Policies in practice - ensuring enforcement in the classroom lecture

Introduction

The previous 3 chapters have looked at the principles behind some key educational policies. As well as explaining your legal obligations as a teacher, these chapters gave you some context about the way each policy was addressed by your school and partner organisations such as social workers or local authorities. More importantly, each chapter tried to convince you that these policy areas were not just a matter of legal obligation, but rather, are related to the status of the teaching profession. Examples were shown of how you could work with the principles behind each policy to enhance your teaching and learning.

This current chapter looks at how you might be monitored in terms of how well these policies integrate into your practice, both in and out of the classroom. As well as providing practical tips for everyday practice, it considers the type of evidence you want to keep organised both for routine monitoring and preparing for formal teaching observations or inspections.

Learning objectives for this chapter

By the end of this chapter, we would like you:

  • To understand the ways in which policies are enacted in schools;
  • Be able to manage evidence of your compliance with policies; and
  • Make it easier for observers to notice your good practice.

A principles-led approach

Reflection

Think back over the previous 3 chapters on safeguarding, equality and diversity, health and safety, and data protection. For each policy area, try to summarise in just one sentence what the over-riding principle of the policy is. Is this enough detail for everyday use? Would you be confident that you were fully complaint by following these principles?

How policies are enacted in schools is a field of study in itself, but it is worth thinking about how you conceptualise policy because this will affect how you see your role as a teacher. Ozga (2000) describes the common way policy is understood is to be something that the government creates. How the government then gets the policy to have any impact depends on its strategy; in the UK, the most common strategy has been to link policies with observations or funding. This is known as 'steering at a distance' (Kickert, 1995), meaning that the government does not have to force schools or teachers to comply, but it offers rewards to those who do. In this way, you (or your school) are told what to do and then evaluated on how well you do it, and possibly incentivised to do it well. This same approach might be used at school-level. For example, a school might include health and safety in its peer evaluation process. By focusing some of the feedback on your teaching on this policy area, you are encouraged to pay attention to the policy. If your teaching is also partly judged on this, then you have another incentive to make sure you are following the policy. Notice that in this situation you are not being asked about how you interpret the policy or the extent to which you agree with its principles: the judgement of whether you are following the policy is entirely under the control of the observer.

A more flexible conceptualisation of policy is that it is an intention of the government which is encoded (i.e. written) in a policy document. Responsibility then falls to schools and individual teachers to interpret those intentions in their local context. This gives power at a local level to think about what a particular policy is trying to achieve and how you might meet those intentions. Observation, therefore, should not focus on whether what you do is right or wrong, but you might be expected to be able to explain why whatever you have chosen to do is suitable for your local context.

A third approach is to see policy much more as a process. Instead of being something created and then imposed, you can think more about policy as a messy and negotiated process. This means that policy belongs not just to whoever wrote the policy, but to everyone involved in its implementation and wider context. Policy is "enacted" rather than "implemented", and so can be contested or interpreted in creative ways (Ball et al, 2012, p.2). Looking at policies in this way reminds us that policies are generally created after consultation or research, so it is the responsibility of policy-makers to represent the intention of all the voices of all the different stakeholders. If you think about policy in this way, you will need to be more engaged in understanding the context of a policy. You might also see yourself as responsible for staying true to this context and the original aims of a policy. For example, you might resist changes which you think are more about political ideology than reliable evidence. Note that this does not mean that you are free to ignore policies as you please, but are taking responsibility for understanding the problems which a particular policy is looking to address.

Reflection

Take a moment to think about these three views of how policies are created and enacted. Which one do you most agree with? Do you have different views on different types of policy? Your answers may help you to reflect on how you view your broader role as a teacher, including how far you are happy to be told what to do.

Looking back at your answers to the first reflection task in this chapter will help you to think about what you thought the key information was in each policy area. Compare your answers to Astrid's example in the green box. How do you think Astrid conceptualises policies? How might she prepare for an observation of her teaching?

