Speaking recently on Radio 4’s The Today programme on the subject of a new Ofsted report on disruption in classrooms, Sir Michael Wilshaw observed that teachers need the support of heads in tackling poor behaviour, and that the latter “need to get out of the office and into the corridors”.
Whilst Ofsted is right to observe that teachers need the support of their heads, long experience tells me that there is nothing more off-putting to a teaching team than a headteacher cruising the corridors looking for floundering lessons and errant pupils to extract from them. Rather, teachers need the right training and support to ensure that lessons are full of interest, to encourage pupils to engage and think, and to include a few surprises along the way. A head’s job is to help teachers keep things fresh, and to inspire their confidence in being creative with their teaching and taking risks, knowing that the head is there to advise, support and encourage. This, more than any amount of corridor-prowling, ensures that low-level poor behaviour is kept to a minimum.
The Ofsted report draws on a poll conducted by YouGov, in which some interesting statistics were revealed. Top of the list of the most common types of disruption experienced by teachers in the classroom was ‘disturbing other children’ (38%), followed by ‘calling out’ (35%) and ‘not getting on with work’ (31%). However, I would argue that if the work is interesting then pupils will engage, although it should be said that many schools are hampered by an assessment and exam driven system that does not allow for crucial pupil and teacher creativity and independence. A head’s focus, then, should be on training teachers to build high-paced lessons that include opportunities from the outset for pupil interaction, including discussion and debate, and encouraging positive relationships between teacher and pupil. Children feeling they are liked and valued are very powerful in developing the right classroom environment.
Again, however, this seems to swim against Michael Wilshaw’s vision of teacher as rigid disciplinarian. He observed: “I see too many schools where head teachers are blurring the lines between friendliness and familiarity – and losing respect along the way”. This risks losing sight of the fact that our children are real people who wish to connect with their teachers, and have interesting days and enjoyable experiences. With this in mind, I believe a headteacher’s priority should be to cultivate a community within school that is built around mutual respect between all – pupils and teachers alike. In this scenario, the headteacher is there to support their team and, rather than being ‘in the corridors’, able to sit in on as many lessons as possible and to enjoy and celebrate the great work so many of our wonderful teachers are doing with our young people.
Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst
Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.