Ofsted Grades: The Good, The Bad and The Outstanding

Before Amanda Spielman took up the post of Chief Inspector, there were rumours she had plans to shake things up a bit. One example was her views about the “Oustanding” judgement. She told the Commons Education Select Committee, “I’m quite uncomfortable about some of the effects you see it [the grade] having in the system, I have to say.” However, since taking up the post in January 2017, little more has been said about the matter of Ofsted grades – until now. “Ofsted is buzzing with rumours that the grading system for schools is about be scrapped and replaced with pass-or-fail inspections” wrote Schools Week at the end of last month.  If this is true, it will be one of the most positive and significant changes that’s ever been made to the Ofsted framework. The system of grading schools is clunky, outdated and in desperate need of reform to the point that we’ve recently seen schools take Ofsted to court over their judgements, and win. Here’s why these grades need to be scrapped.

1. The problem with Outstanding

I’ve been through two “Good to Outstanding” Ofsted inspections in my career to date and whenever I think back on them I am reminded of this cartoon:

Who's a good boy?

Because let’s face it, we know Ofsted is flawed. We know that schools are more likely to be judged to be Good or Outstanding if they are in affluent areas. We know that primary schools with high numbers of children on free school meals are only half as likely as those with lower numbers of pupils on FSM to be judged outstanding (11% compared with 25% respectively.) We know that Infant Schools are three times as likely to be outstanding than Junior schools because their end of Key Stage data is teacher assessed rather than an externally marked test. We know all of this. It is the basis of much of our cynicism about the Ofsted process.  And yet, if the time comes that our own school is judged to be Outstanding our cynicism is forgotten as we break out the champagne cava left over from the Christmas party, clear a space on the wall for the letter from the Education Secretary and roll out the over-sized PVC banners (please Head Teachers, I know you’re proud but enough with the ridiculous banners.)

And who can blame us? An Outstanding judgement is great news for a school. Following the judgement it’s likely you’ll become oversubscribed. If you’ve previously been struggling to attract pupils you may quickly find yourself at capacity. Well-heeled, middle class parents will go to great lengths to get their child into your Outstanding school going as far as temporarily moving to a house within the catchment area or, should you be a faith school, making a rapid conversion to Christianity. You’ll find it easier to recruit staff and you’ll be inundated with requests from other schools to come and visit in the hope of being able to “magpie” some ideas. The perks don’t end there.

“That’ll shut the parents up for while, we’ve just added a few grand to the value of their houses.” one head teacher told me knowingly, the day we received our Outstanding rating from Ofsted. She wasn’t wrong: within London at least, being in the catchment area of an Outstanding school can add an average of 80K to the value of your property – (estate agents LOVE Ofsted grades.) Such is the power of these judgments.

But the best thing about receiving an Outstanding judgement is that Ofsted then pretty much leave you alone. In 2011, the government introduced a policy that exempts Outstanding schools from further inspection as long as they maintain their performance. This has its own problems. It means there are some schools that haven’t been inspected for over a decade. Which means they haven’t been inspected since the new curriculum was introduced, or the new assessments. It means a head teacher could take over what they believe to be an Outstanding school only to find the reality is very different. Which leads me to another snag with the Outstanding judgement: it can put off potential headteachers. After all there is only one way an Outstanding school can go and no head teacher wants to be the person that “lost the Outstanding.”

However, whatever downside there is to the Outstanding judgement, they are nothing compared to the damage done by the dreaded RI.

2. The problem with Requires Improvement

It is my opinion that one of the most damaging changes made to the Ofsted framework was changing the “Satisfactory” judgement to “Requires Improvement.” Think about what that word, satisfactory, for a moment.

Satisfactory: fulfilling expectations or needs; acceptable.

A satisfactory judgement meant just that: this school provides an acceptable standard education to its pupils. In 2012, it was decided that satisfactory was unsatisfactory and that all schools should be striving to be good or better. A noble intention indeed. But this wasn’t just a discussion about semantics. It was announced that schools will only be allowed to stay as RI for three years – after which they would be subject to regular re-inspections every 12 to 18 months. Every 12 to 18 months: every other school year.