Example

Astrid is a physics teacher in a medium-sized Academy in the north-east of England. She was asked to think about the policy areas we have studied so far and offer her comments on what the main point was for each, and what implementation of that looks like in her classroom.

Safeguarding: I should model desired behaviours, including being a role model for how professionals should interact with children. I need to be constantly aware of concern, but I should not investigate anything myself.

Equality and diversity: I need to promote respect and tolerance. Differences should just be part of our normal routine. I also need to be proactive in challenging bigotry or extreme views.

Health and safety: Pupils should not be stopped from doing anything, but I need to think about how they can do it safely. I need to ensure proper supervision, especially in higher-risk activities. I need to be aware of not just risks, but anything that might make it difficult to respond in an emergency.

Data protection: I should not hoard data. I need to be clear on why I am collecting or using data and make sure I don't over-step consent. I need to respect the privacy of my pupils and be able to demonstrate how I have consent to use their data.

Finally, how flexibly and critically you engage with policies will also depend on how you are managed. If your line manager has a strict interpretation of a particular policy, arguing for your own interpretation could be a waste of time. Unless you think that your manager has seriously misunderstood a key point, you may simply have to follow whatever guidance is issued. The same will be particularly true of how you think about school inspections. Some teachers feel intimidated and are anxious about how they will be graded, as despite frequent attempts by inspectors to say that they do not have a preferred teaching style, there are plenty of private companies which employ former inspectors to tell teachers what inspectors are looking for. It would take a very confident teacher to take an entirely principles-led approach to teaching. However, if you are confident that your pupils are learning effectively then you might decide that you should trust than an inspector will be competent enough to see your good practice without needing any special consideration.

Policies in conflict

One of the best reasons to take a principles-led approach is that teachers have to think about a wide range of policies as well as actually doing the job of teaching. If policies are interpreted too strictly or as technical exercises, there may be conflicts. For example, the scenario of Iman in chapter 3 showed how equality and diversity was constrained by health and safety considerations. Insufficient adult supervision meant that Iman would have to leave some classes early to avoid crowds in corridors, meaning that Iman would miss some learning opportunities or have to find ways to catch up later. The requirement for Iman to be in classrooms on the same floor as toilet facilities meant moving classes, so the teacher in this scenario thought about how to explain the need for moving to their pupils. This is a good idea from an equality and diversity point of view since it helps to avoid resentment of the new pupil and helps the teacher to discuss how it is the building which is causing the inconvenience, not the pupil with additional needs. However, how does a teacher have this type of discussion in a class while respecting the privacy of Iman?

The school trips discussed in chapter 4 also have potential conflict between health and safety and safeguarding on one hand and equality and diversity and data protection on the other. A simple example comes from the adventure sports organisation PGL runs a high ropes course in which pupils work in teams to move around obstacles at height. Safety harnesses are essential for all participants (PGL, 2015) - however, until recently there were different types of harness for different weight groups. There are clearly safety advantages to making sure pupils have a strong enough harness, but how would teachers collect and pass on personal data to ensure that adequate provision was put in place? Would teachers need to think about a discussion of different body types, and if so, how should they address promoting healthy lifestyles whilst also avoiding embarrassing overweight pupils? PGL has taken an easy solution - everyone wears the full harness for the maximum weight rating. This has obviously increased their costs and meant that a lot of existing safety equipment is now useless. From a budget-holder perspective, it would be difficult to justify this expenditure on safety grounds since you already own a range of safety equipment: is equality and diversity or data protection a strong enough reason?

Reflection

Thinking about how you would justify expenditure or resourcing is often a good way to think about how policies conflict in practice. Equality and diversity often provides budget conflicts because specialist equipment can be expensive. For example, height-adjustable desks might look very different from the desks you already have in a classroom, but it would seem wasteful to restock 15 tables. It was also recommended in chapter 3 that you should consider diversity when buying textbooks, so that differences are normalised in the illustrations and examples. How far would you take this advice? Would you wait for older, less inclusive resources to wear out first?

