This much I know about the challenges for early career headteachers: understanding the finances

I have been a teacher for 31 years, a head teacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about the challenges for early career headteachers: understanding the finances.

I am in my seventeenth year as a state school secondary head teacher. Recently I was interviewed by an organisation exploring the biggest challenges for early career head teachers. I began the interview with the knotty question, “What do you mean by head teacher?” We settled on the traditional definition of the head teacher who runs the school with a significant level of autonomy, both challenged and supported by a traditional governing body in a critical friend role.

I identified eight major challenges for early career head teachers:

  1. Forging your relationship with the chair of governors (CoG);
  2. Managing the fact that the buck stops with you;
  3. Understanding the finances;
  4. Ensuring you have a vision, a core purpose and a set of values;
  5. Being patient;
  6. Establishing a position on teaching & learning;
  7. Understanding change management;
  8. Coping with the loneliness.

In this current series of short blog posts, I am addressing each of these challenges and providing some tips which might help early career head teachers to overcome them. This post explores understanding the finances.

 

Understanding the finances

Back in the days when he was director-general of the BBC, I heard Greg Dyke say to an assembled audience of senior school leaders: “Don’t leave the money to anyone else, it’s too important.” It was one of the greatest pieces of advice I had ever heard. No matter how idealistic new headteachers might be, how determined they are that improving teaching and learning will always be the priority, if they don’t have a really good understanding of the money, they will come a cropper.

If you want to be a headteacher, ensure you have a great grasp of the budget and someone to manage it for you who knows what they are doing, preferably from a business background.

Things have changed remarkably since I began my first headship. Back in 2003, heads had a great deal of autonomy over school spending. Many modern headteachers have no direct responsibility for spending the school budget. Even if you have to apply to the Trust board to buy a box of paperclips, it is essential, as Dyke said, that you understand the budget and the relationship between decisions of spending the budget and students’ outcomes.

What I didn’t understand when I began as a headteacher was the hugely important relationship between your school budget and the education that you provide for the students who attract that money in the first place.

I soon learned. My first taste of headship came with the rather unsavoury task of balancing a budget. Before I was appointed, the governing body had already done their sums and predicted a £300,000 year-end budget deficit. They had made the irrevocable decision that we had to reduce most year groups by one whole teacher’s-worth of classes. It meant Set 4 and Set 5 being combined in certain subjects in a number of year groups.

It was then that I had my first glimpse of the educational impact of financial cuts: behaviour in those combined groups, especially in Year 9, was predictably shocking. It was absolute chaos.

Seven months later, the financial year end saw a £150,000 surplus. The governors had been £450,000 out in their financial predictions. Those classes hadn’t needed to be combined. Those students suffered because amateurs were in charge of the finances. I pledged not to let that happen again. I made a promise to learn how to run a multi-million-pound budget.

When it comes to understanding the school budget, nothing quite beats hands-on experience. Good headteachers trust their colleagues to manage budgets. I was lucky to work under Chris Bridge, a headteacher who gave me total responsibility (and accountability) for spending the erstwhile Technology College budget, some £150,000 p.a. It helped me understand finances and was the best preparation I could have had for the moment when I was responsible (along with the Governing body) for the whole school budget.

Developing great teachers is your priority. As school budgets tighten across the globe in this age of austerity, you have to resist the urge to squeeze every last hour of teaching out of your teachers; rather, you must give your teachers time and space to work on their practice and target the budget to allow that.

We have to stop guessing about what works. School budgets are getting tighter and tighter; consequently, it is even more important that every penny we have left to spend impacts positively upon improving the quality of teaching and through to student outcomes. So, focus on what the evidence says has the best chance of working.