Trying to improve a school with an inspection every other year is like trying to fix a leaking pipe with someone interrupting every two minutes to say, “Is the pipe fixed yet? How much progress have you made towards fixing the pipe? Why isn’t it fixed yet? What are you going net to fix it?” A report in 2017 found that the proportion of schools that had “recovered” from a Requires Improvement was the lowest on record and that doesn’t surprise me. That RI label makes it harder to recruit staff and, because of the endless pressure of regular inspections, makes it much harder to retain the staff you have. The NAHT Recruitment Survey conducted in 2016 found that schools judged Requires Improvement or Inadequate found it significantly harder to recruit staff. This then becomes a vicious cycle because those schools need the most skilled and effective teachers if they are going to improve. The label of “RI” may actually be holding the school back from being able to do the things it needs to do to improve.

Ofsted recruitmentWhich leads to my next point. Having worked in a Requires Improvement school I have seen how difficult it is to make real, meaningful change in such a short window of time. It takes more than 12 months to make proper, lasting change and the threat of bi-annual inspections mean you end up spending most of your time trying to collect evidence that your school is improving rather than putting your time and energy into the things you need to do to actually improve. We knew why our school required improvement and we were very clear on the areas that needed work, however the one thing we really needed is the one thing you’re no longer given under the current inspection framework: time.

3. Removing grades lowers the stakes

Anyone who was teaching in the days when individual lessons were graded as part of an inspection or performance management will know how that one grade will overshadow any feedback. You’d sit listening to the observer talk thinking, “Yep, that’s all great, but what was the grade?” It was a ineffective system that treated trained professionals like children and scrapping it has been entirely positive. Now, feedback after an observation becomes a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson; there’s no judgement, no label, just some things to consider and work on. It’s more professional and more meaningful.

If Ofsted were to stop grading schools, then inspections would no longer be such a high-stake process. If you knew there was no threat of academisation, or the head teacher losing their job or the humiliation of being “downgraded” at the end of it then the whole process would be far less threatening.  If at the end of the day you were left with a list of strengths and weaknesses that, let’s face it, as a school you would already have been aware of, then inspection would no longer be something to be feared.

This is still a long way off but the fact this conversation is even happening suggests Amanda Spielman is listening and understands the need for reform.

 

Testing Times Tables (and Teachers.)

Long Time No Blog

I haven’t blogged since October of last year. This is because any spare time I’ve had, has been spent writing my book. No one has the time you need to research and write a book spare in their day-to-day lives – it has to be carved out by sacrificing other things and using any spare moment that crops up. Staying late for the Christmas concert? Time to write. Got a seat on the tube on the way home? Write. Early to meet friends for drinks? Glass of wine and write. It’s meant seeing less of my friends and family than I’d like and it’s meant my blog has had to take a backseat for the last few months.

But now, it’s done. Well, I say done – it’s currently with my lovely editor who will spend the next few weeks reading through it before sending it back to me for further editing. But, for now, there is nothing more I can do; for the first time since 19th January 2017 I don’t have a deadline looming over me. This means two things: firstly – time to get out of the country for a bit (which is why I’m writing this in Amsterdam) and secondly, I can finally get back to blogging.

This falls at a good time as the DfE have treated us to three pieces of “news” this half term holiday: the first is that they are dropping the two-year time cap in which trainee teachers have to pass the QTS skills tests. The second, was confirmation that the Year 4 Timetables Check is going to be trialed later this year – not really news but, as Michael Tidd points out, it’s a good way to draw people’s attention away from the third announcement. The third, and most disheartening, piece of news is that the writing assessment framework, the one that most teachers widely acknowledge is not fit for purpose, is here to stay.

When the new assessments were launched in 2016 there was a substantial level of criticism. Some said the assessments were too hard, others said that we didn’t have enough time to prepare the children for them. My main criticism at the time was of the writing assessment. It was unclear, included made-up definitions (exclamation sentences anyone?) and the advice schools received on how to administer and moderate them seemed to vary widely.

