the top right hand corner with the date. It should end with "Yours Sincerely" and your name. This is a basic bit of ettiquette which, if not adhered to, can make you look less professional.

Get the form of address right...

Following on from the last point it's important that your letter is addressed properly. You'll almost certainly know to whom the letter is to be directed. Unless the advert explicitly says to write to someone else you'll be writing to the head teacher. If you don't know the head teacher's name then look it up on the school's website or phone to find out! Your letter should then start "Dear Mr(s) [or even Dr/Revd - try to get this right]..."

Applications I read were addressed to "Dear Sir or Madam" (lazy), "Dear Mr(s) " (slapdash), "Dear colleague" (you're not my colleague - this sounds rather presumptuous). If you don't get this right (at a time when it is assumed you are doing the best you can to impress) it leaves the person reading wondering what else you might get wrong.

Spell check and proof-read

Teaching is a profession. Part of being a professional is being able to communicate clearly. If your application contains typos, bad grammar, awkward sentences or meaningless statements then you look less professional. At the very least you ought to proof-read your application to check these; I find that reading out loud helps me to find many errors. Obviously writing an application can be a rather involving process and sometimes it is hard to spot one's own mistakes so get someone you trust to proof-read too. Most people are glad to do these things and are flattered to be asked. If you really can't find anyone to do it then email me and I'll do it myself! I hate to see decent applications let down by silly mistakes.

Keep it tight

A covering letter is not the same as your life story. Two pages of size 12 A4 should be plenty to sell yourself. If you write more you should be damned sure that it's captivating stuff otherwise you look like a waffler; no-one wants to waste their time with a waffler. A covering letter should be enough to grab attention and make the employer think you'd be worth talking to in interview. Don't say everything you could possibly say otherwise there'd be nothing to talk about!

(On a similar note don't cut it too short either. Saying, "Please find enclosed my application" does not constitute a covering letter).

Avoid "elephants in the corner"

Plenty of people apply for jobs in unusual circumstances; there's nothing wrong with this. You may be a deputy head in a school wanting to spend more time with your family and so you're applying for a standard teaching job. You may have only been in your current job for one year and are looking to move. You may have come into teaching late and be looking for a change. You may be looking to side-step into a different kind of role.

Whatever your circumstances you need to be aware if your application might be considered "unusual" in any way. If this is the case then your letter ought to address this. This doesn't mean you have to explain in detail about your family circumstances or your position in your current school. It does mean that you need to at least acknowledge that your application raises questions. If you leave an "elephant in the corner" it may look like you have something to hide.

Back up what you say with evidence

This is basic Level 5 stuff. Explain! If you say, "I believe in inclusive education" then great! You should at least try to back this up with some evidence. What have you done to put this into practice? Do you promote the use of ICT in your lessons? Prove it. If you don't do this then your application can look wooly.

These are all things I noticed today which, I'm afraid, meant that a lot of applications (that I'm sure people had spent a lot of time working on) ended up being sidelined. I hope this helps anyone thinking of applying for a teaching job!

Anyone else got any tips, advice or pet peeves when it comes to job applications?