Teachers might also notice differences in their own resources, with a fine line between high-backed chairs which are needed for health and safety reasons and those which are status symbols. Think about some of the purchases you have recently made or resources you would like to purchase - are there any sources of conflict?

Tacit policies and 'the way we do things here'

Schools can differ dramatically, even within local areas: each school will have its own way of doing things, and many of its rules and routines might be tacitly understood: you will not find them written down anywhere or even be told what they are, but will gradually learn to follow what everyone else does. As new policies come along, it is up to the school community to absorb new principles into these practices. A new policy, or an observation of how a policy is treated, can also challenge established practices. It is then up to the school to think about how it will respond. You might also have similar experiences as a teacher.

A good example of this comes from George Eliot school, one of the case studies in Ball et al (2012). An Ofsted inspection commented that female pupils were not active enough in class, prompting the school to think about what active involvement would look like. One teacher (Laura) described being "really glad that Ofsted picked up on this" (Ball et al., 2012, p.23) because it gave her some momentum to challenge the passive role girls seemed to adopt in the local community. In contrast, the joint head teacher at the school (Aabid) talked more about how to demonstrate more active engagement through group work and class discussions. Aabid's response is to think about how to adapt existing practices to improve the school's Ofsted performance and help female pupils to engage more, whereas Laura sees this as an opportunity to rethink how female pupils are conceptualised at the school and push for a more assertive and feminist agenda.

Reflection

Do you think that the Ofsted inspectors wanted George Eliot school to increase how active female pupils were in lessons, or do you think that Ofsted wanted to see those pupils become more active and assertive in general? Which teacher's response do you think is most appropriate? How might your school respond to a similar criticism?

Policies in and out of the classroom

Within the classroom, all of these policies are interpreted through the broader lens of inclusion. This means that an inclusive classroom will clearly display the principles of these policies in action. In your short- and medium-term planning, you would therefore want to show that you are aware of barriers to learning by knowing:

  • The different groups of pupils in your classroom;
  • The additional needs of particular individuals;
  • The broader cultural context of your school.

Looking back at the example from George Eliot school, gender and race helped to identify particular learning needs of groups (female Asian pupils), particular individuals or sub-groups (such as gifted and talented female Asian pupils), and the broader context (those females typically having submissive roles at home). Evidence of addressing these needs through an inclusive classroom could include promotion of group work and discussion, but also broader confidence-building activities (including extra-curricular) or a wider school-level discussion about women in society.

In addition to thinking about how your classroom addresses barriers to learning in each of these policy areas, you might also think about your wider role and identity throughout the school. Looking back at your summary of the principles at the start of this chapter, it is useful to reflect on how clearly you 'live' these values in your everyday dealings with pupils and colleagues. You might find the following prompts helpful:

Safeguarding: do your pupils see your classroom as a safe place to make a disclosure? Do you promote a healthy lifestyle, including work-life balance? Do you give pupils a clear example of how they should expect other professionals to treat them? Do you show respect for children's rights?

Equality and diversity: do you proactively address equality and diversity issues? Is difference a normal part of your classroom? What does tolerance and respect look like? Do you effectively challenge inappropriate behaviour at a conceptual level? How are your pupils prepared to critically challenge extreme or intolerant views?

Health and safety: do your pupils know how to identify and manage risks for themselves? Are you confident that your classroom is a safe place? Are you aware of what to do in an emergency situation, including the location of your nearest first aider? Do pupils see your health and safety actions as reasonable and legitimate?

Data protection: do you have the data you need to promote inclusion? Is the data secure? Is it up-to-date? How do you know when you no longer need a piece of data, and what do you do with it then?

Example

Astrid, our physics teacher from the first example, thinks about how these policies are enacted, both in her classroom and in her professional identity. She makes the following notes in her learning log.

