A teacher’s Christmas Carol

‘It’s Christmas Day’ said Scrooge to himself, ‘I haven’t missed it.’

I wonder how many teachers resonate with Scrooge’s fear that Christmas will pass them by. We are probably not in the ‘bah humbug’ mean spirit of Scrooge but we are often so absorbed with work that we fail to be fully present in the rest of our lives. We are sleepwalking to the end of term.

I remember a few years ago as described in ‘Elephant in the staffroom’ (chapter 8 to be exact) an evening where, having had such a mauling in a review meeting, I barely noticed my son’s Christmas concert. Yet truth be told each countdown to Christmas is a battle to make sure that the important things in life aren’t missed in the chaos at the end of term. I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes only beginning to think about what presents to buy once I’ve broken up for the holidays or arriving home to find that some of the Christmas preparations have taken place without me

In the past seven days and in the week to come there are all sorts of important events that I need to be at, not just physically but mentally present as well: the funeral of a friend, fulfilling a promise to take my son to the cinema, two Christmas concerts, a couple of church events and a family celebration. As I do those things I want to be fully present in the moment not mentally turning over one of the many things from my to do list.

So the challenge for the last week or so of term, whether we are celebrating Christmas or not, is to stop, breathe and notice what is around us. This may involve a few strategic decisions about things to let go in the last week – they can be tackled when we are fresh in the new year!

Our friends, family and our own wellbeing require that we are fully present in the moment. May we learn the lessons (past, present and future) of managing the seasonal workload and …

‘as Tiny Tim observed, ‘God bless us, Every One’’


A brief guide to handling emails

In my book ‘the elephant in the staffroom’ I briefly mentioned dealing with email, citing one interesting statistic from John Freeman’s that American corporate workers spend up to 40% of the day dealing with email, in the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot more about the teacher’s relationship with email and would like to extend my thoughts.

Email is almost always a disruption.

– You are in the middle of a lesson and you get an email reminding you of something you haven’t done.

– You are productively working through your to do list in the office when emails keep pinging – you just check because it may be important.

– You are sitting down to watch TV with your family and an email arrives at your device. Your mind is transported back to work.

Email is always a distraction from the thing that you are actually doing at the time. No one ever sits down and decides that their number one priority, the thing they are really working on at the minute, is answering email. So when an email pings in it stops us from what we are actually doing. How can we prevents email from wrecking our efficiency?

1. Like all other addictions try cutting down first. Check email first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. And perhaps at lunchtime if you really must.

2. Turn off email when teaching- don’t set a precedent of being constantly available and more importantly it is not fair on the class you are teaching. They need your full attention.

3. One of the reasons we feel we need to answer emails immediately is that we worry about forgetting them. In order to avoid this, create a ‘deal with me’ folder and move important/urgent emails to it so you don’t forget them. Deal with them when you have time.

4. Try to avoid email out of hours. If you do read them you don’t have to reply. Model work-life balance to staff and students; in some cases waiting will mean you give a better and calmer response. This week I received an email from a senior colleague that annoyed me. It was tempting to fire off an angry reply. By the morning I had decided he was right and was able to respond more logically.

5. Think about others. Don’t send email after hours (6-7pm) If you are tempted to email, use timed delivery or press save. I frequently draft emails on Sunday, save them and send first thing Monday morning.

6. Be polite. I have a friend who is a senior manager in a school. He operates by the rule that if an email asking for something doesn’t contain a please or a thank you, then he ignores it. I rather like this.

Bonus : The other great interruptor is the telephone. A typical phone conversation in the staffroom involves the phrase ‘no, he/she’s teaching, can I take a message?’ I’m not sure what people think teachers are doing all day! (I wonder if there is a clue in the word ‘teacher’) One difference between teaching and other professions is that people’s lunch breaks are sacred in most jobs. How often do you ring an office to be told ‘Sorry, X is on lunch.’ Yet often in teaching phone callers get told ‘X is teaching. They have lunch at 12pm. Ring back then.’ Let’s stop dropping each other in it and actually respect each others lunch breaks.

Delivering RS Linear A level – entering Year 2

I have thoroughly enjoyed the first year of teaching the OCR A level. As well as rediscovering my love for theology – topics on Jesus and on Bonhoeffer have gone down particularly well – we have particularly got into Business Ethics which helped to dispel the idea that RS is full of old ideas that have no real relevance in the modern world.

