In another addition to our blog series on all things education, Principal of Oasis Academy Woodview Louise MacCarthy reflects on her career in teaching. After four decades in the profession and with a well-earned retirement beginning this July, MacCarthy shares her thoughts on the profession that never stands still…
When I look back over my career in teaching, what stands out are the changes that have taken place both in the classroom and outside it.
The children remain curious, and enthusiastic, and a joy – but I think that technology at home means that they are arriving at school less communicative and to an extent less prepared.
Parents have increased expectations of us as teachers and they, and others, hold us to a greater depth of accountability. Every child wherever they learn deserves fantastic opportunities and a chance to grow and progress. The result of rigid structures and accountability measures is that there is less freedom for us as practitioners to let the children’s enthusiasms and interests lead their learning.
In the 1970’s there was no set curriculum and no tracking – you just planned and worked with the children that you had in your class. Gradually there has been the introduction of the National Curriculum, which has changed several times over the years, providing various ways of assessing and recording learning. The arrival of levels provided a universal way of measuring a child’s progress and recording their attainment. I think that the latest scrapping of levels has been one of the most disruptive changes in education over the past four decades.
I hope that we are moving back towards pupil-led learning. I think that there is a happy medium between ensuring each child progresses while allowing teachers to have confidence in their skills to investigate new and innovative subject areas.
Academies are a relatively new phenomena. As a school leader, my head of governors and I went to a number of presentations from academy chains who told us all about what they could do for us; Oasis were different in that they asked us what we wanted from them. We joined Oasis in February 2013.
I was honoured when I was appointed as the Head Teacher of Woodview Primary, a school of around 320 in Edgbaston, nine years ago.
Serving this part of inner city Birmingham has its challenges; we have high levels of deprivation and two thirds of our pupils are eligible for Free School Meals. We have high mobility, and the proportion of our children who have English as an additional language is double the national average at 41%.
It was a very different school to any of my previous teaching experiences, but it has been one of the most rewarding places I have ever worked. The Academy is very diverse, and our families are very appreciative of everything we do for the pupils.
The teachers who work at this school know the barriers to learning that our children face, but have high aspirations for them all. The best part of teaching for me is, and always be, the children and our ability to make a profound difference to their lives.
My first teaching post was in Mesty Croft JMI School, located in the very small Metropolitan Borough of Sandwell. It was a one form-entry in a big Victorian building. Teaching was much more relaxed back then, as long as the children were learning everyone seemed very happy!
After a short gap being at home with my children, I moved on to Whitecrest Primary School. I loved class teaching there. I focussed on Reception and Year 1, and training a very successful netball team made up of older pupils. Towards the end of my time with them, I was acting Deputy before moving on to Great Barr Primary School in Birmingham.
I was Assistant Head and then Deputy Head at Great Barr, as well as the Head of the SEN Resource Base and the SENCO for the whole school. We had 22 pupils with significant physical difficulties but thanks to the gross and fine motor skills groups we implemented they were able to be integrated within the mainstream school classes for learning, and I think they benefited hugely from it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Woodview Primary and then Oasis Academy Woodview would be my final school. When I arrived in 2008, both attendance and achievement were unacceptably low, and there was minimal planning or tracking. Should the school been inspected at that point I have little doubt it would have been put into Special Measures, but Ofsted came later once we had begun our journey of transformation and they gave us a ‘Notice to Improve’.
We quickly addressed the expectations the pupils had of themselves - reinforcing repeatedly that they can achieve great things and make rapid progress if they take the opportunities that are offered to them. As a staff team we introduced new tracking processes, and prioritised sharing of best teaching practices.
The journey to improve is a tough one that requires commitment from every one, but with a dedicated and hard working group of teachers, it is achievable. I was delighted for our staff, pupils and parents when Ofsted rated us to be ‘Good’ in every category in December 2014.
I am very proud of what we have achieved at the Academy, and while it will be sad to leave, I know that the team will continue to pursue even greater excellence.
As for me, I look forward to enjoying the interests that I have maintained throughout my career. I am a qualified British Dressage Steward and I am looking forward to being able to dedicate more time to that as well as enjoying looking after and riding my two horses. I regularly ring the church bells at St Margaret’s Church in Great Barr and I am a member of the Second City Sound Ladies Barbershop Chorus. I am passionate about the Riding for the Disabled and West Midlands Air Ambulance Charities and hope to volunteer to support them in some way too.
I love spending time with my growing family and have 2 beautiful grandchildren and another baby grandchild expected imminently.
Most of all I am looking forward to disappearing off to North Wales in our caravan; to take my ‘holidays in term time’ which will be a real treat!