Recently I posted a blog on the newly ubiquitous ‘Outstanding Teacher Programmes‘ that have been popping up nationwide like daffodils in April time. My post was questioning and sceptical in tone, such is my view that true expertise is grown over the course of years and not simply a spring-time. My core question is whether there is any substantial evidence for the impact of these programmes. See the original post here.
As I follow up, I sought anecdotes and opinions from people who had experienced the OTP programmes. There is clearly very little quantitative data to be had, although some people quite gruffly claimed there was ample evidence that these course had transformed schools. The post proved popular and drew some staunch criticism, mainly from people themselves involved in conducting OTP training, with some people have had excellent experiences on the OTP course (the ‘Improving Teacher Programme’ unsurprising garnered no support or praise from individual teachers). The post also gained a lot of support from people who had negative experiences of OTP and ITP courses, or those who agreed with my premise about truly great teaching being a long term, and ultimately, an incredibly difficult and complex process.
Clearly, from reading the feedback I received, there are a whole host of OTPs that very much vary in quality. I received some very detailed and thorough feedback.
The first feedback I got was broadly positive and although the person wishes to remain anonymous, I quote directly from the source:
– Lesson observations. Being given the opportunity to observe lessons in other schools was fantastic as a development tool. Sometimes even to confirm that what we do in our own school is pretty good most of the time!
– Discussions. The first 20 minutes or so of each session was devoted to sharing something new we’d tried in our classrooms. Perhaps something we’d learnt from others on the programme.
– Coaching. We all watched a video of a lesson observation. We then took it in turn to “coach” a real life NQT (in role as the person on the video) and we were then given feedback on how we handled this.
–Cross-curricular chat: Once again it was nice just to talk with other people about work – same subject areas or different ones.
– Sharing ideas across our own school. We were given quite a lot of “ideas packs”. Most of the techniques were not new to me but there were a few examples (eg SOLO taxonomy) that I’d not heard of and that I really ran with when I got back to school. We are expected to run CPD sessions and I have run twilight sessions on SOLO since as I now use it for the basis of the majority of my lesson planning. I have also welcomed a number of staff into my classroom to observe me using SOLO.
– DrOPP group. School have allocated time to those of us who have been on the programme (or shown some interest in driving good practice across school) to have input into T+L planning for whole school development and run projects in school as a group (eg students training peers in giving feedback). SLT have encouraged collaboration and discussion.
– Showcase: We all presented a “showcase” at the end based on things we’d learnt or adopted during the course. These were excellent.
– The first couple of sessions were very much “here are some excellent ideas you’ll not have heard of” and left me unimpressed. I think because we were the first cohort the presenters were perhaps a little naive as to who their delegates would be. This improved in subsequent sessions.
– The presenters did not always allow enough time for discussion as they had their own agenda as to what we would be learning. At times what they wanted us to learn was not new and time would have been better spent allowing excellent practitioners to have a chat!
– I’m still not convinced what our school’s selection criteria were and whether it is altogether fair on the “non-chosen ones”!
– There was a bizarre session where we spoke to a HOF from another school and had pre-prepared questions to ask them. That was all a bit odd.
Overall, I found it really positive and it’s really opened up dialogue about T+L from the bottom up in our school, but we were fairly backward in that respect. It did a lot for my confidence as a practitioner. I have always been my own worst critic and I think seeing how other schools did things really made me thing that I wasn’t so bad! The sharing of ideas and opening my door has really changed what I do and I have collaborative partners all over school. I was appointed as Head of Science last week and I’m quite sure that my sharing contributed to that!”
A second respondent gave a response based on a very different approach to OTP and ITP programmes. Effectively, the school utilised the courses as part of moving out of Special Measures. The feedback is mixed, but very interesting:
ITP: Initially sold as the ‘Improving Teacher Programme’ but hastily renamed to the ‘Inspiring Teacher Programme’ once it was officially launched, presumably to negate negative connotations. The criteria was straightforward – anyone who had been given an I or RI judgement in either the OFSTED inspection of Summer 2013 or the subsequent ‘Spotlight Week’ (everyone has a 25 minute obs by SLT over a three day period) was on the ITP. This was regardless of any previous observation data or exam results. Only NQTs were exempt (‘equal values system’); the participants ranged from SLT (at this point only the head had gone. Since then only 2 of the 8 original SLT have survived the cull) to main scale teachers.
There were two pathways – the current I to RI group and those RI bordering G. All received the same training, two hours compulsory training after school every week for 10 weeks. The Pathway 1 participants (I -RI) were observed and given a one hour mentoring slot weekly, the Pathway 2 participants (RI-G) were observed fortnightly. In both pathways participants had to gain at least 2 G grades over the time. Anyone being given 2 I judgements was immediately put into formal proceedings.
– Training was well organised, intensive and rigorous; expectations of participants was high.
– Training was practical with a real focus on integrating ideas into classroom practice that week.