Safeguarding: Pupils seem to find me approachable, possibly because I am only a few years older than them, so I have already had to respond to some disclosures. I have a practiced speech for these situations, reminding pupils that I can't promise confidentiality. I am also careful not to get drawn into their personal lives too much, but it's hard to keep a professional detachment because I'm naturally very empathetic. Putting on my lab coat really helps me to get into 'professional mode', and when pupils have made inappropriate comments about my personal life or appearance, I just remind them that they would not like me to gossip about them like that, or that they would not like me to repeat what they have said to their parents or head of year. One good tip I had was to write down what someone says - often just seeing it in writing is enough to make a pupil realise that what they have said is not appropriate.

Equality and diversity: I think it's important as a female scientist that I am a good role model and avoid stereotypes, so I'm trying to hide my nerdy side a little bit, although I also want to show that my scientific knowledge is strong, so that's a little tricky. The main equality and diversity issue in my subject is gender, but I've also tried to look at some science role models. I recently found some good examples of Muslim scientists who made important advancements while Europe was in the dark ages, so that's generated some really interesting discussion. I've played on my nationality a little bit to promote the Nobel prize, so that's been a good chance to broaden how we look at equality and diversity in physics. I might try pick this up as an extra-curricular activity, perhaps the debate club could get involved and think about who we might want to posthumously honour with a Nobel if that was allowed?

Health and safety: The lab can be a higher-risk environment than a regular classroom, but using lab equipment is a vital part of thinking scientifically. I don't want to just use apps or video demonstrations, I want pupils to explore and learn how to use lab equipment safely. I already have emergency first aid training, but I will ask for a full first-aid course as part of my professional development so that I can respond more quickly in an urgent situation. I also want pupils to think more about personal risks, so will ask them to come up with classroom rules for practical sessions - hopefully this will prompt them towards understanding why we need to limit group sizes and have a clear signal to stop and be quiet.

Data protection: I do a lot of my own analysis because the school-level stuff just isn't in enough detail, so I've had to be really careful about how I keep that data secure and private. I've generally kept to discipline standards for confidentiality, and I try to be open with my pupils. I recently showed them the Pearson correlation between completing homework, arriving on time, and their last exam scores - it was all anonymous, but I made sure to subtly catch the eye of a few pupils.

The Ofsted view

Given the large number of consultants claiming to offer special insight into how Ofsted observe lessons, it is surprising how few teachers actually read the guidance from Ofsted. Their school inspection handbook (Ofsted, 2016) gives plenty of detail about how schools and teachers will be inspected. For example, the importance of safeguarding is underlined as important because it gives inspectors the right to inspect a school even if that school is normally exempt from inspections (for example, if it was previously judged outstanding). Concerns about safeguarding, particularly "the ability of staff to maintain discipline and/or welfare concerns" (Ofsted, 2016, p.7), can trigger an inspection.

It is also important to know that Ofsted carries out its own risk assessments of schools by using available data. Schools which were previously rated as good can receive a shorter one-day inspection, and schools previously rated as outstanding may not be visited at all. Clearly, an inspector needs to have good data to be able to do this type of desk-based analysis. If you do not provide good data, then an inspector will have to visit to see for themselves.

As we saw with health and safety legislation, there are a great deal of myths in schools about Ofsted. The inspection handbook is valuable reading to help challenge some of these myths. An important example is planning - the handbook is clear that individual lesson plans are not required, nor is there an expectation of any particular level of detail. Provided that planning is effective, Ofsted is not concerned about the format of your plans. Equally, copious planning and pedantic details does not mean that learning has been well planned, just as a long risk assessment does not mean that an activity has been planned safely. Incidentally, the same is true for marking and feedback: the quantity and frequency is irrelevant, rather it is important what pupils do with feedback.

You should also be aware that individual lessons will not be graded. Previously, inspectors gave informal feedback to teachers about how their lesson would have been rated, but this is no longer the case (although you should still get feedback). All of this should reassure you that Ofsted inspectors are astute enough to focus on effective learning and teaching, and experienced enough to appreciate the realities of school life. Time spent trying to please an inspector is time wasted. Similarly, if you have not previously thought about how policies affect your practice, no amount of retrospective paperwork will fool the inspectors.

