Teacher Talk

'Months ago one pupil screamed obscenities in my face. Now she asks me for a cuddle'
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The Independent Online

Sue Towner is a member of Oxfordshire School Improvement Team (OSIT), a group of teachers employed by Oxfordshire LEA to help primary schools criticised by Ofsted. Mrs Towner is currently working at Windale Community Primary School, which has improved its key stage 2 scores by 98 per cent since first inspected in 2000.

What is the Oxfordshire School Improvement Team?

It comprises two heads and five teachers employed to work in primary schools in challenging circumstances. I'm a teacher on the team. Our brief is to help schools to improve. We have some bad times but they are quickly forgotten. Somebody once said our motto should be "let's move on".

What are the biggest problems facing the schools you work with?

We usually see the same things the first time we go in - harassed teachers, low standards, poor behaviour. The OSIT heads start with heads, governors and parents, OSIT teachers work with the teachers and children. This can mean taking a class where a teacher is off sick, modelling lessons or supporting teachers in class and with training. We are always aware that a school must function well after we've gone.

Describe a typical day

I teach pupils in years three and four literacy and numeracy each morning, working quickly as we have some ground to make up. In the afternoon I can teach any lesson to any class. One of the most important parts of the day is after the children have left, when teachers are winding down. We plan, mark, discuss resourcing, behaviour management, anything that bothers them.

Do you run any other programmes to help the school progress?

Inclusion lessons for children with behavioural problems are at lunchtime. Yesterday two girls who had broken equipment appeared sheepishly and told me they were worried they would be asked to pay for it and had no money. Months ago one of them had screamed obscenities in my face; now she asks for a cuddle.

How does OSIT itself seek improvement?

Every other Friday the OSIT team meet and have training or visit a school with good practice. We are trained to use county procedures and software so that we can meet any need. Matching our strengths to schools asking for help is the job of our line manager. When Ofsted started there were 46 schools in the authority deemed to be failing or have serious weaknesses; now there are six. We must be doing something right!

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