New School – One Year On

1st year graph

It’s been a year soon since our re-organisation and packing away in preparation for the move into our new school building. The emphasis was on the building changing, but the essence of the school as a community would remain the same. Well. one thing can have profound effects on another, and changing your surroundings, especially those which impact directly on your day-to-day practices, will most assuredly start to change old ways.

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Last June, I packed 147 crates and moved them into a designated room for removals. Despite the danger to my notoriously bad back, I did most of this myself – there was little team willingness to share chores then: I’m still hoping this will improve – keep modelling expected behaviours and you hope eventually this will spread to the team. It had to be done, so I got on with it, a few each night and morning and teaching in between. It was a measure of things to come really.

In the reorganisation of staff (long promised) and radical overhaul of responsibilities and accountabilities, some of us went for posts for different reasons – I always think it’s good CPD in one way; however, how people take disappointment can have significant repercussions for all those who work alongside them. Aspiring inexperienced members of staff failing to win promotion were determined to take their disenchantment out on those of us who did. The negative comments, cynicism, splitting the team with ‘with me or against me’ attitude, undermining new initiatives etc. can all take a very dispiriting toll on the rest of the team. And so the steady decline loomed over us before the end of July.

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In our old buildings, we changed some rooms to try to develop new models for creative use of spaces and teaching and learning with greater interactivity with ICT, different furniture, fewer walls, more glass – greater transparency looking into areas of learning. Moving from a box with 4 walls and a door that shut the world out came as a huge shock for many teachers who were fearful of

  • being judged from the outside,
  • losing control of students because of lack of concentration,
  • giving up control and relinquishing teaching from the front.

Our new spaces are very different. Lots of glass; open void areas which transcend from ground to 2nd floor; no corridors – wide spaces for independent study, group breakout, small focus study work etc. On the ground floor we bought into the proposed transformational design which reduced the number of science labs from 14 to 4. Similarly, we only have 7 actual classrooms with walls, but 3 large teaching spaces each capable of taking 60 pupils.

When we moved in last September, there was genuine dismay and much shaking of heads. Some members of staff really couldn’t take in the huge change being forced upon them, despite two years of warnings and lots of ‘interactive’ Inset to prepare us for the transformations to come. We had a week in September to unpack, (again, huge issues with minimalism and lack of storage space for equipment and books), and also work out how (with 27 teachers and periods of the week when we had 500-600 students at any one time), the feasibility of making the timetable and rooming work for as smooth as possible the transition for pupils returning to their exciting new school.

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That first half term was incredibly demanding (and character building) for us on the ground floor – the other two floors are not quite as unusual as ours (they have many more single rooms and fewer shared spaces). Tempers frayed, nerves were shattered, physically we were spent, trying to change our ways and keep up with the demands of marking, keeping the standards of our lessons and expectations just as high as previously, so that we did not let our students down. Notwithstanding the snagging issues – we had moved into a building which was simply not ready to be commissioned but there was nothing we could do except start the new school year there and then, or let down 1500 students and their familes. The number of sockets not working, projectors and screens not yet fitted, heating not working, furniture not delivered (for months!).

Our new organisation now had internal Advanced Skills Teachers – we thought they would help us cope with the difficulties we faced with team teaching, and the use of the new teaching spaces; but that was not to be – the help would be forthcoming by Easter, when they had produced a booklet on the advantages and disadvantages of the many types of team teaching, and they had prepared videos modelling good classroom practice. We  could be still waiting – that support has not been provided, and we have developed our own models and tried out various techniques – time waits for no teacher when you have 60 students who have turned up for their lesson!

Team Teaching outline

So come Christmas we were at rock bottom as a Learning School – not all as individuals, but as ‘teams’. Normally you expect as a teacher to be ill in your holidays – but I recall we were all ill – stress, fatigue, severe nervous exhaustion hit home hard – even with those of us who are rarely ill. Strangely, Senior Management really could not see or understand where we were coming from. Instead of being sympathetic, they were unable to comprehend our situation. They could not put themselves in the shoes of our staff – it has been a very long time that any of SMT have taught a full week, never mind move from room to room (or empty space) on a continual basis, or cope with the demands of new ICT (with all the technological problems which ensue from that – students all had new tablets too, and we were expected to make use of them every lesson). However, staff simply did not understand the insurmountable pressures on SMT in brokering between builders and the LEA to get the building in a state where it was fit for use – so much of their time was taken with these interventions that one wonders how they got their normal work done at all. So the Christmas spirit was lost.

This demoralising state of affairs could have continued interminably – you know how we teachers just love to moan! BUT! We then made the decision in January to enter early some 80 students for their Maths GCSE. This galvanised a small team of teachers who were directly responsible for these pupils. By March, we were well into that ‘Blitz Mentality’ of just getting on with life, and storming through the issues we faced. There’s nothing like a deadline to make you focus on the obvious! And, when results came through in April, there was great success to be celebrated – the students were literally on such a high it was visibly infecting the rest of Year 11 – so slowly the team came back into its own and we started to dig ourselves out of this pit of doom and gloom.

The cynicism is still here at times, but we have real determination to get on and be successful, and look forward to next year now. How do I know this?

We had our own ‘teachmeet’ the other day – 3 to 5 minute presentations of own choice on a passion for maths/education/teaching/learning and they were really great to listen to. We shared in listening about motivation, numeracy, student feedback, enrichment in maths lessons; inspirational speeches with titles such as ‘Resources are like Treasure’, ‘Enjoyment Leading to Achievement’. Teachers spoke about a subject close to their heart, but what came through was their resilience, their determination, their clear love of their roles as mentors and teachers.

So I am excited about September, and the future of our Learning School next year. We will lose some staff, and will have new members join us, there will be different roles and new children to share experiences with – but we have come through a great challenge and are stronger for it. The new building has definitely changed the Maths team – in many little ways which might seem negligible, and the greater and more obvious in-your-face ways. There are more hurdles to overcome before  the end of this term, as they say – the future is bright!

p.s. The garage is still full of stuff I can’t fit into cupboards at school – I am not the only one with this problem!!!

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