Subject Leadership Diary
The fatigue is starting to set in. After the initial buzz of returning to school, things have started to settle down so it is now time to reflect on the first few weeks and complete everyone’s performance management.
I’ve had to deal with a few phone calls from concerned parents about the mathematics sets that their children are in this year. This mainly happens when students go into Key Stage 4 – where we move from two parallel bands to two non-parallel bands. However, once the situation is explained and parents realise that their child is in the best class for their mathematical education, things settle down. Quite a few students about whom we received a surprising lack of information started at the school this year. This makes it very difficult for us to decide which teaching group will be best for them – we don’t want to have to test them when they arrive because starting in a new school is quite nerve-wracking for them anyway. If there is absolutely no information we start by allocating them to a middle set, and if we find that they are misplaced we move them as soon as possible.
All the teachers who have others to manage have taken part in the first of two twilight sessions on target setting. Over the past four years we have moved from just three rather woolly targets to four or more, depending on management responsibilities. Last year was our first year of doing performance management on Blue Sky Education - this allows targets to be agreed and set according to the school’s improvement plan. It also allows the teacher and performance manager to add notes which build up into a portfolio of evidence that is used to determine whether the targets have been met. I have mixed feelings about this – in my opinion, performance management is a continuous process that should happen throughout the year, not just in two or three longer sessions (unless they are needed). Staff should feel that matters can be talked over at any point because surely it is better to discuss how things are going as often as possible in an informal way, rather than having only some more formal, longer, sessions. However, it allows the senior leadership team to see what stage everyone is at since the web-based programme allows that access. It also means that nobody should slip through the net!
I have an excellent colleague who does the book monitoring. He selects three names from each class in a specified year group (this term it is Year 9) and will ask for exercise books from those three students to be handed to him shortly. Because teachers do not know the names in advance, all books are kept marked reasonably well up to date. The books are checked to see that they have been marked according to our school standards. We check a different year each half term. This way we make sure that everyone is giving appropriate feedback to the students in their classes. The paper Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessments by Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black makes interesting reading.
I am interested in developing as much STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) work as possible in the classroom. Not only are the activities interesting, but they will help enthuse my students to consider careers in this direction. Recently, I have found a wealth of material on Isambard Kingdom Brunel (IKB), and am developing that work in conjunction with Texas Instruments and the Brunel Museum at Rotherhithe. This is the site of the shaft of the Thames Tunnel, and there are activities planned for an evening event for teachers there on 21 October. Why not book a place?
I have also visited the Brunel special collection at Bristol University library where I handled Brunel’s drawing instruments, and saw some of his calculation books. There’s material there that can be used in the classroom – it was interesting to find a calculation he worked on, crossed out and corrected, in his Clifton Suspension Bridge Calculations book.
Tuesday saw me burning the midnight oil – I’d had an invitation to submit a paper for the CERME 7 (Seventh Congress of the European Society for Research in Mathematics Education) conference in Poland in February and the deadline was the next day (my fault – I had intended doing it during the summer, but then forgot). So that meant pulling together a number of classroom episodes that had involved the history of mathematics. Anyway, it got done and sent off on the deadline date. Just have to wait now!