The idea for Year 1 was to get through as much content as possible to allow time to slow down, review, and practice skills in year 2 – thus avoiding the trap of rushing to finish the course. We aimed to get through 18 of the 28 topics – we managed 17 but that was OK. I am all set to start with liberation theology – good links to Bonhoeffer – and theology and gender.  Our main thoughts entering year 2 are around teaching and learning; what is written below is by and large the key messages that I will be giving to the Humanities team at the college as they begin the year at various stages (History has had its first results, RS is midway through, Philosophy and Classics are beginning their linear journeys)

As I have been thinking I am guided by a quote from Stephen Tierney at Northern Rocks 2015. Good teaching and learning is ‘Finding out what students don’t know and then teaching it.’ (Stephen Tierney @leadinglearner) Hence a key question is – do we know what each of our students’ strengths and weaknesses are? If we do, this is the first step to being able to do something about it.


  1. Content and Linearity

In the second year of RS and History we are beginning by using a Google form and asking students to RAG rate themselves against each of the first-year topics. This will help us to plan how to review first-year content and can be updated as we quiz students on what they claim to know.

Obviously we will be checking students learning on the new topics and questioning in class. In an effort to combat the difficulties of linearity.

Quizzing: By the end of this year we should have a pre-prepared quiz on each of the topics in the first and second year, whether this be a Kahoot, Socrative or pen and paper. For the electronic versions it will be possible to revisit these quizzes and by announcing the quiz schedule in advance and having a quiz league it will enable students to always be reasonably warm on past topics by virtue of their competitive natures.

Poor performance by individual students can lead to support or challenge as appropriate. If most students are struggling on a quiz – that gives us a priority in terms of our teaching.


  1. Skills and Linearity

In an effort to bridge the literacy gap we have introduced a reading program where students and staff will read silently for around 20 minutes towards the end of the last lesson of the week. The link to the reading program for RS in Year 1 – an anthology of key chapters and articles-  is here.

In terms of exam technique we have to recognise that alongside the scheme of work for content there almost needs to be a parallel scheme of work for skills. (or if you are clever this can be one document!)  This includes

  • Improving students’ metacognition – one strategy will be to do modelling of how to answer exam questions in a similar way to John Tomsett’s walking talking exam
  • We will also be making use of actual exam board scripts that we will talk through together in class. (Past scripts are fine and OCR are currently getting senior examiners to annotate some sample answers – coming soon to a website near you!)
  • One other useful strategy before students hand their own essays is to get them to annotate their essays in terms of which assessment objectives they think they are fulfilling. It is often quite enlightening to see that what they think is AO2 is actually AO1 or completely irrelevant; interesting discussions can then emerge.
  • We are also explicitly teaching paragraph structure using PEE for AO1 (Point Explain Example) and PEA (point explain assess) or PACE (Point, Assess, Counterargument, Evaluate) A more advanced structure (DISC + PEREL) and discussion is found here in courtesy of @missavecarter.


  1. Feedback

Our primary forms of assessment are the taking in of typed up notes after every couple of topics (We are using Google classroom to help with this) and regular timed essays. This will enable us to see how students are progressing with both content and skills.

  • We aim to do most of our feedback in class through verbal feedback – sometimes live marking an essay with the student present is far better than written comments
  • That said, for timed essays we will also be developing a feedback sheet that enables us to highlight phrases from the exam board mark scheme, jot down a couple of key messages and, most importantly, leave space for the students to write down action points. Once we have action points it is important that we give students time and space to write improved sections in class.
  • There are also some excellent ideas of feedback here from @MrsHumanities which I have blogged on before. HERE

All of this might mean that some of the content gets pushed outside of class. One of the key messages of the new A-levels is that students need to be doing more outside of class.

Finally : The final thing that we are doing an RS is that we aim to have all of the content covered by early March. This leaves us at least 10 college weeks to review topics in class, practice essays and get ready for the exam. During this time I would like my students to be doing at least one timed essay in class each week. They are in a national competition so needless to say the messages about Mindset, Work ethic and organization that we deliver in induction have to be constantly reinforced.

If you’ve managed to read this all the way to the end, I hope my ramblings have been of some use and that you have an enjoyable and fruitful year of linear RS.

Top Ten Interviews

Had an interview this week for an internal promotion. I didn’t get the job but had some kind and positive feedback, so all good. I have had a lot interviews over the years – good, bad and ugly. Here in reverse order is my top ten.

10. Raising my hopes twice! Having been encouraged by a colleague who was a governor at this particular high school I spent a long day interviewing for Head of RE. I didn’t get it and they didn’t appoint. 3 days later I received a letter in the Headteacher encouraging me to reapply and suggesting what he wanted to see next time. Great! A month later and a re-run of the interview with several of the same candidates. I didn’t get it . . .

9. You’re my best friend. Turning up to one of my first interviews and seeing my closest friend from my PGCE there was tricky. The day went well but he got the job and I didn’t. It wouldn’t be the last time that our paths would cross in such circumstances

8. The internal candidate. On several occasions I have arrived at interview to find that there was an internal candidate, and on one occasion I was the internal candidate as my temporary position in my second school became permanent. The internal candidate has always got the job in interviews I have been in. (Yes, I know it’s not always the case)

7. The Remote interview. Imagine my excitement at doing a web video conference interview with the exam board for a Principal Examiner role just last year. Predictably the technology fell over and the next half hour or so was spent shouting down a crackly phone line to Cambridge. Got the job.

