(Relatively) radical thoughts

Lately I have been entertaining some radical thoughts with regards to education. Please bear in mind that my mild mannered and conservative tendencies so this is *relative* radicalism. Two ideas in particular have recently been bobbing away in my mind. Both tenuously connected and both due to conversations with fellow teachers. I have tried to outline my thought process with each below. SPOILER ALERT I do not think either approach would actually work in practice, however, the debate and discussion of the theory is always interesting!

Thought 1 – Why aren’t timetables constructed according to how many pupils a teacher has?

Instead of a teacher having, for example, 24 periods out of 30 in a week regardless of their subject or average class size they in fact have an allocation based on how many pupils in total they teach. So a teacher of a, let’s say just for argument’s sake and nothing at all to do with me being a science teacher, core subject who has “full” class sizes would teach fewer periods than a teacher of a subject with “half” class sizes. The actual size of a “full” or “half” class obviously depends on the school but the principle is the same. Just to further labour the point here is my clumsy exemplar from Hogwarts Academy. Teacher A is a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and Teacher B takes Care of Magical Creatures. Let’s pretend further that Defence Against the Dark Arts is a core subject with classes of 32 pupils. Whereas Care of Magical Creatures, as an elective subject and with the practicalities of space and pupil to magical creature ratios, has class sizes of just 16. The proposal above would have Teacher A with just 12 timetabled periods out of 30 and, with one class per period, teaching 384 pupils. Meanwhile Teacher B has 24 timetabled classes but also, if we assume the same as before that each period is one class, teaches 384 pupils due to the beauty of Maths.

Why? Well firstly both teachers will be guiding, marking, assessing, feeding back to and teaching the same number of pupils. They will therefore have the same amount of time to focus on each individual in their classes. For example book marking would be for the same number of students, allowing the same level and quality of feedback to be given. What a splendid idea! Now to pick it apart…

Probably the main issue mentioned are the financial repercussions of employing full time teachers in core subjects to teach half the number of periods in a week. In fact there is probably no school that could afford to do this. Secondly there is the point that many core subjects have double lessons, which ruins the period allocation for a timetable that I was suggesting. Also many subjects that have “half” classes are due to the practical considerations such as health and safety (watch out for those unicorn horns) or small uptake as they are optional. Work carried out may well be in more detail or require more support and feedback. This line of thought is from a discussion during one of the ISQAM cluster days I attended this year, for further information about this course Andy Ford has penned an excellent summary of the Level 1 course. As stated in the opening paragraph of this post I do not believe this idea could work, but what I do like is how it makes me consider its benefits and also the specifics of the issue that make iota impossible to implement.

Thought 2 – Why can’t parents pick their child’s teachers?

This stems from the 5 Big Ideas That Don’t Work In Education article quoting Professor John Hattie, specifically point number 3 that school choice has no impact on learning. The proposed alternative is summed up in this quote “Hattie argues that if parents had the right to select the best teacher in a given school, that could truly be empowering. It would also be challenging to implement.” I picked up particularly on that second sentence; of course it would be “challenging to implement” as schools don’t work like that! However, yet again through discussion with a colleague I left my comfort zone to consider how it might work in independent education. Let’s call the colleague Tom* what follows is a summary of an email he sent me:

“Is parents picking teachers such a bad idea?

I don’t want it.

But it’s surely just the logic of independent education.

Schools could employ teachers on zero-hours contracts; parents probably still want a ‘package’ and schools would probably still insist on it to create an ethos. But in (say) Year 10 your fees get you eight or nine teachers. You pick ’em.

Teachers offer themselves at whichever level(s) they want. Set their own maximum class sizes and advertise them. Are paid according to uptake. Those in demand will do well; those not in demand will not be a drain on the school’s finances.”

I had not considered any of the above, having just closed my mind to anything but the orthodoxy of how I have always known education to work. While I still disagree with what was suggested (as, it must be stressed, did Tom but agent provocateurs are important in any thought-process) it once again made me think through the pros and cons. Why would it not work? Perhaps it would but what effect would it have on the staff body, not just in terms of working hours but also morale and wellbeing? Should that matter? I could keep on posing these weak hypothetical questions all night…

…instead I will conclude today’s rambled musings by reminding myself to always consider both sides of an argument. A simple technique to solidify the thought-process and contemplate what might be. It’s also a reassuring return to my mild-mannered and conservative leanings.

*He is called Tom (I would be hopeless at espionage) and he should definitely have his own blog; Tom is far more interesting than me and would generate many ideas to stimulate discussion and debate. Here’s hoping it will happen soon!


4 thoughts on “(Relatively) radical thoughts

  1. Sam Pullan


    Thanks for the interesting blog. Like you, I don’t much fancy idea 1 (that timetabled periods depend on number of pupils). My main objection stems from recent experience teaching a bottom set group History. I had them in years 7, 8 and 9.

    There were only 12 (later 13) of them. But such were the challenges involved (overcoming demotivation, a range of educational requirements, social issues within the group) that I spent far more time preparing their lessons than I did for any other class – even those of 34. Ok so the marking took less time, but the lesson prep certainly made up for it.

    By extension, the implication that each student takes up a similar amount of time (as must be the case if timetabling-by-numbers is to work) is, in my view, false.

    Phew. Feel better now.


    1. tlamjs Post author

      Thank you for your comment. You make just the kind of “classroom teacher” point that the general assumption (each student requires equal time) ignores. I guess policy has to be decided with a utilitarian slant which discounts anecdotal evidence… More fuel for the fire!

  2. Tom

    I didn’t proofread and you didn’t read carefully enough…

    ‘The logical x’ did read ‘the logical corollary’. Then I decided this wasn’t quite the right word, set it aside to change at the end with the placeholder ‘x’, then forgot about it.

    Sorry. We’re now suitably embarrassed. At least I am.

    For ‘the logical x’ read ‘logic’!


    1. tlamjs Post author

      I must admit that I thought it was some clever turn of phrase that I didn’t understand! Anyway it has been edited now and no-one will ever know different. Except for this comment and reply.

      Thank you once again for your words of wisdom that kick-started the debate in my head.


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