So, here are my top five tips for early career head teachers for understanding the finances:

  1. Find a course which unpicks the relationship between curriculum planning and budget. There are good ones. Sam Ellis, ASCL’s erstwhile expert of all things budgetary, used to run such a programme. He was superb.
  2. Have a funding expert you meet once a week, and brief your trade union reps regularly on budget issues. A Finance manager needs to tell you warts and all what is happening with the budget. I have told mine I cannot tolerate budget surprises. Simple things like adding 3% for inflation, and calculating moves up the pay spine, all see your costs rise by significant sums annually. Ask your Finance manager to explain all these simple nuances to budget management.
  3. Keep in touch with all the DfE’s budget announcements. You have to work hard at this. It is hugely complicated, especially at the moment. Beware of pay increases which are only funded for one year by a special grant, which you might well have to pick up the tab for in the following year. Right now, at Huntington, we estimate that we might just receive an extra £200,000 p.a. if certain promised funding increases come to fruition, but it looks like our costs will increase by £240,000 p.a. when specific pay and pension grants cease. The DfE seems to ignore the fact that school budgets are impacted by rising costs – all we ever hear about are the so-called increases in funding, not how those increases are reduced in real terms by significant increases in costs. Be vigilant, and always budget for the worst case scenario.
  4. Understand the difference between revenue and capital. In revenue, the impact of a budget-related decision multiplies down the years, whether you are spending or cutting. If you cut staffing next year by 1 FTE teacher, that saves you c.£45,000 next year, and three years on it will have reduced your balance by c.£135,000. The reverse is true if you plan to have one extra teacher next year. Capital comprises one-off payments that do not, usually, have an impact beyond the year in which the spending takes place. Unless you are in a PFI contract
  5. In the end, ensure you have enough to pay the wages. The rest you can get by on, but the wages are the thing. Staffing is your biggest spending commitment. The thing is, if high quality teaching is the key to great student outcomes, then spending money on great staff is a good thing. Without great staff in front of students, aided by a great support staff team, you are going to struggle to provide the high quality education your students deserve. I have always appointed the best teacher on the day when recruiting – even if there was an almost as good cheaper one available.

And if I was allowed a sixth tip, it would be…treat your school’s money as preciously as if it was your own!

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This much I know about…the challenges for early career headteachers: managing the fact that the buck stops with you

I have been a teacher for 31 years, a head teacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about the challenges for early career headteachers: managing the fact that the buck stops with you.

I am in my seventeenth year as a state school secondary head teacher. Recently I was interviewed by an organisation exploring the biggest challenges for early career head teachers. I began the interview with the knotty question, “What do you mean by head teacher?” We settled on the traditional definition of the head teacher who runs the school with a significant level of autonomy, both challenged and supported by a traditional governing body in a critical friend role.

I identified eight major challenges for early career head teachers:

  1. Forging your relationship with the chair of governors (CoG);
  2. Managing the fact that the buck stops with you;
  3. Understanding the finances;
  4. Ensuring you have a vision, a core purpose and a set of values;
  5. Being patient;
  6. Establishing a position on teaching & learning;
  7. Understanding change management;
  8. Coping with the loneliness.

In this current series of short blog posts, I am addressing each of these challenges and providing some tips which might help early career head teachers to overcome them. This post explores, managing the fact that the buck stops with you.

 

Managing the fact that the buck stops with you

The first time the buck stopped with me it came as a bit of a surprise. It was late August 2003, a week before I began as headteacher at Lady Lumley’s School, when the deputy told me we didn’t have a psychology teacher for the start of term. My first thought was “Why is he telling me?” And then it suddenly struck me that, ultimately, it was my job to ensure we were fully staffed.

The thing is, no-one forces you to become a headteacher. If you have chosen that career path you need to have secure coping strategies in order to survive in the role. You certainly have to be able to control your thinking. The mantra I try to live by is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

An appreciation of one’s own insignificance is, generally, a good thing. There are 32,000 schools in the UK and approximately 3 million schools in the world; as a headteacher, you lead just one of them. Keeping things in perspective, but not too wide a perspective, is an important facet of running a school and leading a contented life. Certain things have to matter, but not too much.

If you find yourself taking yourself too seriously, go and scrape some chewing gum off the carpet in the school reception. Or take a walk around your local cemetery.

On occasion, I respond to situations inappropriately. I once broke down hopelessly at a colleague’s packed funeral and people couldn’t look me in the eye at the wake. For them it must have been deeply unsettling, like when you see your dad cry for the first time. Colleagues need to feel they are in safe hands, especially when there is such uncertainty and fear in our professional world. You have to hold steady.

