Last month the DfE released (non statutory) guidelines for schools , for the somewhat thorny issue of the ‘British Values’ that we are now required to nurture in our schools. Having read the document, I must stress that I think it outlines some fairly acceptable values, it’s not the list itself that’s the particular cause for concern.
My worry is the interpretation of this this list, or, to be precise, the potential SLT knee-jerk reaction to such guidance. I think there is a very real danger that fear will take over and, before we know it, evidence of British values tuition will be required in every lesson – I may exaggerate slightly, but not much. I have noticed that a variety of lesson resources for ‘Character’ and ‘British Values’ are already popping up online.
In our weekly staff meeting last night (Monday), a senior member of our SLT asked us to read the new DfE guidelines for British Values and told us he would email further resources on character education he’d obtained from a weekend training course he’d attended. He went on to sagely inform us that a box for referencing ‘British values’ and ‘character’ would soon be added to our weekly planning sheets.
Now, this is the same SLT team that Ofsted graded outstanding in May.
In doing this, I believe Ofsted simply confirmed to them that their practices are correct. In effect they have said that it’s okay to demand weekly (detailed) lesson plans and then criticise if the SMSC targets aren’t worded correctly, or if the learning objective is too vague. On this planning sheet we already have boxes for referencing SMSC, homework, deployment of TAs, Numeracy and Literacy, learning aims, assessment focus and learning objectives. There is also a larger box for detailing the lesson content itself – to include whether activities are ‘new’ or ‘ongoing’. Completed plans must be placed in a staff file on the computer system by 12 noon every Monday. They are then scrutinised by a deputy, who sends an email to all staff listing any issues. I can only assume that Ofsted saw and agreed to all this.
Now to be added to our weekly plans: a new box for ‘British values’ to include references to the other latest hot topic – character education. Why? Because my SLT are (officially) ‘outstanding’. I assume they believe they can continue to be so by being able to ‘prove’ how thorough and effective their quality control methods are.
In response to all this, I raised the matter with the manager in question this afternoon. I took with me a copy of the joint NUT and NASUWT guidelines for lesson planning, which clearly states that planning is a personal matter for the teacher, and should on no account be shown to, or shared with members of the SLT. I told him that I thought yet another box on this form would be a step too far. The boss seemed sympathetic, and agreed that the weekly planning sheets are very prescriptive. He also seemed genuinely surprised to learn that the planning is only there to inform our work, and not for the eyes of SLT. He left saying he would “raise the matter”. I am hopeful of a positive result, especially as they are now no longer grading individual lessons.
I do believe the law of unintended consequences is at play here. Whenever the DfE or Ofsted introduce a new initiative, they’d be wise to carefully consider what the consequences of this might be for chalk-face staff. Politicians, also (Tristram Hunt, for example) please think carefully before you extol the virtues of something as vague, invisible and unquantifiable as ‘character’. Personally, I sincerely hope we never see the day when ‘Character’ or ‘British Values’ become distinct lessons in their own right. It seems to me that both character and British values can be encouraged, nurtured and developed as part of any good school’s general ethos. I’m afraid that the recent guidance will probably do little more than reduce such important virtues to an easily manipulated evidence box – I assume this wasn’t what the authors of this particular document had in mind.
There is little doubt that we are still living in an age of fear – an age where the iron fist of Ofsted still has a firm grip on schools – no matter how hard they try to conceal this with kid gloves. Schools want to please Ofsted, it’s as simple as that. As ever, many SLT believe that the way to do this is to gather more and more evidence, in order to be able to prove that they are meeting all requirements, and referencing all initiatives.
Or, as the big boss somewhat ominously put it on Monday, “You will be judged on this”.
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