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Book Scrutiny Checklists Feel like Trying to Teach in a Straitjacket

I work so hard satisfying book scrutiny checklists and non-negotiables I barely have the time or energy for anything else...

  • Book Scrutiny Checklists Feel like Trying to Teach in a Straitjacket

I sit in the primary staffroom four weeks into the new academic year. I should feel rested, reinvigorated and bursting with excitement for the year ahead, but I don’t. I haven’t done for a few years now.

It’s an odd feeling, because I have always loved my job. I look around and I can see the same confused expressions imprinted on the faces of my colleagues.

Soon, someone utters the words, “But I don’t understand why we are doing it”. Another says, “It’s too much work,” followed by, “It’s not for me or the children.”

Five minutes before lunch ends, everyone slumps back in their chairs and says, “Do we have to go back to class?”

I remember saying to my parents a few years into my teaching career, “I am so lucky. It doesn’t even feel like going to work. I love it.” Lately, I try not to talk about teaching with my parents as I get cross, which leaves them worrying about my wellbeing.

So, what’s changed? I started looking back at a time when I felt most happy teaching. What was it that made the job so rewarding?

Here’s my list: I felt trusted; I had a lot of autonomy; how my exercise books looked was up to me; I had a good work-life balance; I enjoyed running clubs; nobody moaned in the staffroom; data was collected through an assessment week in May.

Yes, the job was hard, but it was an amazing feeling to be fully responsible for the education of my class, pinching ideas from the experienced teachers around me and having the freedom to try out and develop my own methods without fear or excessive scrutiny.

We were encouraged to team teach and pop in to watch colleagues. We were never told how to do our jobs. That’s what our degree did.

I then tried to pinpoint why I now feel so fed up and disillusioned.

Again, another list: I don’t feel trusted; I don’t have autonomy; I am told exactly how exercise books should look; I work most evenings just to keep up; I resent running a club because of my workload; morale is low in the staffroom; data is collected all the time and evidence is needed to support it.

Many of us have to adhere to a lengthy book scrutiny checklist.

For example, learning objectives have to be typed up, success criteria should be evident, two stars and a wish every day, deep mark once a week, use pink and green highlighters, use purple pens for editing, stamp this, annotate that, pupil voice, peer feedback, responding to marking, initialling every piece of work, and so on. It’s so confusing.

To make things worse, many schools now have a long list of non-negotiables you have to follow, telling you how to teach, what your displays should look like, what resources you have to use, how the ‘golden thread of learning’ should appear in your books, etc.

Staff at my current school are always asking each other, “What else do we need to do again?”. After walking into another class and seeing the teacher sticking something in the books, they’ll say, “I forgot we had to do that.”

Of course, it should always be about progress over time. Would my class make progress even if I didn’t mark my books or type up a learning objective?

Yes they would, because I know on a daily basis who needs further support or extending for a particular lesson and plan accordingly, before feeding back to the children. It’s a very basic principle of teaching.

We work so hard satisfying book scrutiny checklists and non-negotiables that it feels like we are wearing straitjackets. Every half term, I receive written feedback about my books. There’s always room for improvement and notes about not having evidence for this or that. Checking for progress over time seems to be very low on the list these days.

I know eight experienced teachers who have left teaching in the last two years. They loved the job, but couldn’t stand how micro-managed the profession has become.

Fortunately, I have heard of some schools that are beginning to address the problem; moving away from written marking policies to feedback policies, for example. I fear that many more experienced teachers will leave the profession unless something is done about the excessive scrutiny and micro-management of staff.

At the moment, I wouldn’t hesitate to leave if I could afford to. I never thought I would ever say that. It’s sad.


The Fake HEadteacher has taught in five schools across a 20-year career. Read more at headteacher-newsletter.com and on Twitter at @fakeheadteacher.

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