So, here are my top five tips for early career head teachers for managing the fact that the buck stops with you:

  1. Shun self-pity. Recently I was asked which human characteristic I most despised and I replied, self-pity. When things go awry, I never ask “Why me?” Rather, I ask “Why not me?” Once you accept that being human means you will suffer pain, life becomes significantly easier.
  2. When things go wrong in school, learn to step back and laugh at your predicaments. You can choose to train your brain that way. As Frankl says in his life-affirming treatise, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Take a helicopter view of life. In a week, a month, six months, a year, what appears a huge issue now will seem a mere trifling inconvenience.
  3. Get a good night’s sleep. I once heard Stella Rimington, erstwhile Director-General of MI5, say that the only advice she could give to headteachers is to get a good night’s sleep. She thought it impossible to make sound decisions when you are fatigued. And when it comes to sleeping, invest heavily in the best mattress for your bed you can find. Seriously!
  4. Remember that every single challenge that you have faced until this point in your life, you have met. No matter what life has thrown at you, you are here now, you have endured. When we have an unexpected fire alarm I stand in the centre of the playground, as 1,700 people mass around me, and I tell myself that this too shall pass. It really helps. Especially if it is raining.
  5. Finally, when you find yourself in the eye of the storm, when the crisis you are dealing with tests you to the limit, when the buck has not just stopped with you, but has sat with all its crushing weight upon your chest so you can hardly breathe, remember that you only have to deal with the next 60 seconds. And once you have survived those 60 seconds, you can cope with the next 60, and then the next. One. Minute. At. A. Time.
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This much I know about…the challenges for early career headteachers: forging your relationship with the chair of governors

I have been a teacher for 31 years, a head teacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about the challenges for early career headteachers: forging your relationship with the chair of governors.

I am in my seventeenth year as a state school secondary head teacher. Last week I was interviewed by an organisation exploring the biggest challenges for early career head teachers. I began the interview with the knotty question, “What do you mean by head teacher?” We settled on the traditional definition of the head teacher who runs the school with a significant level of autonomy, both challenged and supported by a traditional governing body in a critical friend role.

I identified eight major challenges for early career head teachers:

  1. Forging your relationship with the chair of governors (CoG);
  2. Managing the fact that the buck stops with you;
  3. Understanding the finances;
  4. Ensuring you have a vision, a core purpose and a set of values;
  5. Being patient;
  6. Establishing a position on teaching & learning;
  7. Understanding change management;
  8. Coping with the loneliness.

In a series of short blog posts, I will address each of these challenges and provide some tips which might help early career head teachers to overcome them, beginning with, forging your relationship with the chair of governors.

 

Forging your relationship with the chair of governors

Now, all my previous chairs are still very definitely with us, so what follows is my collective learning from having worked with them…

No-one explained to me the importance of the head teacher’s relationship with the chair of governors. It is the most important relationship for a head teacher because, if for no other reason, your chair of governors is your boss!

And you have to forge your relationship with your CoG – it takes some work to get the shape of your relationship right.

Your CoG is there to hold you to account. At Huntington we have an annual budget of over £8m of tax payers’ money. Every penny has to be spent to provide the best possible education for the students who attracted that money to the school in the first place. The school’s governing body, and especially the CoG, must hold me to account for how that money is spent and the quality of education we provide.

The CoG is also there to support you as you pursue the strategic aims of the school. The CoG can help you by sharing that weight of responsibility which can be overwhelming for early career headteachers. Of all the stakeholders to whom you are responsible, if you get the relationship right your CoG can be your greatest ally.

And remember, your CoG is a volunteer, almost certainly unpaid. They give of their time freely and, with 30,000 governors vacancies nationally, we need to look after them.

So, here are my top five tips for early career head teachers for forging the relationship with the chair of governors:

  1. Establish who is accountable for what from the outset. An open conversation with your CoG, using the Governance handbook and competency framework can be helpful in ensuring both you and your CoG understand both your remits;
  2. Meet with your CoG regularly: I have found that once a fortnight is frequently enough to update them on key issues and shape the agendas for upcoming meetings;
  3. Tell your CoG everything – good, bad and ugly – about what is happening. I don’t mean every inconsequential detail of school life, but if you are unsure about whether to tell your CoG about an issue, tell them – it will help you sleep more comfortably at night;
  4. Establish protocols for dealing with complaints about the school. CoGs are key members of the local community and can often be approached, for instance, by unhappy parents. It is important that, in the first instance, they direct those parents to you, as head teacher, and to explain that a clear procedure for complaints exists which must be followed. It helps strengthen the level of trust in your relationship and prevents the volume of school-related issues becoming overwhelming for the CoG.
  5. Keep the relationship on a professional level. A healthy professional distance between CoG and head teacher ensures that nothing gets between you working together and your focus on making your school as good as it can possibly be. There is no need to meet beyond your fortnightly meeting for any other reason than urgent, unavoidable school business. That said, if an issue crops up that you deem important, tell them straight away (see tip number 3 above!).
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This much I know about…Mortimer & Whitehouse and their motivational tomatoes!

I have been a teacher for 31 years, a Headteacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about Mortimer & Whitehouse and their motivational tomatoes!

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing is the BBC’s unlikely jewel. It follows two ageing comedians as they go fishing, chat nonsense and eat good food. Its success is rooted in the way its simplicity combines with moments of profundity, when the idle chatter suddenly gives way to wisdom. Here, right at the end of a recent episode, Mortimer and Whitehouse suddenly discuss what motivates them to get up of a morning.

So, as the vast majority of us who teach prepare to return to work tomorrow, be sure to identify for yourself a motivational tomato or two…

One of my tomatoes
Just to my left a trout, no more than four inches long, hurled itself out of the shallow water.

I had been fishing just outside Danby village deep in the North Yorkshire Moors. I am not sure there is a place on this planet where I feel as content as I do when I stand on the bank of the Yorkshire Esk, spellbound by the prospect of catching a wild brown trout. There is nothing quite like it.

I began the afternoon session at the Beggar’s Bridge, having bought a pork pie for lunch from Ford’s the butchers in Glaisdale. Like the fishing, Ford’s pork pies are beyond compare. At £1 a pie, the more you eat, the more you save. I then worked my way along the wooded stretch of the Esk at Rake’s Common and finally fished the winding stretch towards Danby upstream from Duck Bridge.

I took three rods: fly, float and spinner. I found success on each one. At Rake’s I caught a perfectly formed small wild brownie on a dry fly. I had seen the trout rise several times; the moment my black gnat hit the river’s surface the fish obligingly rose to take it. It was one of the day’s many highlights.

Wild brown trout live their lives in streams and rivers. They are fine, slim line predators and sparklingly beautiful. From the preternaturally large, coal black eye, the tapered array of innumerable black spots gives way to a carefully arranged pattern of a dozen or so red counterparts. The gills emit a mother of pearl shine. The dappled grey flanks merge into a creamy underbelly. And the red adipose fin is a sure sign that the trout is a wild brown.

By the time I had plonked myself down amongst the meadow grass to fish a small but inviting pool, I had landed more than a dozen wild brownies. They fight hard, no matter how minuscule, wriggling intensely. When they are spent, they lay across your hand in all their aesthetic glory.

My float was dancing about indeterminately when the trout jumped. The fish’s belly-flop re-entry made a larger sound than one might have expected. It was enough to attract my attention. A heart-beat later, from upstream and around the corner, I heard a much bigger splash and two airy wafts. A heron appeared fleetingly before stepping into the cover of an overhanging tree, directly opposite where the leaping four-inch brownie had landed.

I kept watching. It wasn’t long before the heron began tip-toeing elegantly towards its quarry. Its delicate, grey-fawn neck feathers were perfectly groomed. It was a picture of predatory elegance. Four steps in, it stopped. Its amber eye caught mine. For the briefest moment it could not compute what it saw. Its stare dolly-zoomed towards me until it was inches from my face. We were locked together, eyeball to eyeball, beak to nose, bound by the pursuit of the same prey. I held the bird’s glare. The river flowed on.

And then the heron beat its broad, grey wings and was gone.

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This much I know about…the value of choosing English Literature A Level

I have been a teacher for 31 years, a Headteacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about the value of choosing English Literature A Level.

Studying English Literature A Level changed my life.

In September 1980 I had embarked upon biology, chemistry and mathematics A levels. I was, essentially, a scientist. But I was obsessed with golf and I hadn’t got the golfing thing out of my system. To have persisted with an education at that moment would have been fruitless. I left school in December 1980, making a brandy-fuelled farewell speech at the sixth-form Christmas disco.