Since then, some progress has been made to address these flaws. Exclamation sentences have been dropped for example, and, whereas in the former framework teachers needed to have evidence that a pupil demonstrated attainment in all of the statements to reach one of the standards, pupils can now be awarded a standard without meeting all the criteria if they have a “particular weakness.” However the whole framework still lacks clarity. The “particular weakness” exemption can only be used “on occasion” and “with good reason” – although the examples they have provided don’t really tell us “what occasion” or “why.” The assessments have been described by the STA as neither “best fit” nor “secure fit” which I guess means they are unfit for purpose. The assessed work must be independent (a word that we as a profession still don’t have a shared definition for – does this mean no modelling? No discussion or sharing of ideas? What about having  displays up with key vocab etc…) and the spellings can be from a spelling test, the handwriting from a handwriting book etc… Moderation is going to be an absolute nightmare and ultimately the results will be meaningless. Whilst the DfE have tried to make the assessments more flexible they appear to have just further muddied the already muddied water.

Now, about the times table check: on the whole I think this isn’t a terrible idea (which I understand is a very easy thing to say whilst working at a school that won’t have to do the check.) It’s a 25 minute test and the results won’t be published at school level or used by Ofsted – although I do understand why many teachers don’t trust this to be case. However, if it makes learning times tables a priority in lower KS2 then, as an upper KS2 teacher, I believe that to be no bad thing. A secure knowledge of times tables is invaluable for understanding fractions, percentages, division, averages, area, perimeter, algebra etc… Teachers know this and are already teaching them. Every school I know has had it’s own system of testing times tables so I doubt this Year 4 Check will require any huge curriculum adjustments. If anything, I would like to see these sorts of low-stakes, short assessments happening more often in place of one, high-stakes test at the end of Primary school.

My main criticism of the times table check is the sheer hypocrisy. The same week the DfE confirmed the Year 4 Times Table check they also announce that they are scrapping the two year lock-out period that currently prevents trainee teachers from retaking the QTS skills test for two years if they fail it three times. Now, trainee teachers can take the tests as many times as they need to and teachers who have been previously banned from re-sitting will be allowed to from this week. It seems bizarre to me that children don’t get unlimited attempts in tests but their teachers do. Surely we have to be ahead of our pupils and our knowledge and skills should far outstretch theirs? I had a look at the practice papers and there’s nothing on there that my Year 5 couldn’t answer. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the adults teaching them should be to answer them as well.

These tests, we were told, were introduced to ensure we were getting that teachers had the high level of maths and English skills necessary to deliver the curriculum. Given their decision to scrap them when faced with a recruitment crisis, can we assume that the DfE have decided the highest standards aren’t important to them anymore? And rather than address the reason teachers are leaving the profession, or why graduates don’t want to become teachers, we will just make it even easier for people to become teachers? This isn’t happening in medicine or law – they have high expectations of the people entering the profession.

So in my opinion, this is a mistake. If anything I think we should follow Finland’s lead where all teachers have a Master’s degree and teaching is a well-paid, highly prized profession. As a result of these measure competition for teacher training places has risen and, last year, only 7% of applicants to the master’s course in Helsinki were accepted. Raise the bar and make sure you keep hold of those who get over it by addressing the reason teachers are leaving the profession in the first place.

Should Children Be Engaged In Their Learning?

I love Twitter. Whilst Facebook has increasingly become a forum for sharing photographs of children and memes about wine, Twitter remains the place to debate issues, find breaking news and, for teachers, pick up ideas. Whilst I’m not someone who enters into lengthy arguments online, I’m always interested in finding out what’s being discussed on edu-twitter. One debate that continues to rumble on is: should making lessons engaging be a priority for teachers?

Some on edu-twitter argue that children should find process of learning and the content interesting enough without teachers having to make the lessons engaging. And that by insisting teachers find ways to “hook” children into the lesson we undermine the authority of teachers and reduce their status to little more than that of a children’s entertainer with a laminator.

