Teaching…is it about numbers or people?

If I said I went into teaching to change lives I’d be lying! I went into teaching because I enjoy standing in front of people and it looked like a fun job. It wasn’t until I actually started teaching as an NQT that I realised the huge sense of satisfaction you get when you can visibly see that you’re making a difference! From then on teaching became about this.

One of the main reasons I became a Head of Department four and a half years ago is because it was a position where I thought I could make more of an impact. I am passionate about curriculum planning and teaching and learning because these two things are the biggest contributing factors to a pupils education (in my humble opinion).

I guess as you become more experienced in teaching, naturally, you become more cynical as well. Every NQT thinks they can change the world one class of pupils at a time and by the end of the first term they realise that it will be a miracle if they can make it through to Easter just saving themselves. As you go through teaching things become less and less shocking, whether that be poor behaviour or school based politics.

As someone who’s only been teaching six and a half years I don’t really know what it’s like to teach outside of a recession. Every year budgets get tighter, teachers leave and aren’t replaced and the expectations of what ‘above and beyond’ duties you should be doing increase. Whilst becoming more and more cynical I have seen my budget reduced significantly over the past few years and the freedom within my role reduce at almost the same rate.

I am in teaching to change lives. I believe that pupils being engaged with sport and Physical Education can change their lives (it did for me!) so I am struggling to come to terms with the constant fixation of many schools to be driven by numbers and not pupils!

If you hold a paid responsibility you will have met the term ‘cost effective’ over the past few years. This refers to whether it’s worthwhile to the schools finances and dreaded headline figures to run a course or to send a teacher on a much needed CPD opportunity. It seems to me that schools have become so driven to save money and find cheaper ways of doing things, whilst putting more pressure on staff to deliver higher grades and ‘improved outcomes’.

Almost everyone I know who teaches Key Stage 5 at their school has a minimum quota of how many pupils have to enrol on a course for it to run. This is ridiculous!! Now I am not naïve enough to say that a course should run with a one to one ratio and I understand that staff are the most expensive resource in any school, but what happened to doing the right thing for every child. When I qualified from university the one motto that had been branded into my brain was ‘every child matters’, unfortunately this is no longer the case- every pound matters, every percentage on headline figures matters, the children come a very distant third place!

If 4 pupils want to study an A-Level in Physical Education then it is worth running the course because that opens an opportunity for those 4 pupils that may improve their quality of life in the long term. Too many schools are designing a one size fits all style curriculum normally padded out with BTEC options because less able pupils can get a Pass and more able pupils can get a Distinction. Forget what doors this will close for those pupils in the future they’ll most likely get 100% Pass rate and it’ll save the school money because you can just allocate one teacher to a class of 25 pupils!

As previously stated I am not naïve, nor am I an idealist. I understand economics, I understand common sense (I think!), but I don’t understand making decisions that ruin pupils futures- that’s not why any of us got into education. Schools need to return to doing what is right for every child and not just what will keep the bursar happy. A curriculum should be wide and varied because pupils are diverse people, who have different interests and different preferences. One size doesn’t fit all, it lets most down.

Unfortunately all I can see happening over the next few years are schools increasing class sizes (especially as Key Stage 5) and narrowing the curriculum to maximise headline figures without increasing operating costs. When will we get back to doing what is right for every child we teach?!

Any comments on this post please tweet me at @mikeharrowell


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