That winter I began two years of working hard to be a golfer. I was moderately successful. I won the Sussex junior championship two years running, captained the under-18 and under-23 Sussex teams and played for the full senior team. A number of my peers went on to play in the Ryder Cup with Ballesteros; I ended up cleaning cars to subsidise my golf. In the end I didn’t practise hard enough for long enough. I made a lot of what I had, but it wasn’t what was required to forge a career.

And so, on Saturday 28 August 1982 at around 10 p.m., Cliff, the barman at the local pub, offered me a job behind the bar; on the following Monday I went back to school. Ron Hunt, the terrifying deputy who bid me farewell nearly two years before, agreed to give me a second chance. When I returned to school that September, I had forgotten the basics of the sciences but I could do mathematics. I didn’t need the O level to take A level economics and was left scratching around for a third A level. English Literature was the only reasonable option open to me.

That linear A level syllabus was assessed through three, 3 hour closed-book examinations; papers 1 & 2 contained questions on the texts and the final paper was on unseen prose and poetry. We had to write twelve essays, at 45 minutes per essay. We studied:

  • Moll Flanders;
  • The Return of the Native;
  • The Mill on the Floss;
  • Antony and Cleopatra;
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost;
  • Playboy of the Western World;
  • Seamus Heaney’s poetry;
  • The General Prologue and The Wife of Bath’s Tale.

Unpredictably, my A level English teachers, Marion Greene and Dave Williams, nurtured in me a love of literature. The writing enthralled me. I still amaze my students when I quote verbatim the opening speech of Antony and Cleopatra – “Nay, but this dotage of our general’s, o’erflows the measure…” or from Synge’s introduction to Playboy – “In Ireland for a few years more we have a popular imagination that is fiery and magnificent and tender…”

Poetry can transform lives. Marion Greene opened the course with Wallace Steven’s “Sunday Morning”. She identified Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est” as the poem which made her believe that poetry had the power to affect things beyond the page. For me, as a country lad from an uneducated background who had been potato picking on his hands and knees for 651/2 pence a day, it was Heaney’s “Digging”. When I heard him years later read that poem I wept openly as its sounds opened an auditory sluice gate of memories, about my dad who died during my first term at university, and about how Heaney’s poems affected me beyond anything I had ever known; I still go to his Selected Poems for my comfort read.

I think Chaucer is quite the nimblest, sharpest writer. At York I was privileged to hear Derek Pearsall lecture on Chaucer’s elusiveness. I disliked Love’s Labour’s Lost, but sought out a critical analysis of the play in our local library and worked my way to a decent understanding of Shakespeare’s turgid comedy. The novels of Defoe, Eliot and Hardy were deeply rewarding in an almost physical way, like you feel when you have walked, say, the Yorkshire three peaks in a day.

My English Literature A Level took me to the University of York, where the likes of Sid Bradley, Michael Cordner, Pippa Tristram and Geoff Wall helped me to discover literary worlds I had never imagined.

So, without English Literature A Level I wouldn’t have become a teacher. I didn’t choose teaching as a profession because I had an overwhelming moral purpose to help young people. When I was close to finishing my English degree I faced up to the inevitable fact that I had to get a job. I wanted to get paid for discussing literature and the only way I could do that was to become a teacher.

As part of my PGCE at Sussex, I wrote a volume of verse. Here is a cack-handed sonnet, from a sequence I wrote in the autumn of 1988, which celebrates the central place of literature in my embryonic working life:

Days III

November’s mellow rays yellow my face
To terminate another working day.
Home time. Three-twenty. Adolescents race
To flee this place – can’t wait to get away!
I sympathise with them and feel quite sure,
If questioned (just once more) they would with me –
Tomorrow we’ll return to all endure
Tomorrow’s academic drudgery.

And yet today’s seen Hardy, Frost and Blake –
My luck their work and mine should coincide;
Poetic fervour stirs inside to make
These ill-considered sentiments subside.
Sun-beamed birches spread amber disarray –
One could do worse than work with verse all day.