I think part of the problem with this particular debate is that we all have different interpretations of the word “engage.” When I think of that word I think of the definition: “to participate or become involved in.” For me, pupils being engaged in their learning just means that they are actively involved in the lesson: they’re thinking about the subject and actually learning rather than just sat waiting for lunch or wondering if enough time has passed since they last went to the toilet so they can ask to go again.

For others “engaging” has become a synonym for the word “fun.” I personally don’t have a problem with fun being a word used to describe my lessons, if my class have learnt what I wanted them to learn. I have never worked with, or even met, a teacher who would insist that children having fun should be the priority over children learning but I know plenty who successfully achieve both. I agree – lessons should not HAVE to be fun but fun also shouldn’t be intentionally avoided.

Another issue is that, all too often, the word “engaging” has meant “have several carefully prepared resources available in every lesson.” With workload still the number one cause of teacher’s leaving the profession, why would we add to it by asking them to make resources that don’t help children learn any better? Why spend your evening designing, cutting out and making 15 spinners so your class can generate numbers to create their own calculations when you can, in a quarter of the time, find and adapt a worksheet or *whispers it* a text book. I’ve only recently discovered textbooks. This is my seventh year of teaching and never before had I used a textbook. Do I use them every lesson? No. Are they useful for giving my class a list of fractions to simplify etc.? Very much so.

Another issue is it is very easy to engage children in fun activities without teaching them anything at all. In fact, I know from experience, it’s easier to make it look as though children are learning than it is to make children learn. And I’m sure in the past I’ve had wonderful feedback for lessons in which children learnt very little – but my god the resources were beautiful and the children were “busy.” However, I refuse to accept that engaging lessons and lessons in which children learn are mutually exclusive.

I think we’d all agree that the first thought when planning a lesson should be, “what do I need these children to learn?” and the second, “What is the best way for this class to learn that?” And admittedly there is sometimes a tendency go straight to what activity will be taking place in the lesson rather than what those children will learn e.g. “We’re doing Romans this term so we’re going to make Roman shields.” Now there are many National Curriculum objectives that could be covered by teaching children how to make a Roman shield although most of them are from the DT curriculum, not the History one. By the end of the that unit have they learnt to assess sources? Have they learnt to test the limits of what we can know about events that happened 2,000 years ago? In short, have they actually done any history?

When I first started teaching, I used to plan like that. I’d look at the topic and start by jotting down all the interesting things we could “do” rather than everything I wanted them to learn. “Oh we’re doing castles so they could design their own castles, they could write stories about castles, we could even have a medieval style banquet where they dress up, write the invitations etc…” And again there is plenty to be learnt by doing all of those things but I wasn’t thinking about that I was thinking about what those children would enjoy first and what they would learn second. I would spend ages trying to think of the objective that matched the task when the objective should have been my starting point.

Now? I’m currently planning our unit on “Women In History” (1890 -1960) and my starting point has been to jot down everything I want our pupils to learn: key dates, people and events. Now I’ve got that down I’m moving on to thinking about what the objectives are going to be and how I’ll deliver this content in the most engaging and interesting way possible. Some lessons I will be at the front passing on knowledge to the class and throwing out questions to challenge their thinking, other lessons will see them writing and delivering speeches, or grappling with Emmeline Pankhurst’s “Suffragette: My Own Story.”  There will be a debate week in which my class will have to use their knowledge of the suffragette and suffragist movements to build a case to argue for or against the motion: Is Violence Ever The Answer? 

I’m hoping my class will find this topic interesting and I want them to be engaged during the lessons but I’ll be measuring their engagement according to how enthusiastically they learn about the subject matter. Not by the number of laminated resources in the room.

 

GUEST POST: How Early Should The Early Years Be?

