In the Grand Scheme of Things (Why strong SOWs are vital.)

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Picture the scene: It’s the second week of the Easter holidays, you’ve got at least 60 books to mark, if you’ve staggered your end-of-term assessments wisely enough, and you’ve also got to totally spring clean the house before hosting your friends/family for Easter weekend. The one thing you do not need added to this stressful concoction is lesson planning — an unavoidable task for NQTs and those wrangling with new specification GCSEs. But why do some seem intent on suffering when there is one blindingly obvious solution?

Before I’d begun to train as a teacher, I’d always assumed that any school you went to would have highly-challenging, well-differentiated, and fully-resourced schemes of work that were collectively developed and delivered by all teachers – tweaked, sure, but ultimately standard-issue for all Key Stages. And yet, weirdly, I have encountered a number of schools that do not have this, on account of not wishing to (quote) “limit a teacher’s professional autonomy”. This makes my poor NQT mind boggle: Does providing central schemes of work really limit autonomy?

After stewing over that question for nearly a year now, I have finally formalised three reasons why they might:

(NB: I am working off the assumption that PowerPoint is the medium through which a SOW is delivered, because – in spite of wholly legitimate Michela-style reasons for eschewing the software – I personally find it to be a great way to centrally collect activities, resources and information in a way that reduces the need for printed resources.)

  1. They do not fit your visual style.
    This is a totally superficial complaint but we all know that, when it comes to delivering other people’s schemes of work, we can find ourselves being inordinately fussy. “Why,” you yell at your computer in a blind rage, “did someone think it appropriate to animate the transition effects ON EVERY GODDAMN SLIDE?” Other stylistic decisions that make my skin crawl include: comic sans throughout, non-embedded hyperlinks, and unnecessary animations. Maybe I’m overly sensitive to the stylistic issues, but, you know, there are instances where it’s a nuisance… I’m merely pointing out that each teacher has a very different attitude to styling their PPTs, ranging from the ultra minimalist to the animation hedonist. (I’m personally somewhere in the middle and, since undergoing my placement at Torquay Academy last year, have also come to adore my visualiser which I regularly use in place of PPT!)
  2. They do not fit with your pedagogical preferences.
    Many schools are now moving away from ability-differentiated learning objectives (All/Some/Few etc.) and I, for one, am glad. The prospect of telling some children that they are aiming for a less ambitious outcome than others sat uneasily with me throughout my teacher training. Though the pace-differentiated learning objectives (Must/Should/Could etc.) do not discriminate based on prior assessment of ability, they send out the message that only one of the objectives is essential. Moreover, from a planning perspective, the lesser-tackled activities may prove to have been waste of preparation time. Thus, I would still argue that a single, well-pitched, not-too-broad but not-too-narrow learning question ought to be used instead. However, because stratified learning objectives have been the major trend over the last five or ten years, they permeate the pedagogical practice of many teachers who design SOWs. This is just one example of a pedagogical difference that might mean that a SoW is not structured to my taste.
  3. The learning progression seems illogical.
    Presentation and pedagogical matters aside, we’re also aware that the way of approaching and unfolding a given learning question can vary massively from teacher to teacher. For some beautiful and elusive reason, we all have a slightly different way of thinking about how best to communicate information.This may well mean that the teacher delivering a scheme that they did not design does not teach it with quite the same gusto as they would were their own because it does not ‘make sense’ to their way of thinking.

So there you have it. There are the reasons why centralised schemes might not be the best idea. However, it seems to me that all of these potential objections are merely superficial because, if all teachers had an absolutely solid base to work from, they could rest assured that they could tinker with the lessons until their hearts are content because their time wouldn’t be taken up planning from scratch (which, as mentioned above, is a likely occurrence for NQTs and teachers teaching a new specification). Moreover, if for whatever absurd reason teachers chose to not dedicate their free time to tinkering with lessons (assuming their paltry amount of PPA has been filled with data etc., as is usually the case) they can sleep easy knowing that they can turn up to work and there will already be a thorough SoW waiting for them to deliver that may not be exactly to their stylistic/pedagogical/logical taste, but still a darn good’un. “But when and where would we get these high-quality schemes?”, some might ask. A mixture of TES resources, TeamEnglish_1 resources, and collective planning/altering in gained time seems fine to me!

I’m sure I’ve been preaching to the converted here and that many of you are probably thinking, “Wow. What kinds of crazy schools don’t have excellent schemes of work in place?” Well, here I am, live and direct, letting y’all know that not all schools do. I’ll let you know when I stumble upon these utopic schemes!

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