This year, my school introduced staff focus groups. These occur once a half term (hourly meetings) and are led by either SLT or middle leaders. The different focus groups are 6th form, teaching and learning, behaviour, rewards and more able.
“Great!” I thought. “This is great; they’ll listen to staff and we will get a say in what goes on.”
Now, I am not saying that this is the case in every school but, to me anyway, it seems as though these have been introduced to give the illusion of the above but actually, none of what is discussed in these meetings actually goes any further.
I started the year at the behaviour meeting after working at the school for 18 months and noticing that behaviour was on the decline. It was the most popular meeting amongst staff and was led by the Vice Principal of the school. Most of the staff were in agreement that the behaviour of the students was getting worse, not drastically, but it needed to improve quickly. A member of SLT (on secondment) argued that students only misbehave when the lesson is dull. This obviously had staff up in arms and then we came onto the matter of equipment. I expect students to bring a pen or pencil to my lesson at the very least but again, was told that I cannot possibly expect this due to the background of some of the students. I used to lend equipment as it was easier but after having most of it broke or stolen, I stopped. If students can have the latest trainers, phone, etc. then I don’t think that asking them to bring a pen is unacceptable. I am an outspoken member of staff but I had lots of other staff come to me afterward moaning about what was said by those higher up the chain. These staff will not say what they think in front of SLT as they think that it will make them appear weak.
Needless to say, I was advised to go to the 6th form meeting next time round which I did. This meeting was merely discussing issues with students, teaching time, intervention taking place, etc. and wasn’t actually a focus group as we didn’t discuss anything going forward or any changes that would take place.
After attending a couple of the 6th form meetings, we hired a departmental lead of KS5 therefore, it made more sense for her to attend these meetings. So I went back to the behaviour management meeting. This time, no members of SLT were there but a newly appointed Head of Year was leading. Again, there were approximately 20 staff there from all different departments, along with cover supervisors and TAs. The first question, “What do you think of behaviour?” was greeted by silence by everyone except me who quite abruptly announced, “Getting worse!” Well that was it…for a whole hour, all staff were discussing the issues that we were seeing in classrooms on a day-to-day basis. We discussed how the detention system is not working as detentions aren’t getting escalated properly and a new member of staff correctly mentioned that on the first day in September, a member of SLT stood in front of us all and explained that we could not use the consequence system as a behaviour management tool. She interpreted this as she would look bad if she did actually apply consequences.
Anyway, to get to my point. In briefing this morning, the final Monday of a tough half term where staff need motivating, we were ‘told off’ for voicing our opinions at the focus group and told that we were wrong. Detentions were not being escalated properly by staff (we have never actually been told what happens at an SLT detention) and that we are fully supported by SLT but we must work as a team.
Therefore, it appears to me, at my current school, that focus groups are actually a means of spying on staff and that unless our opinions match those of SLT, we are completely wrong.
I may not attend next time as they appear to be a waste of time when I could be marking or working with students.
Have you had a positive experience of focus groups? Are they similar in your school? I hope that they aren’t the same everywhere and some SLT’s are using them productively. I’d be interested to hear your experiences.