Let me first introduce myself and explain why this blog won’t be as expertly written as it usually is. On a previous blog Zoe quotes Hemmingway, “the first draft of everything is shit.” For Zoe, this is a comfort to her in reading her first drafts. I’m sorry but my final draft is still a bit stinky, but it will have to do. Anyway, as well as being a not-so-slick -logger I am also a qualified teacher with experience in KS1 and lower KS2. I taught for 5 years before hanging up my interactive whiteboard pen for motherhood. Three and a half years as a Stay At Home Mum (SAHM) has taught me more about early education than 5 of years teaching.  I’m not suggesting motherhood should be a necessary aspect of teacher training or outstanding teaching by any stretch of the imagination, but it has most definitely cast a plethora of colour across my previously black and white views on education. 

As educators, we regularly debate the pros and cons of well, everything. One thing that we all bemoan is the governments constant need to leave a mark and flip flop between fads and fashions, regardless of their suitability in preparing children for the changing world that we live in; but that is another argument for another (and doubtless previous) blog.

When it comes to discussing early years education in this country you cannot have a conversation without someone throwing Finland into the mix. In a very basic nutshell, Finland’s education system is free for all and concentrates on real play based learning for much longer than in this country. Early childhood education and care is from age 0-5, and comes in many forms but is essentially an informal setting. This is followed by Pre- Primary education (what we call ‘preschool’ or ‘nursery’ here) and then formal education, which starts at aged 7. Compare that to our little nippers starting at aged 3 in nursery or pre-school and compulsory education from aged 4-5 and one might assume that we in the UK produce genius adults, considering the number of hours of formal education they rack up. Well, no. Finland outperforms us in the PISA rankings year after year. The reasons for this are varied and complex, but many scholars, parents and teachers have put this success down to the holistic approach and starting school when the children are truly ‘ready to learn’.

In the U.K., if you have the money, you can make the decision to send your child to a Montessori or Steiner school. These schools have a more practical and play based learning approach – where children aren’t ‘moved on’ until they are ready to learn. Some hard-line Steiner schools insist the moment when children are ready to learn is when they lose their first milk tooth around age seven but the theories behind that are too many and too complex for a single blog. I’m not sure that I buy into the loss of baby teeth signalling readiness to learn – but it is rather novel to imagine that moment: Billy runs to you in assembly (that the head teacher is conducting) with his proud grin, clutching a blood-tinged canine tooth and thrusts it into your palm for safe-keeping, “Congratulations Billy, you’ve graduated to the desk and chair level of education, grab your books and crack on with your 2 times tables”. 

Where do I stand? Well, first, let me tell you where I stood. Pre-children I was adamant that we start formal education too soon. I felt that instead of building an education system that best prepared children for the future we had an education system that provided free childcare from a early age and pushed children to acquire facts and knowledge far beyond their capabilities. I believed that starting so early was especially damaging to those children who were struggling to keep up in Reception and then fully giving up by the end of Year 1, at the age of six, a full year before the Finnish children even start school. It’s not uncommon to hear KS1 teachers say, “There’s such a huge difference in maturity between Year 1 and Year 2′ – they’re so much more ready to learn.” Is there any truth to that? Have they simply learned how to learn by Year 2? I will say that I was truly convinced.

Then I had a child. I swore there was NO WAY I would be sending her to nursery at 3. Then by 22 months old she knew all her shapes, all her colours, the alphabet in and out of order and was speaking in full sentences – without any coaching or pushing. I adjusted my stance, ‘Well she’ll benefit socially,’ I told myself. ‘I could send her for one or two sessions, it’s play based anyway.’ Then, by two and half, she was getting very frustrated if she wasn’t pushed (she also had a baby sister who took up a lot of my time.) Her thirst for knowledge was unquenchable she had cognitively outgrown the home setting. Which is how she, at 3, came to be the child that attends nursery 5 sessions a week and I became the parent who was sat in a nursery office asking my child to be pushed more because she was getting bored and acting out…

I am aware that my daughter is slightly unusual – but by no means unique. Whilst she is extremely bright she is by no means alone, plenty of children are at or near her level in her nursery. They are ready to learn, they are grumpy when they don’t. Suffice to say this has altered my perspective significantly. However, my experience does also remind me of the many children who are not at all ready at 4 when we trot them off to school (post obligatory first day selfie) and deposit them for 6 long hours of learning. What is the answer?

