Among the many, many changes the government are installing is the return to two-year A-level courses. Being nice for a second, one advantage is there’ll be more time to go into detailed study, as there’s several teaching weeks gained because of the reduction in exam leave. The pre-2000 arrangement was exactly this, with correspondingly more content covered over the two years.
But as (even) Cambridge University have noted, the invention of AS levels allowed for greater choice and diversity in study choices at 16-18, with a wider range of students staying on in Further Education, and more going on to Higher Education. This has been labelled as negative by some, objecting to there being ‘too many’ people going to university. This tends to be motivated by such bullshit things as (i) snobbery about newer/niche/vocational degrees tearing people away from whatever it is they consider to be a proper education, (ii) a desire for higher education to be a preserve of the rich, possibly with a sampled few of the poor picked out as being more ‘deserving’ than the rest of their class, (iii) a view that the only degrees worth doing are ones with a super-obvious career trajectory attached to them, combined with concerns that those who do courses outside of this category serve to ‘devalue’ their own qualification.
It’s been pretty commonplace for students to start with four AS subjects, leave one at the end of the first year, then drop down to continue with three A2 levels, or some other form of swapping about. The merit of this is not everyone fully knows what they want to do at 16, and the difference between A-level and GCSE study is worryingly large. AS levels have meant that students who fuck up a bit in their selection get a chance to have another go, to make things alright. But that’s going to disappear.
On the one hand, teachers can sound like right cunts when they complain about their lessons being inspected. Depending on the management style [i.e. how much of a cunt these cunts are treated as being by other, hierarchically cuntier cunts] this can mean they’re complaining about the one hour a year when their boss is in the room with them while they’re working. People in many other professions experience far greater one-on-one scrutiny than this. Shut up, teachers.
However number one, this is rarely true, as there’s also the ever-popular ‘learning walks’, which means there’ll be a few weeks in the calendar when a senior person can turn up, hang around for a while, leave again, and then send you an email telling you they were there and they saw what you did. Officially, this has no implications for disciplinary procedures, but it does. There’s also peer observations, drop-ins, and whatever else excuse can be devised. More than this, many departments have big-hearted policies of openness, when anyone – bosses, for example – can come in at any time, in the spirit of sharing great practice, and definitely not micromanaging fuckers out of the profession.
However number two, a greater level of interference in other jobs doesn’t necessarily mean teachers are getting away with too much. It could just mean it’s even worse elsewhere, and even more unjustifiably. It may not be the best idea to get into a race-to-the-bottom pissing contest about who’s got it the worst, as the prize you get in winning that is being at the bottom, covered in piss.
However number three, the formal lesson inspection is in no way the only surveillance teachers receive. Rivers of data spill into and out of every valley, charting the meeting of targets, benchmarks and professional standards. Like any other job, the only thing which guarantees a lighter touch is the individual benignity of those above you. Which is no guarantee at all.
I’ve had a few inspections now, and I’ve managed to get all the possible grades. I’ve been unsatisfactory, I’ve been outstanding, I’ve been the lot. Here’s some excellent tips:
- Learning objectives – yeah, definitely get some of them. In as many non-observed lessons as you can, loudly draw attention to the artificiality of this essential teaching tool of writing out what students should be able to do on a small whiteboard whose only role is having learning objectives on it. When you know an inspection is on its way, remind the class that we’ll all have to go through this pantomime of learning objectives together, and then we can go back to doing things not properly once again. It’s a tax which, once paid, means you’re left in peace for a while.
- Starters and plenaries – yeah, have these and all. A good starter activity for non-observed lessons is to ask the class why they haven’t got their books out yet, and then get on with teaching them. A good plenary in these conditions is to look up at the clock at the end of the lesson and go ‘Right, that’s it. Fuck off’. But observations deserve a bit more theatrical bullshit than this. If you’re not sure what sort of activity to do for one of these, just wave a batch of post-its around, or put up a PowerPoint slide with a single sentence on it. This will cause a placebo effect in your inspector, who’ll mark off on their sheet that your lesson had a punctual, focused start, and a time-bonded conclusory activity where all learners were assessed in accordance with the declared learning objectives.
- Keep saying ‘And this relates to the exam because…’, ending the statement with whatever comes to mind – the details are pretty irrelevant. If you get really stuck, say ‘Assessment Objective 3’. That always goes down a treat.
- For every six times you say ‘And this relates to the exam because…’, include one ‘And this relates to equality and diversity issues because…’, again ending with some extemporaneously assembled nonsense. Phrases like ‘accessibility’, ‘minority groups’, ‘toleration’, and ‘citizenship’ probably don’t hurt.
- Always be on the lookout for a student saying ‘I don’t understand’ in reference to the lesson content or the instructions of whatever task they should be doing. You need to swoop down on that shit as soon as you hear it, vaulting across tables if you have to. Have a tense one-on-one with that sabotaging little prick until they realise they do actually understand, and without you they’d never have understood anything that’s happened in their lives ever. The only student declaration to be treated with even greater emergency is ‘I don’t feel safe’. But if they say that, you’re probably fucked no matter what happens, so you may as well just punch them already.