Reflection

If someone were to visit your classroom without advance notice, what do you think they would see? How would they know that you are following national, local, and school-level policies? Is there visible evidence of this in your lessons or your planning materials?

Data required by inspectors

There is a detailed list of the data schools need to provide Ofsted inspectors. Most of this is related to the routine business of the school and its improvement plans. However, some of the data relates closely to the policies discussed in this module. The table, below, shows the particular data schools must provide, the policies which they relate to, and an example of how a teacher might be asked to contribute. Note that for each data source, there is a general data protection requirement to make sure that data is accurate, up-to-date, and suitable for the intended purposes.

Data required (Ofsted, 2016, p.15)

Related policy area

Examples of data

A single central record of the checks and vetting of all staff working with pupils;

Safeguarding

Vetting is usually handled by specific staff, but you might want to make sure that your registration is up-to-date.

Records and analysis of exclusions, pupils taken off roll, incidents of poor behaviour and any use of internal isolation;

Safeguarding; health and safety; equality and diversity

Your behaviour log should have enough detail to capture different types of incident (see next row), as well as outcomes. You might also want to be able to refer to notes about how you have helped to reintroduce excluded pupils back into your classroom.

Records and analysis of bullying, discriminatory and prejudicial behaviour, either directly or indirectly, including racist, sexist, disability and homophobic bullying, use of derogatory language and racist incidents;

Safeguarding; equality and diversity

As above, you need to make sure that these different categories of incident are specified. It would also be helpful to record how each issue was addressed and the effectiveness of your response.

A list of referrals made to the designated person for safeguarding in the school and those that were subsequently referred to the local authority, along with brief details of the resolution;

Safeguarding

This will be held by the designated person; individual teachers should not routinely keep this level of personal or sensitive information.

A list of all pupils who are open cases with children's services/social care and for whom there is a multi-agency plan;

Safeguarding; equality and diversity; health and safety

As above, this will be held by the designated person; individual teachers should not routinely keep this level of personal or sensitive information. However, you should also have some way of showing that you have considered these multi-agency plans and the pupils' needs in your planning, ideally in your medium-term plans.

Up-to-date attendance analysis for all groups of pupils

Equality and diversity

Keeping accurate attendance is part of your daily obligations, but looking at analysis of this data is often performed by specific staff. This could be any patterns of absence or lateness, which you would particularly want to know in your role as a form tutor.

In addition to these sources of data, the inspection of learning and teaching will take account of the progress made by different groups of pupils, not just their achievement. Even if the progress of your overall class is good, failing to identify or address the needs of a particular group (especially those identified in equality and diversity policies) will be a cause for concern. Note that this judgement is never reflected back to an individual teacher, and cannot be used for school-based performance management processes. Inspectors will only feed back on general concerns across the school, although you will still have the opportunity to discuss this in your informal feedback.

Reflection

How confident are you that these data sources are in good order? Would any of these help to enhance your teaching? Are you able to demonstrate progress as well as achievement?

Hints and tips

The challenge of using policies to inform good teaching is that the policies need to be embedded in your practice. Just like any truly inclusive classroom, the best policy-informed teaching is almost invisible because it is just good general practice. This is a good reason for regularly reflecting on your principles and checking the data that you collect, helping to make sure that your practice is as good as it can be.

This emphasis on values and principles does not mean, however, that teachers are left to interpret everything for themselves. Whatever your subject area or role, there are plenty of tips which you might find helpful. The bullet points below have been chosen because they align well with the principles we have already discussed in this module - as you read other tips in teaching guides, you will need to check for yourself that the tips match with your principles and how you understand policy intentions.

  • Identify target groups where research has shown a higher risk of underachievement. Check their attainment and their progress (look for value added or Fischer Family Trust data). What are their barriers to learning? What can you do to help?