Personally, I wonder if we are a tad too obsessed with age and peer relationships. Though theoretically it is possible to advance children up a year or keep them back to repeat it very rarely happens. The stated reason usually being ‘it will hamper their bonds with peers’. Wouldn’t it make more sense though if Billy, who isn’t ready for Year 1 just did another year in Reception and Brandi, who is a year ahead, moved up a year? If it became the norm they wouldn’t stand out, if they didn’t stand out they wouldn’t be left out. They’d just be more comfortable working at the level they need to be working at. That way the early years could start early or not so early. The children would build and develop a real confidence in their ability. The social mobility might even help children develop better social skills and differentiation in lessons would be more on point because teachers wouldn’t be torn between the children who are two years behind and the ones pushing on two years ahead. 

 

GUEST POST: Coming Out In The Classroom

‘Never discuss your private life’. Along with ‘don’t smile before Christmas’, this is one of the first commandments drilled into you in teacher training, but what happens when your private life is visibly tied up with your identity?

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The summer has been simultaneously shocking and celebratory, with a number of very public tributes to the individuals who campaigned tirelessly for this abolition and those who suffered under the consequences of the law.

Having sobbed our way through Peter Gale’s ‘Man in an Orange Shirt’, conversation turned to how invigorating it was to see these programmes so openly publicised. The current generation of school and university students are growing up in a world which, for the most part, celebrates diversity and acceptance. A world where openly gay characters are portrayed living mundane daily lives and ‘out’ members of the public appear, unclothed, on reality shows discussing naked suitors, with no one batting an eyelid. This couldn’t be further from our experiences growing up pre-internet, when the exposure to LGBTQ+ representation was through the scandalous 5 second lesbian kisses on Neighbours and Brookside, or sneaking down late at night to watch Queer as Folk and Bad Girls.

But whilst we are making enormous strides in our public attitudes, there remains one sector of society which is finding it hard to move on. Whilst individually, the majority of pupils approach life with an open mind, as a collective group, our current student body are producing worrying statistics. According to a 2014 Stonewall report, of teachers surveyed, 86% acknowledged homophobic bullying, 89% say that they regularly hear homophobic comments and language and yet only 43% of these teachers say that they would intervene. Only a quarter of all schools provided clear policies on homophobic behaviour and in 65% of cases, even this is not properly enforced. How are we getting it so right in one area of society and yet so wrong in another?

To answer this, we must look to our own attitudes. I remember one of my peers asking our PGCE tutor about coming out in the classroom and the response stuck in my mind for years. ‘Don’t give the children any more ammunition. They will never respect you again’. I was truly saddened by this response, not because of the negativity towards the LGBT issue, but because of the inherent suspicion and distrust she afforded the pupils. Now, at this stage I was not a misty-eyed dreamer, expecting to be adored for bestowing my pearls of wisdom upon eager young minds. I had had my eyes opened after teaching in an underprivileged and unenthusiastic school in northern Spain for a year and subsequently, working as a language assistant in two local state schools. I had seen horrendous examples of neglect, bullying, and gang related violence but never at any stage did I consider education to be a battle pitting teachers against students. I was shocked by her answer but I wasn’t surprised.

See, my PGCE tutor began her career in 1964 and when she entered the profession, homosexuality was illegal. Over the course of her career she saw the decriminalisation in 1967, worked under Section 28 (prohibiting open discourse about homosexual relationships) in 1988, witnessed the repeal of this law in 2003 and the establishment of Civil Partnerships in 2005. It is no wonder the response to the question seemed antiquated. To some extent we are all guilty of making assumptions based on our own experiences but if these attitudes are presented as lore, we are in danger of not allowing new teachers the momentum to move the profession forward.  They say it takes three generations to change public sentiment, one to rewrite the rules, one to bluster through the change and one to have never known anything different. Yet schools and teaching can be inherently institutionalised and may be in danger of not moving on.

