I am a supply teacher. I get called in to work in schools when the regular class teacher is away. Often this is at short notice, covering for staff sickness. That is, short notice to me, as well as to the school.
This short notice results in two things: I’m often rushing to arrive at a school by 9am, and the school are trying to get things prepared to enable me to teach the classes I’m covering.
When I do arrive, at 9:05, I’m ushered through the school with an A4 sheet clasped tightly in my hands, detailing my movements for the next 6 hours or so. Sometimes that’s all I get, I’ll call that Scenario A.
On other occasions, I get handed a few papers with basic planning on them, sometimes with copies of resources to be used. That’s Scenario B.
The last option, of course, is Scenario C.
So, in Scenario A, I arrive in class to find there’s no work set. I ask the pupils what they have been doing, glance through their books, and (based on having done this for quite a while now) set them some work along the lines of the theme or topic they are currently covering. From walking in the door to giving the pupils instructions takes around 5 minutes, 7 if I have to find a suitable piece of work in a textbook.
This tends to happen more in primary than secondary, as usually the head of department will dash in with some cover work. Usually, but not always.
In primary there’s often a TA to ask about the type of work the class have covered, and there’s always something I can set them ‘from the top of my head’.
The only time this fails utterly is if I’m asked to cover a subject I have absolutely no knowledge of. Such as Mandarin. Yes, it’s happened. On that occasion I explained to the class that I couldn’t help them, but if they were stuck I could set a times tables test. Strangely, they all appeared to be able to complete something from their text books quietly. Odd that.
Scenario B involves being given the outline of the lesson, sometimes on a planning form, other times on some hastily scribbled notes. The main point of the lesson is there, and a brief outline of the activity – as in “Discuss description of marshes in Great Expectations. How does this help to introduce Magwitch? Write paragraph explaining this.”
This works. It works well. I know what I have to teach, why I have to teach it, and what the pupils have to do.
The third option, Scenario C, makes A look like a picnic.
Scenario C involves the detailed lesson plan. I’m handed a bundle of papers, most of which I think are photocopied activity sheets. It’s only when I get into the classroom that I discover that it’s actually a potted history of everything the class have covered in the last two years.
Crammed onto the A4 sheets (yes, plural. For each lesson.) are a number of sections. Assume it’s the English lesson above, the boxes (because someone in SLT thought boxes would be a good idea) are individually titled:
- success criteria
- prior learning
- anticipated continuation
- links to National Curriculum
- range of abilities
- all will achieve
- most will achieve
- some will achieve
- starter objective
- starter learning outcome
- starter success criteria
- starter activity
- anticipated questions
- support needed
- challenge questions
- anticipated questions
- ICT links
- VAK links (sometimes separate boxes!)
- main activity support
- main activity challenge
- support staff role
- targeted children
- SEN details
- G & T aims
- links to other areas of National Curriculum
- numeracy links
- behavioural support
- mini plenary
- targeted questions for mini plenary
- review of learning outcome
- self assessment
- peer assessment
- children working below expectations
- children working above expectations
- next steps
By the time I’ve read through all that, I’ve wasted 20 minutes and I’ve forgotten what the aim of the lesson was in the first place.
And remember, I’m a supply teacher. I’m reading through 2 or 3 sheets of A4 with a class I’ve never met before, what do you suppose the pupils are doing? Sitting there quietly? Honestly???
Long, drawn out, interminably impenetrable planning benefits no-one.
Plans should be for the class teacher, as individual as they are. Not for Ofsted, not for SLT, not really aimed at supply. For the teacher. And only the teacher.
No teacher with an ounce of common sense or coherent thought believes that they need extremely detailed plans. After all, they know what they’re doing, they’re the ones who planned it. If a teacher wants to write plans, they’ll be short and to the point. They’ll be Scenario B.
SLT don’t need long plans, and Ofsted say they don’t want them. So what’s the point? What can really be gained by spending as long typing a lesson plan out, as it does to teach the thing? Some schools insist that plans are printed out and handed to SLT or the Head weekly. The only purpose of this that I can see, is so that they can file them away, thus giving the impression that they’ve done lots of work as the shelves in their offices are buckling under the strain of 40 tonnes of pulped forest.
After Ofsted’s assertion that they don’t require plans, I thought SLTs were coming to their senses.
Then I saw a tweet by Tessa Matthews of Tabula Rasa blog.
Have a look at the comments following this. So far, I can’t recall seeing one in support of this.
It’s madness, it’s overly prescriptive, it will produce an untenable workload, and frankly, it’s pointless.
Because at some point, a supply teacher will walk into her class and be completely unable to make sense of what they are meant to teach. So she’ll return and find that the class haven’t done the work she set, and their behaviour has plummeted deeper than the Baikal Rift because “the supply teacher didn’t tell us to do nuffin. They just sat there readin’.”