A helpful list of such groups is given in Glazzard and Stokoe (2011). These include "children with learning difficulties and disabilities; children in public care ['looked after' children, or LACs]; travellers, refugees and asylum seekers; children living in families where parents have alcohol or drug dependency problems or a mental illness; children affected by domestic violence" (Glazzard and Stokoe, 2011, p.25). 

  • Check that you hold good data on vulnerable groups.

A simple check is free school meal entitlement: are there any differences in attainment or progress? If you are a form tutor, make sure that eligible pupils are registered for free school meals. If you teach, you should be able to say without checking your notes which of your pupils are entitled to free school meals and how you are meeting their needs.

  • Be aware of healthy lifestyles and the subtle messages you send.

Drink water in class and have healthy snacks - or at least, have unhealthy snacks in private!

  • Look out for teachable moments.

Particularly those related to key policies initiatives such as bullying or financial awareness.

  • Look for opportunities for pupils to make positive contributions.

Is there a social issue related to your subject? Fundraising or just forming connections with other agencies can be highly empowering.

  • Be a role model.

Don't be embarrassed about your professional status: children should be able to look for you to help them understand how adults should behave. Even if you are not quite a model adult yet, avoid bringing your personal problems into the classroom. Being a good role model also means taking good care of yourself, so think about your work-life balance. Pupils need to see someone who cares about their progress and knows them as individuals, but nobody wants to see a teacher burning out.

Conclusion

Being aware of how barriers to learning can affect particular pupils or groups of pupils is vital to effective teaching and creating an inclusive classroom. Teachers are expected to behave proactively in planning for addressing issues, rather than waiting for problems to occur. The policies covered in this module go beyond a teacher's duty to create an inclusive classroom, and look to the broader role teachers play in society. There is significant scope for interpretation and creativity in how national-level policies are enacted in schools, and even where local authorities or schools have their own policies there will still be times where you are expected to use your professional judgement. The clearest examples of this are when policies are in conflict, in which case it is important for a teacher to have thought about the principles of key policies.

This chapter has also addressed some of the myths associated with Ofsted. While you are expected to keep accurate records and use data to inform your medium or long-term planning, Ofsted simply want to see progress and achievement for all pupils in a safe and nurturing environment. Trying to second-guess what inspectors might want to see or creating policies just to try please inspectors is the wrong approach, although you should be careful that your classroom practice follows school policies, even if these are tacit.

Schools are places of rapid change, and the sheer amount of policy documents and guidance texts risks over-simplification or misinterpretation and myth-building. Policies should be well-researched and have strong evidence behind them, so at the very least they are worth considering as you periodically reflect on the principles which you follow in your classroom. If you only respond reactively to policies, your practice may become fragmented and contradictory. Understanding the ideas behind a policy, or even becoming involved in policy formation and discussion, will help you to enhance the learning of your pupils and avoid the confusion of the proliferation of policy.

Reflection

Now that you have completed this chapter, you should feel more confident in:

  • Discussing the different ways people can think about their duties under policies;
  • Knowing what data you need to provide observers or inspectors;
  • Explaining how your teaching practice is informed by policy principles.

As we move into the final 3 chapters of this module, you will need to think about how these principles will be enacted both in your pastoral and curricular roles.

Reference list

Ball, S., Maguire, M., and Braun, A. (2012). How Schools Do Policy. London: Routledge.

Glazzard, J. and Stokoe, J. (2011). Achieving Outstanding on your Teaching Placement. London: Sage.

Kickert, W. (1995). Steering at a distance: a new paradigm of public governance in Dutch higher education, Governance 8(1), pp.135-157.

Ofsted. (2016). School Inspection Handbook. London: HMSO. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/553942/School_inspection_handbook-section_5.pdf

Ozga, J. (2000). Policy research in educational settings: Contested terrain. Buckingham: Open University Press.

PGL. (2015). High ropes course. Available from: https://www.pgl.co.uk/Admin/Public/Download.aspx?file=Files%2FFiles%2FDocuments%2FSchools%2FLearnlinks%2FMulti-Activity+-+Land%2FPGL-High-Ropes-Course-Learnlink.pdf.


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