I started teaching in a well-known public boarding school and soon began a relationship with another female member of staff. I heeded my tutor’s advice and, whilst one would always aim to be discrete in such an intimate environment, vowed never to allow this relationship become public knowledge amongst the pupils. My decision was confirmed by comments from a long-serving member of the Common Room that ‘people like you shouldn’t be trusted to work in the boarding houses’ and a close acquaintance asserting that I would ‘single-handedly destroy the reputation of the school’. This led to 9 months of looking over my shoulder and cringing whenever a student mentioned anything LGBTQ+ related. I was never 100% comfortable hiding away, but believed it was the only option.

My attitude, however, changed over the course of one evening. One of the 6th form girls came to me in floods of tears between platitudes and armfuls of tissues, she managed to choke out ‘Miss, I think I’m gay and I don’t know who else to tell. I thought you might understand because… you know…’. My heart stopped. She knew. I felt the floor fall away beneath me but my instincts kicked in, I had to put her pieces back together before I could concentrate on mine. By the time we finished, she was bouncing out of the room talking excitedly about her Oxbridge offer. I however, had never felt so sick and immediately went to explain the situation to the housemistress, an insane but wonderful French woman. Far from the conversation I expected, she wittered on about how ‘delighted she was that this girl could come and talk to me’ and ‘how wonderful it was for the pupils to have a visible, gay role model’. Both tears and the scales fell from my eyes.

Far from protecting myself, I was perpetuating the myth that sexuality is something to feel ashamed and afraid of and was helping drive it back underground. I was standing in front of these pupils every day, encouraging them to be proud of their individuality, but refusing to heed my own advice. If we want our pupils to celebrate their diversity, should we not be leading by example? I promised myself that, from then on, I would be honest and open if and when the matter arose. When we married in 2013, one of the mothers made the cake, colleagues attended and pupils conveyed their happiness and congratulations. Why had I been afraid?

Since then I have experienced, almost exclusively, acceptance. The only negative moment was during a maternity cover at an all-boys Catholic school when the headmaster called me to his office to say they weren’t going to extend my contract as ‘my lifestyle didn’t suit their ethos’. I was, naturally, upset and furious and I wanted to spend months seething and plotting revenge. But I didn’t. That would be letting him win. He had the power over my contract but I refused to give him the power to poison my mood. Ultimately, I now didn’t want to work for this institution and the only person who would be hurt by my blistering temper would have been my wife. So I had a large gin, held my head high and ensured that I was particularly subversive in my final months to help create support networks for those who didn’t fit the mould.

Subsequently, any school I have worked for has encouraged me to be open about my sexuality, embracing the importance of visibility. When I was younger Section 28 was in force and, aside from the locker room speculations about the PE teacher, there were no visible role models in real life. Every year I have a couple of students come out to me and this reinforces my belief that we need to support teachers in being open, with no fear of recrimination. We cannot live in the past, allowing antiquated attitudes and our own prejudices to be handed down from generation to generation. We must help move society towards a place where someone’s sexuality is as mundane as their hair colour.

We are incredibly fortunate to be living in the modern world where many of the barriers have been broken down by those who went before us but, in all good conscience, I cannot say that every member of the LGBTQ+ community lives without fear. Yes, we can now celebrate same-sex marriages, proudly go into adoption and fertility treatment, and live our humdrum lives arguing about whose turn it is to make the tea; but to say that we all live without fear of retribution is to silence thousands of voices. We still read of too many cases of violence being perpetrated against members of the LGBTQ+ community, too many stories of young people taking their own lives through fear of social discrimination, too many examples of individuals being turned away from their families. How do we help close the gap between general public sentiment, and the experiences of thousands in their own homes? Acceptance of homosexuality needs to step out of the television screen and into reality but, to make a stand, we need use the resources available to us. Teachers are one our most powerful weapons in the fight against homophobia and we need to give them our full support to ensure that our arsenals are well stocked.