6. Are you really sure? My first permanent job was offered to me after a fairly brief interview procedure and I accepted with enthusiasm as Christmas was coming and I had just purchased a £500 guitar. The Head’s response to my acceptance was ‘are you sure? Do you not want time to think about it?’ I should have read the signs regarding the challenges that were to come. . .

5. A bird in the hand. As several years later I made an effort to leave the school mentioned above, I found myself with two interviews in 2 days shortly before the May deadline. The day 2 job was the better job. Half way through Day 1 and seeing that I was up against a friend (see 9) I withdrew to focus on preparing for the dream job the next day. The day at ‘dream school’ went well and I almost got it. ‘You don’t have experience of working in a large team’ was their reservation and why I came 2nd not 1st. ‘You knew that when you called me for interview’ was my curt reply.

4. Salt in the wounds. Several years ago I applied for a senior internal role and was eliminated at the end of day 1. A colleague within my area managed to get through to day 2. (and ended up getting the job) My prize was to cover his lessons whilst he did the second day interview!

3. The walk of shame. During a bleaker time at my current college I made an external application to be Head of Sixth form at the high school where one of my children attends. After performing reasonably well in the morning the field was cut from 6 to 3 for the afternoon and, despite their sympathetic noises about how well I’d done and the tough field, I was dispatched home. There is something about having to physically walk the mile home that seems to add indignity to not getting a job!

2. At least I teach in English. I came to interview at my present college for a position teaching RS and Philosophy. There were 2 candidates: myself and a colleague who also taught languages as well as RS. The interview went well and I was delighted to be offered the job. Clearly I had mastered this interviewing thing! It was only after I had been in post for a couple of months that my new line manager revealed that the colleague in question had argued that Kant should be taught in the original German and was proposing to spend time in A level RS doing just that. As he bluntly put it, ‘when you walked in, we were desperately hoping you would say just one vaguely sensible thing!’

1. Second in a field of one! The most bizarre interview I went to was my very first. I had applied to teach RE in a high performing high school. As I arrived on the Monday morning, a senior manager in a panic informed me that all the other candidates had got jobs and withdrawn over the weekend. Nevertheless they would proceed with the day. After a tour of the school and an informal chat about ‘National Records of Achievement’ among other things, they paused and told me that they were not going to appoint. They had major misgivings that someone who was a little unclear on NRAs should be allowed near their students. The sense of deflation when you are the only player and you still lose the game cannot be overstated!

By the way, I got my first job whilst 300 miles away on honeymoon. The school where I had done my PGCE placement had an RE teacher depart suddenly. Was I still available and could I start in 3 weeks time? The Lord provides and he moves in mysterious ways…

What is your time worth? Thinking out loud on pay

A chance comment I read at the weekend referred to ‘the 1265 hours we are paid for’.  

(YesI realise it is not that straightforward. I would actually be unimpressed if my colleagues or the teachers at my children’s school insisted they were only going to do 1265 hours. – 32.5 hours for 39 weeks

But please indulge me whilst I go on a few thoughts. 

Firstly, teachers may in fact be working a lot more than 32.5 hours a week – 56 hours was the average in one recent survey, this would mean 2180 hours a year. (assuming they do absolutely no holiday work!) By the way, an average worker in a standard non-teaching job would work around 1800 hours a year (37.5hours x 48weeks) 

Now consider 3 hypothetical colleagues

Teacher A is an experienced middle leader and earns £40,000 a year. If he/she sticks to the 1265 hours their hourly pay is £31.62 per hour. If they work as hard as the average teacher on 56 hour weeks then this drops to £18.35 an hour

Teacher B has been teaching for around 5 years (so is part of the 60% that survive their first 5 years) and earns £30,000 a year. If he/she sticks to the 1265 hours their hourly pay is £23.72 per hour. If they work as hard as the average teacher on 56 hour weeks then this drops to £13.75 an hour

Teacher C has qualified this year and is an NQT earning £22,000 a year. If he/she sticks to the 1265 hours their hourly pay is £17.39 per hour. If they work as hard as the average teacher on 56 hour weeks then this drops to £10.09 an hour

Yes, I realise that if you are earning minimum wage doing an unpleasant job then some of the sums of money above sound generous. There are people worse off than teachers although given that the UK average salary is £28,000 there will be actually many teachers under this average figure. 