– Some staff involved felt invested in and appreciated the opportunity to reflect on and improve their teaching.
– Participants were able to observe G and O teachers in the newly constructed gallery room (a classroom with two-way mirrors and microphones in the observation gallery). The observations were facilitated by the SLT lead on T&L so observed practice could be highlighted and discussed as it was progressing.
-‘Whilst the training was focused on practical strategies, many of these were ideas that would tick the box for an observation and not the sort of practice you would see in genuinely G and O classrooms.
– The training was purely about how to achieve G or O in an observation, not about giving the students a consistently good experience of learning in the classroom.
– Many teachers involved who I spoke to/supported during the programme didn’t recognise there was a difference between ticking the boxes/putting on a show for an observation and genuinely improving as a teacher by developing strong day-to-day practice. They were in the mindset that two Gs made them a good teacher and remained that way by the end
– When asked to plan a lesson for the gallery observation, it was very contrived and directed. The co-ordinators were not interested in me delivering a genuine lesson but something that fit the box of their training pattern. It seemed completely counter-productive for me to ‘fake’ the thing that they thought would be O. I’m not embarrassed to admit I think I’m a decent teacher – it’s pretty much the only thing I’m good at and my students generally get the results they should. I think the main reason I’m ok is that I have high expectations, deliver decent lessons on a daily basis and I regularly mark books, giving relevant feedback. I don’t put on ‘showcase’ lessons for observations; I put on a slightly more refined version of what happens every day. To me, that’s what the people who need to improve their practice could be doing if anyone was interested in genuine improvement.
– Since this round of the programme finished in December, teachers in my dept who were involved (and survived) have received no formal coaching/mentoring and I see no improvement in daily practice. The SLT member who co-ordinated the ITP commented to me last week that the participants she saw as part of her whole school Learning Walks ‘seemed to have regressed’ but there was no indication that anything would result from this. After all, they passed the programme therefore they are now officially improved.
– A number of staff involved in the ITP are no longer in the employment of the school. I’ll double check the numbers but 29 staff were initially on the programme and at least 14 no longer work there. Another 5 remain but have resigned. I know that 3 are on long-term sick leave with work-based stress being the cited reason.
– Of the 14 that no longer work at the school, some left voluntarily, recognising that they could not rise to the demands being placed on them. Some of these chose to try their chance at different schools, others moved into supply, some left teaching altogether. Additionally, others ‘chose’ to resign but without any realistic option. When the ITP wasn’t showing immediate impact (ie 2xI) they were called into a meeting with SLT to be told they would have targets set which they would have 6 weeks to meet. If they did not meet the targets they would face dismissal. They could choose not to put themselves though this by submitting their resignation (with immediate effect), being given three month’s pay and a reference which did not show there had been any proceedings in place. All those who were given this ‘offer’ (I believe they referred to it as a compromise agreement) took it.
– We’ve lost a fabulous teacher from the profession as a direct result of ITP. He scraped a pass but has become so disillusioned and disheartened that he leaves with Year 11 to begin a new role as a postman. I understand the current climate in education of being able to show progress and for the observer to tick their boxes and this teacher did not fit neatly into that. What he did do was inspire students over time. He’s the teacher they always remember, the one who talks too much (for OFSTEDs liking) but what he says is quality. Every teacher in the department over the last ten years has learnt something about Literature from him that they have disseminated to their own students. His results have always been steady and reliable. To me, that’s the real downside of programmes such as this. Students should have the privilege of being taught by someone like him, not solely people who fit into a corporate, robotic image.
– In our case, something had to happen – we were supporting poor quality teaching which gave poor quality results. Some of the teachers who have left were not people who I would have been happy to teach my child.
– It’s hard to ignore that the ITP was used as a tool by the school to show on paper they were investing in T&L whilst putting the steps in to be rid of teachers they believed were underperforming . I hope other schools are not using it for a similar reason.
– I think investing time in T&L is fantastic and outside the ITP, it is something the school is investing in. I’m a better teacher now than I was a year ago and that is in part down to the high profile of T&L under the new SLT. If my department is representative of the whole school, the evidence would suggest that previously decent teachers have become better practitioners.
Both case studies are fascinating and in their difference they do represent how differently OTP and ITP courses can be interpreted and applied by different providers and in different schools. Perhaps this degree of difference makes any comprehensive evaluation of OTPs problematic. As ever, complexity reigns.
Clearly, when you observe the positives from the case studies outlined above, you can see that there are gains with any directed focus on teaching and learning. When time is invested, good things usually happen.
It is for me a question of opportunity cost. Is this course better than alternative staff wide continuous professional development models? Could they be integrated into whole school CPD developments more effectively to sustain gains over the long term for all teaching staff?
What everyone can agree on is that teacher improvement is the ultimate goal for system-wide school improvement. We just aren’t sure how to do it best! It is clear we should keep on asking questions and searching out evidence. OTPs aren’t likely a silver bullet, but with good evaluation we can likely learn some lessons from their implementation and impact.