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Tom came to teaching with one goal in mind – to be an inspiration. He continues this mission by providing workshops for students and teachers in all aspects of learning to learn.


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The powers of observation!

Tom Barwood


Yesterday I drove to St. Neots (sometimes my life is so glamorous I can hardly breathe!). En route I happened to listen to the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2. I normally avoid this programme like the plague for a variety of reasons but the ‘discussion’ topic was drones and more particularly members of the public who were buying them and then spying on their neighbours (our neighbours just use the trampoline for a good look into our garden!).

It reminded me of a conversation I had last year when out on a D of E practice expedition. Cost, it would seem is now becoming one of the major barriers to students taking up and completing the award – especially when you have to hire in ML’s like me and fewer teachers are willing to give up their time for free. The topic of our discussion was whether you could in fact supervise the entire expedition using drones which were monitored from a central base. Our conclusion was that you could and that it would not only be cost effective but would also reduce the carbon cost of numerous school minibuses racing around National Parks picking up the waymarker tickets and trying to find lost students.

Whilst this is a good idea for the use of drones (I think) the whole point in question here is one of invasion of privacy. This is something which also rings true in the classroom as the question of who can observe you and for how long goes round and round. Obviously one can see the attractions of CCTV for a centralised monitoring authority to ‘keep an eye’ on what is happening in classrooms – possibly under the guise of providing safety for teachers especially (very sadly) in the light of recent incidents.

However the word ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Orwellian’ hardly need to be mentioned here. For me one of the joys of teaching, as I often told the pupils, was that ‘once the door was shut you are mine’. I would hasten to add that whilst I said it in a mock creepy voice I was referring to the fact that I could teach the curriculum how I wanted which often involved a lot of fun and lots of off the wall ideas.

In my first year of teaching I was however ‘observed’ by a deputy Head who would observe me by peering over the top of the frosted glass into my classroom before then marching in to ask me if I was ‘aware’ of what various children were up to in the room. It was extremely off putting not least because the kids would tell me afterwards that ‘you’re in trouble now Sir’.

It may also be that, like the police, we will also have to wear cameras on our bodies to record our interactions with pupils to put ourselves above any suspicion should we be accused of crimes we haven’t committed. High performing schools could also use it as evidence in court when parents attempt to sue the teacher for not getting their child the grades they think they deserved!

So how do we balance the need for accountability and the desire for performance management with the right to some personal freedom in a society which does seem hell bent on watching our every move?

I am convinced that in ear coaching or filmed systems which give you all the rights to the level of privacy you want are the way forward. So often as an NQT all I wanted was a bit of advice or for someone to point out in a supportive way where I might be going wrong but fear of being seen to be ‘weak’ always stopped me.

Alternatively of course we could simply make the inspectors and senior managers use trampolines outside the classroom window and then everyone would be happy!