How do the figures above compare? Teaching is a highly skilled job. Consider the following hourly rates that skilled persons may charge . This is what you would have to pay for the following skills:

  • £10 per hour for a handyman 
  • £30 per hour for a plumber
  • £50 per hour plus for a garage mechanic
  • £100 per hour plus if you require a solicitor or a private medical consultant

The minimum wage is £7.50 an hour and the average graduate hourly rate is £16 per hour (assuming the 1800 hour year and the average graduate salary of £29,000 per year) 

Consider also the following hourly rates we may get in any second jobs we do

  1. When we do exam board work such as attending meetings £15-20 per hour is generally the going rate for our expertise. In cases where we are not paid by the board but our school or college is paid to release us then a daily rate of £150 for a 6-7 teaching day is standard
  2. If we offer our services as private tutors the going hourly rate seems to around £25 per hour. In fact some of the those who have left teaching have discovered this is a worthwhile alternative. 

So how does a teacher’s hourly rate compare to other professions? What would be a comparable profession in terms of skill? Should teachers be paid more? Should they work fewer hours than they do? Although we cannot put a price on what teachers do, financially what should it be worth? I’m not sure I know the answers but I think the questions are interesting and important

Over to you!

I am writing (again!)

I would love to blog more regularly but currently I am writing again. Working with a colleague who is also a senior examiner we are producing 3 revision guides for the new OCR Religious Studies A level. 

The titles which will be published by Hodder in January 2018 follow the OCR modules

Philosophy of Religion

Ethics and Religion

Developments in Christian Thought

Each volume will be around 96 pages long and at 500 or so words per page aims to cover the whole specification in an accessible way and will include revision and exam advice. Our hope is that these revision guides will complement the resources that are already out there currently. 

If you are a teacher of OCR Religious Studies reading this I will try to tweet a few updates here and there; if you  know someone teaching the course please pass this on. 

Hopefully I will return to blogging in the summer at some point. 

Au revoir for now


Not enough teachers part 2 – workload

It is safe to say that there is an impending crisis in teacher numbers; it is likely to get worse. Recruitment targets have either been missed or just about hit depending upon whose version of events you believe. But more worryingly 30% of teachers are leaving within the first five years. The government’s response is to say that there are more teachers than ever in schools; this may be true but it is a little bit like saying that I have more carpet than ever in my new house but neglecting to mention that I have built several extra rooms. The key issue is whether we have enough teachers for the students in front of us. This 3 part series will look at what is going wrong and what we can do about it.

Part 2 – workload 

At the time of writing #staffroomelephant it was suggested that the average working week for teachers was 59 hours and 56 hours per week for primary and secondary teachers respectively. The most recent survey suggests a slight reduction to 53 hours overall in secondary but as the graphic below suggests a significant proportion are working well in excess of sensible hours.

My most popular blog post of last year with well over a thousand views, as well as a key theme of my book, is the idea that #50isplenty. Key message – if you can limit each working week to 50 hours, you will give yourself the best chance of long term survival in the classroom. The key issue with workload is that it is cumulative. We may be able to manage the odd crazy week but if we do it week in week out it is this that drains us as teachers and leads to burnout. 

In writing about workload over the last couple of years it is clear that there are no magic wands but there are 3 causes or types of workload

1. Workload that you can control: We can reduce our stress by getting more organised. Having a year planner with all your schools key dates on one document and fitting your marking around it is essential assuming your school allows you a little flexibility. Invest some time in thinking about time saving marking strategies; My blog on feedback contains some useful links and ideas. We also need to stop the perfectionism. It is hard for some of us but part of our responsibility in dealing with workload is to accept that it can’t all be done and to make peace with that. Some teachers find that quite difficult and although I have no hard evidence, I think perfectionists are more likely to leave. 

2. Workload that your school controls: just as you make the weather in your classrooms so too your school and your leadership team affects how much you can control your workload. Here overbearing policies on feedback, over rigorous monitoring of lesson plans etc. under the misapprehension of what ofsted may or may not want have all contributed to excessive workload. If schools want to ensure they have enough teachers, this is an area where bravery is needed in cutting things that take time but add no value.

3. What only the government controls: even with good time management strategies and with the most enlightened senior management team, the workload in teaching is still considerable. There are two things that only the government can do. Firstly, stop constantly changing things. This year I have taught a new Linear A level. The increase in work for this has been significant. Some colleagues will have had new A levels, a new GCSE and changes in Key Stage 3 assessment all within 12-18 months linear. Please leave us alone now for a few years so we can see how these changes bed in! Secondly although we know we are responsible for outcomes, the level of accountability experienced is crippling. League table places and sudden decline in results often lead to heads being removed; in some schools middle leaders and heads of department have also been made to fall on their swords after a difficult year. We need to find a way of cutting people a little slack.

Workload is the killer in terms of teacher retention but there are things that we can do to help ourselves at least to an extent. The final part will look at some of the possible solutions to the crisis in teacher numbers that we may need to implement if the numbers continue as they are.