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Do teachers want Labour to abolish Ofsted? Are you anxious about anxiety? And other findings this week...

23 September 2019

1. Do teachers want to abolish Ofsted?

The Labour Party announced at the weekend that it wants to abolish Ofsted and replace it with a system of peer review and local authority oversight. Teacher Tapp was created for exactly this sort of thing! Jeremy Corbyn has said teachers are hugely in favour of the policy. Is he right?

We were in such a hurry to find out what YOU thought of the plans, (rather than what politicians say you think), that we pulled the data to take a look after just 3,000 of you had answered (as reported in The Guardian).

More of you like Labour’s Ofsted abolition idea (45%) than dislike it (32%), but this isn’t an overwhelming endorsement by the profession.

Primary teachers like it quite a bit more than secondary teachers – and it is most popular with heads who have been at the sharp end of Ofsted’s judgements.

That said, one thing you do agree on is that the current Ofsted status quo isn’t OK.

Just 20% agree that Ofsted acts as a reliable and trusted arbiter of standards in schools, with 52% disagreeing that it does. (Though this is a bit higher than in the past when the figure was only 16%).

Reform is therefore needed, but Labour’s solution doesn’t seem to have quite hit the mark.

2. How working class are teachers?

Let’s move on to some questions from teachers this week. Someone got in touch wanting to know about the original social class of those in the teaching profession.

About 4-in-10 of you said you felt you were working class growing up, and this figure is pretty much the same across teachers in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, despite social scientists generally agreeing that the middle class has grown in size over the past 40 years, whilst the working class has shrunk. Within the population, we’d therefore expect to see more people in their 20s having felt like they grew up in a middle class family.

However, social class is a complex thing, and just because you felt you were working class, it doesn’t mean that you would be considered so on many of the scales used by social scientists to measure these things. So, we asked whether your parents went to university, which is sometimes used as a proxy.

Teachers are much more likely to have parents who went to university than across the general population. Remember just 5% of the population went to university in 1960, rising to 15% in 1970/80, 20% in 1990 and 35% in 2000.

Not surprisingly, education also appears to impact social class – with those who had both of their parents going to university much more likely to consider themselves upper class, whereas almost no one who considered themselves working class had a parent who gained a degree (before they were born).

3. Is it normal for teachers to submit lesson plans in advance?

A teacher who is being asked to submit all lesson plans in advance to their senior managers asked ‘is this normal’? NO! It is not! It is almost unheard of in secondary schools, where managers only really ask for a lesson plan for an observation lesson. Even in primary schools it is still pretty rare.

That said, it’s most prevalent in Ofsted judged RI/inadequate schools where 25% of teachers have to submit lesson plans for most or all of their lessons.

4. What does a ‘good lesson’ involve?

Another teacher wanted to know what other teachers feel a ‘good lesson’ involves.

We’ve cut this one up by years of experience. Teachers with the most experience tend to report that a good lesson doesn’t necessarily need any of the listed features – maybe because they’ve been around long enough to know that things come in and out of fashion!

Newly Qualified Teachers have very fixed ideas about what needs to be included in a lesson. However, if they are trying to cram lesson objectives, a starter activity, group work, individual work, formative assessment, differentiation and retrieval practice into every lesson then it’s no wonder they find the job so tricky!

5. Getting anxious about anxiety questions!

How many times can you recall us asking about your anxiety levels last week? Once? Twice? Three times?

Recall bias – i.e. systematic errors in responses caused by differences in the accuracy of recollections – is something we worry about a lot at Teacher Tapp because we often ask you to recall what happened at 11am today, yesterday, last week or even last year.

Last week we therefore ran an experiment to see how well you could recall your anxiety levels yesterday. You may wonder why we care: why not just ask about today? Well, we want to compare teacher anxiety levels throughout the year with the general population, but the Annual Population Survey asks about yesterday and not today!

So, a random half of you were asked about your anxiety levels twice this week – once at 3:30pm on Tuesday (“how anxious were you today”) and once at 3:30pm on Wednesday. (“how anxious were you yesterday”). We’ll do some careful analysis of the results in due course, but suffice to say that those of you who felt very anxious or not at all anxious were consistent in giving the same response one day apart. For those of you who selected a number mid-way up the anxiety scale your responses are a little less consistent (which is no great surprise – 11 points is a long scale). But very few teachers gave materially different responses on the two occasions we asked. Phew!

I suspect a few of you are thinking that the very act of having been asked about anxiety on the Tuesday might also influence how teachers answered the recall question on the Wednesday. This is why we randomised the groups, so that half of you didn’t see Tuesday’s ‘anxiety today’ question! This meant we could compare the first group’s answer to the ‘anxiety today’ question to the second group’s answer to the ‘anxiety yesterday’ question to learn how consistently teachers can recall their anxiety levels.

It is a relief to us researchers, that your response patterns seem very similar, implying it doesn’t much matter exactly when we ask you to recall your anxiety levels – today or yesterday!. (You do seem marginally more positive when asked with a one day delay, but the extent to which this is true is reasonably small.)

This is another example of how the unique daily nature of the Teacher Tapp survey is helping academic researchers validate how to ask questions in surveys. It might not feel that important to teachers on the ground, but these tiny, methodological findings are the bedrock of how a better scientific understanding of the profession will emerge.

This experiment was part of a project on teacher health and wellbeing that is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, in collaboration with researchers from UCL. Over the next year, we’ll often be asking about your anxiety levels to learn more about the seasonal nature of the stresses and strains of being a teacher.

6. Finally, as always, here are last week’s tips….

(And if you love the app, then let your colleagues know about it! Find a poster, video and powerpoint overview here.)