Schools correctly want their pupils to do well. They want them to pass examinations and get onto A-Level courses.
They also want to do well for the school and for league tables.
As a result, a kind of mad rush to cram stuff into Year 11 pupils’ heads happens every year. It used to start in about March. I’ve now noticed it starts earlier and earlier. Departments scramble for pupils to teach for longer periods after school or on Saturdays. In one school I visited last year, this starts in June of Year 10.
What this means is that on top of the four (or in some cases five or six) hours of English or mathematics that pupils are taught, pupils are expected to attend after school classes, Saturday classes and holiday classes. Teachers, being ‘held to account’ for the progress of their kids, are expected to staff these. It has crept from being something done occasionally to an expectation. Teachers are expected to ‘intervene’. In some schools SMT say every Year 11 kid should be ‘intervened’ with. This is kept on a spreadsheet for looking at during performance review or for SMT to inspect on the school system. SMT might suggest this means a form of differentiation in lessons, but in reality they are expecting to see teachers deliver extra lessons, usually for free (the after school ones are often justified by saying “well we don’t pay PE teachers to take the football team”). It’s a monolith. After-school timetables, Saturday timetables, and holiday timetables are published on school websites and sent to Year 11 pupils’ parents. In crap schools, this is the most effective part of the school, getting Year 11 pupils to intervention sessions to sort out what is not sorted in lessons. In fact, the systems that evolve to ensure this happens can be the most effective systems in crap schools.
Most recently, the blight of expected interventions has been primarily but not solely on English and maths teachers. I don’t think I know an English or maths teacher who doesn’t teach beyond the school day regularly. With the new progress measures coming in, this will be back to every teacher who teaches Year 11. PE teachers get pissed off, because half the football team are banned from playing football because they have to be intervened with in maths. History teachers get pissed off, because when their session clashes with English, SMT say all the kids have to go to English. And all these teachers are giving up time voluntarily. 20 extra hours of English apparently makes up for underachievement in about 800 secondary hours of previous classes (plus homework and so on).
I should note here that things like the catch up premium and pressure to track levels in all year groups have meant that, combined with performance management, teachers have started intervening in this way with all year groups. It’s a creeping expectation. For pupils, these sessions become “compulsory” policed by SMT (ie SMT will go on about this one extra hour of maths a week as if it’s the magic bullet to make up for missing/ disrupting/ not being arsed in the other 4, and hence force kids to be there, calling parents and all sorts). As a result, the badly behaved kids who don’t want to be there are able to disrupt for everyone. Because it’s not ‘normal’ school time, those kids think the ordinary boundaries don’t apply (and usually there’s no-one on-call at this time so bothering to try and follow a disciplinary system, if it exists, is pointless). Pupils wear trainers, get their headphones out, chat and so on… and it’s not worth challenging them because SMT have usually gone home (though if those students don’t turn up, SMT will chase this up for hours the next day).
Occasionally, I’ve experienced a teacher refusing to do these interventions. Because of the intense scrutiny and pressure of “accountability” the Head of Department will either (a) ensure that those pupils still get interventions by distributing them to other members of the team (b) teach them themselves in ‘intervention’ sessions or (c) ask SMT to take the class. Because interventions like this are seen as a panacea, the bottom line is they must happen for ALL Year 11 pupils.
As a result of this culture, pupils have started relying on these ‘interventions’. In crap schools, pupils will openly say they’re not working hard or doing homework because they’ll catch up in after school class. Parents respond to complaints about behaviour with “but he went to the after-school session” and the extra sessions just become an accepted part of the school week which actively mitigates against progress. After school ‘interventions’ become counter-productive.
That’s right, I’ve seen schools where it’s observable that this culture of extra lessons actually makes results worse.
Even when they work, interventions often work because they’re not subject to the 5 minute engaging all encompassing lesson plan structure that SMT impose on ‘ordinary’ lessons. IE when ‘interventions’ work it’s because teachers didactically teach and then make kids do work to practice what teachers have modelled or explained.
Where they don’t work, they’re the teacher delivering another version of the very same lesson they delivered earlier in the week, usually the one they judge most important because the kids didn’t get it – because of behaviour or culture or because it was shoehorned into a lesson proforma or to create ‘engagement’.
I also contend that often when interventions work, it’s because the pupils hence get one hour of proper teaching a week instead of none. But more common is to find schools where results go down after they’ve imposed a widespread and desperate interventions process.
My solution is to ban compulsory interventions, teach properly for the 3 or 4 hours a week we have them, ensure pupils practice during lessons and at home, and allow pupils to drop in for help when they require it (as virtually no teacher refuses). That’s it.
Hence schools will stop taking advantage of this aspect of teachers’ goodwill for counterproductive effect.
Just allow teachers to teach properly (and encourage this to be didactically when that’s best), in a structured environment (ie enforce compliance), ensure pupils work hard and demand support from parents.
25 hours a week of proper teaching in an ordered environment is plenty to ensure every child gets a C grade and most get higher.
If SMT put their energies into this rather than arranging additional classes timetables, contacting parents, and chasing up attendance, results would be far more likely to rise.