Putting the Achievement into the, erm, Achievement Coordinators.

Some time ago, the school I was working in changed the title of ‘Head of Year’ to ‘Achievement Coordinator’. Nothing new about that – it’s the same in most schools, from what I understand. The rationale was that the term ‘Head of Year’ didn’t go far enough in describing the extent of the role. One key purpose of a school should be to enhance learning and as we show this through achievement, pastoral leaders should be the coordinators of this very thing. Achievement Coordinators. We had briefings on how all adult-child conversations were to be brought back to learning. Stopping a child in the corridor to ask where s/he was going should include the word learning. All pastoral interventions should be learning focused.

Yet.

We do not involve non-teaching pastoral staff in the mainstream learning processes of our pupils. Schools do not include achievement coordinators in ‘learning walk’ schedules, or equivalent. Pastoral staff are not included in the lesson observations that take place across the school – peer or otherwise. There is a lack of understanding from teachers regarding the role of the pastoral team, and vice versa. This can weaken or threaten relationships between the two parties and relationships really, really matter. This sums it up for me: ‘The core of a school lies in its relationships; teacher-student; parent – teacher; teacher- teacher… these relationships… are quite literally at the heart of education’ (Crawford, 2007).

We expect non-teaching pastoral staff to raise achievement, but we don’t involve them in the day-to-day strategy of enhancing the learning community.

It’s not unusual to read comments about teachers feeling at odds with non-teaching pastoral staff over issues related to achievement. From my own experience, hub meetings, Twitter and edublogs, I’d say that there is an ‘us and them’ divide between teaching staff and academic staff in some schools.  There is an expectation from teachers that pastoral staff know about – empathise with, even –  what happens at a classroom level, yet we do not give our pastoral teams the opportunity to get into classrooms. Sure, they may come to remove students, but this does not give either party the best opportunity to demonstrate or learn what happens in a typical lesson.

Involving non-teaching staff in learning-related processes is not a new suggestion – it’s been researched and implemented before (refs below). However, I have not seen it done and so I’m suggesting here that this could really work. I think schools need to start involving support-staff in the learning systems. Whether it be learning walks, observations, drop-ins, whatever suits your context, I think this needs to happen to improve the learning culture of schools.

Why doesn’t this already happen?

Short answer – external pressures and priorities. Despite national moves to decentralisation, leadership of schools can often be forced into bureaucratic behaviour. This is often a result of external pressures for results-based success and an improved OfSTED rating. Thus the leadership ideal of improving systems for enhancing communication and relationships is inevitably deprioritised in order to meet external demands. It is important that such prioritisation is considered when discussing such a proposed change; there may be barriers in the form of more pressing medium- and short-term goals for SLT, or in the form of budgetary limitations. I try to be pragmatic about these things, but the big-picture voice in me tells me that this is really important. So I’ll press on.

Why should it happen?

My argument is that if we are to improve the learning culture in the school, then everyone who interacts with the students should be involved in direct learning-related strategies. This is a move away from the standard approach of keeping teachers and support-staff as distinct groups. It’s an attempt to recognise that most adults working in a school have a role to play in the education of pupils. Pastoral support staff could become and feel more involved in the teaching, learning and (therefore) achievement strategies, in more than just their title. This works on the premise that collaboration is a vital part of improving the quality of learning and that those with detailed knowledge of the students could benefit hugely from seeing what, how and why they are learning. The aforementioned learning conversations could really be about actual learning that’s taken place, because the achievement coordinators would have actually been in lessons and seen what happens. I can’t imagine how they manage these conversations at the moment –  it must be like trying to discuss a book that you’ve never read (which I have done. It’s hard).

Barriers

There are going to be barriers. Logistical barriers, such as problems over time, space, organisation etc. can be dealt with by careful timetabling or planning. More complex are the (for want of a better phrase) emotional barriers, that is, problems arising over perceptions, relationships, leadership and roles.  Perhaps the existing ‘us and them’ attitude will in itself be a barrier – but this needs to be handled through open communication and transparency because it’s this very attitude that needs to be broken down. This change would rely, in part, on the cooperation, personality and motivation of people. It is anticipated that some members of staff will be resisters or sceptical. These could be among the teaching staff or pastoral staff. I’ll avoid predictions of anecdotes arising from such types– it’s unhelpful to worry about people’s reactions before they have had a chance to react.

Lastly, and I’ve been dreading saying it, an anticipated difficulty of implementing this is that teachers will not value, respect or want the input of non-teaching pastoral staff in discussions around pedagogy. However, I’m not suggesting that teachers get feedback from this process, unless that works well for the context of a school. I think that this is an opportunity to break down communication barriers and build relationships across the staff, and give the achievement coordinators something to work with when they’re, you know, coordinating achievement.

References

Banata, T.W. and Kuh, D. K. (1998) A missing link in assessment: collaboration between academics and student affairs professionals. In Pitman, T. (2000)

Fidler, B. (2002) Strategic Management for School Development. London, Paul Chapman Publishing

Kamara, M., (2007) ‘ The Changing Leadership Culture in Northern Territory Indigenous Remote Community Schools: Implications for Indigenous Female Principals and School Community Partnerships,’ AARE Paper. Pp. 5, 8, 16

Pitman, T. (2000) Perceptions of Academics and Students as Customers: a survey of administrative staff in higher education. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Vol 22, No.2. p.2

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