I am so grateful I left my science on the fairways of several Sussex golf courses. English Literature A Level was the anvil upon which I have gone on to shape my life. It didn’t trap me into a soulless career cul-de-sac; it led me, quite unexpectedly, to a life of infinite variety, to a life filled with meaning, one where I have always known the benefit of what I do.

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This much I know about…why I am not taking my pension (even though I could)

I have been a teacher for 31 years, a Headteacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about why I am not taking my pension (even though I could).

A teacher’s 55th birthday is significant. At 55 years old a teacher can apply to take his pension early. At 2.20 am today I turned 55.

Good people have chosen to “go early”, and after teaching for 93 consecutive school terms – over half of those as a secondary headteacher – I can see the attraction. A life filled with family, fishing, writing, golf, volunteering and the odd bit of edu-consultancy is pretty attractive.

But, I don’t feel ready to quit the classroom quite yet. And here are three reasons why…

  1. I still love the core part of the job – teaching! I have a whole load of advantages that come with the designation of headteacher, for sure, but just the sheer satisfaction I get from teaching well – teaching with as much energy, expertise and enthusiasm as I have ever done, teaching with moral purpose front and centre – is enough on its own to keep me in the classroom.
  2. It has taken me this long to put the job in perspective and I don’t want to give up now. I have always rejected the phrase work-life balance; I prefer work-home balance. I am not defined by my job, but it is an important part of who I am. Despite the financially challenging times ahead,  I can only do the very best job I can, but that is all I can do – no more. It is an attitude I emphasise to my colleagues frequently and it helps create a workplace environment that is challenging but, ultimately, supportive and humane.
  3. The first book I read this summer was Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. As sometimes happens, an author articulates what you have worked out yourself about life, but with a clarity you could only dream of; so it is with Frankl. The Auschwitz survivor defines “three main avenues on which one arrives at a meaning in life”: creating a work or doing a deed; finding someone to love; and, lastly, by turning a personal tragedy into a triumph. I don’t know if teaching is the best job in the world, but it is surely one of the best in terms of finding meaning in your life. I think I still have a lot to do in education (and in life generally), on all three of Frankl’s avenues.

So, on this personally momentous day, my 55th birthday – “how did it get so late so soon?” – I am enjoying my holiday whilst feeling genuinely inspired by the academic year ahead.

My pension can stay where it is for now.

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This much I know about…how I have transformed my own teaching

I have been a teacher for 31 years, a Headteacher for 16 years and, at the age of 54, this much I know about how I have transformed my own teaching.

I never thought I would transform my teaching in my 50s.

After 31 years of being in the classroom, I have never enjoyed my teaching more. For the last term I have been teaching Business Studies, a new subject for me. We had a challenging, 22 student, all-male Year 10 class. Relationships in the class were broken. I agreed with the teacher that I would remove the ten most disruptive students and teach them myself. When I told those students to stand up, pick up their bags and follow me at the beginning of their first lesson after Easter, they had no idea what was going on. I took them to my office, cramped them round my meeting table and explained, in forceful terms, that I would be teaching them right through to their GCSEs next summer.

Looking back now, after 28 lessons, it strikes me how I have adopted many aspects of my teaching only in the last five years. And these aspects of my teaching are close to being second nature to me having been engaged in the development of the Research School network since 2014 and adopted a more evidence-informed approach to my practice.

Text books & pre-lesson (Cornell) note-taking homeworks
There is an AQA-endorsed Business Studies GCSE text book. Each student has a copy. I gave the students two A4 notebooks, one for work in class and one for taking notes from the text book. At least once a week I set a note-taking homework in preparation for the next lesson. I inspect the notebooks weekly to check the notes have been done properly – I taught the boys, in our very first lesson, how to use the Cornell note-taking technique and that is the only style of notes I accept. These lesson preparation homeworks ensures that the students have at least covered every single page of the subject knowledge detailed in the text book. I give time in the lessons for the students to ask me questions about anything they found confusing about the text book content.

Low-stakes, frequent testing
One of the students commented recently on how much I focus on checking they have learnt what I think I have taught them. His comment chimed with what Mark McCourt says in his Teaching for Mastery book: “I do not consider something to have been taught unless the desired learning has taken place.” I assume nothing. Progress is slow. I check and double check, questioning relentlessly. And we use MCQs liberally – no publicising how many each student gets right, but just enough for me to know who has learnt what so that I can amend how I teach what to whom.

Memory skills
There can be no learning without memory. The boys can forget something just minutes after I have, supposedly, taught them something. They have untrained memories. According to the text book there are three advantages and three drawbacks for businesses to globalisation. So, how do we remember those? Well the advantages thus: Rapid Growth (Usain Bolt was the most rapid runner they could think of); Inward Investment (one of their mate’s surnames is Inward); cheaper resources (the meal deal at Tesco’s is cheap). And the drawbacks as follows: a tiger (fierce competition) over-taking (take-overs) all the cars in New Earswick (new competition). It works remarkably well; they themselves are often surprised at their own feats of memory.

Metacognitive skills: Knowledge, Understanding and Application
For the first time ever I have explained the relationship between Knowledge, Understanding and Application. It is possible to know something but not understand it. The example I give is differentiation in mathematics. I know that 21x2 differentiated is 42x, but I have no understanding of why that is the case. So, they read the text book and make notes, their first encounter with the subject knowledge. They then ask me questions about the content of their note-taking. Subsequently, I explain that it is my role to spend the lesson helping them understand the knowledge, using the text book, any other materials I find useful, a whiteboard and a marker pen. I have never before used so much direct instruction. Once I feel they have understood the knowledge, I find real world business examples for them to which they can apply their understood knowledge, most of which come from the excellent text book. The students now clearly understand this process. It has improved their metacognitive skills; they are able to stand back and manage their own learning and thinking. And the whole learning cycle ensures that the students encounter what they have to learn three times, crucial to them internalising that learning, according to the research of Graham Nuthall.

Modelling writing
I use my visualiser to model my thinking as I write 12 marker answers and the students copy my extended writing verbatim from the board. It helps emphasise the application element of the Knowledge-Understanding-Application process. I would claim that my visualiser is by far the most important piece of kit as a teacher.

Emphasising the absolute basics
In Business Studies, the fundamental basics that all students need to understand are few and simple:

  • The overwhelming majority of businesses aim to maximise profits.
  • Revenue minus costs equals profit.
  • In most cases, the higher the price of a product the less demand for that product.

I have drilled these basics endlessly and 28 lessons on, I reckon they are embedded in the students’ brains. And the reason this is important, is that I am finding that we can move on a bit quicker now and make up in specification coverage terms for the slow, hard graft pace of the opening lessons.

Vocabulary
We have spent a long time at Huntington working on improving our students’ vocabulary skills. I teach prefixes and suffixes, just simple stuff, like how to remember the difference between ex(exit)ports and im(in)ports. Easy stuff, but easy stuff that gives these boys another academic tool to enable their learning.

Seminar-style lessons
The advantage of teaching in my office is that it is cramped. There is no chance of the boys working in groups. I critiqued how they behave when they do group work – they sit back whilst someone else does all the work – and they all concurred that I was spot on. That is not to damn group work, but group work for these boys does not work, or, rather, these boys do not work when put into groups to work. The seminar-style means I am right on top of the students all the time. They have no chance to lose concentration. I never ask for hands up so they all have to be listening all the time. And I have had the odd big shout when they have drifted off, and that works too.

So, my teaching is now riven through with evidence-informed practice, something that it wasn’t for the first 26 years of my career. It feels potentially dull, but it is highly effective. All my summative assessments show that my students’ progress is increasing rapidly. And the win-win of me taking these boys on is that the remaining 12 students in the group are getting on famously with my colleague. All 22 of the students are now learning.

Of course, all this is underpinned by relationships, and I know my designation as head teacher gives me a myriad of advantages . That said, we have the occasional chat about fishing and football. I big them up. I tell them they are all going to be captains of industry; one of them will rule the world! We have the odd laugh. And our last lesson was dubbed Fat Rascal Thursday. A few weeks back we were discussing a bakery business and somehow I discovered that none of them had ever eaten a famous Betty’s Fat Rascal cake. I took out a small mortgage and we all had an end of term celebratory face-fill. It was a blast!

And my boys are enjoying it a great deal. How do I know? Well, there is another group, parallel to the original group of 22 boys, and there is now a waiting list to join my class.

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