What’s the problem with planning?

The other week I wrote about The Black Dog of Planning and how planning gave me the heebie-jeebies. Since then, I’ve read a couple of other blogs concerning planning and the sometimes onerous levels that some teachers have to go to produce a plan and it’s made me think about how much time can be wasted on overly detailed lesson plans.

What’s the problem with planning?


Planning is important. Do not forget that. It guides your teaching, directs a sequence of lessons and shows that you know what you are doing but that’s all it should be – a guide and some direction, not an overly prescriptive opus. When I started out (as, I am told many NQTs do, my planning was extraordinarily overly detailed) but as you get more experienced you can drop a lot of that detail and hold the additional information in your head as you deliver it. You might forget some pearl of wisdom from your plan but, to be honest, that happens even when you’ve ascribed everything onto paper anyway – it’s not like it’s good for the flow of a lesson to stop everything and check that you’ve used all the terms in the Key Vocabulary box.

pile of papers
Let me just check my planning to see if we have addressed all the target questions for the mini-plenary…


This old post on The Modern Miss encapsulates it perfectly and I especially like the following paragraph:


SLT don’t need long plans, and Ofsted say they don’t want them. So what’s the point? What can really be gained by spending as long typing a lesson plan out, as it does to teach the thing? Some schools insist that plans are printed out and handed to SLT or the Head weekly. The only purpose of this that I can see, is so that they can file them away, thus giving the impression that they’ve done lots of work as the shelves in their offices are buckling under the strain of 40 tonnes of pulped forest.

Bad Ideas Concept trashcan and waste papers
“Of course we value your efforts.  They go straight in the special filing cabinet.”



And it’s true. Ofsted actually say that ‘it does not specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain. Inspectors are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.’  They are actually saying they DON’T CARE WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE!  You could write it on the peel of a banana but as long as it’s effective, they don’t care!



It’s inevitable that if you have ten detailed boxes to tick (eg subject, objective, starter, main teaching, plenary, differentiation x3, resources, key vocabulary, prior learning, next steps, directed support) you are probably spending more time on details that the planning contains rather than its effectiveness.

But the fear is that if all that detail is not there in black and white for all to see, it doesn’t exist and you will be hauled over the coals for it! So it is decreed, from above, that all teachers need to include this almost spurious information in what should otherwise be a simple snapshot of your intended lesson.



A fresh approach:

I taught in a school a few weeks ago that used this as their planning:

Week plan


OK, I wouldn’t have wanted to start out using something that basic but just look how simple it is – a whole week of planning contained on one A4 page! Certain lessons (eg PSHE or phonics etc) would warrant their own individual plans but otherwise each lesson on that overview would be given coherence and detail by the resources and interactive whiteboards and any competent teacher would know the differentiation for each child in their class and be able to adapt their teaching accordingly.  Think of the time saved producing that one sheet instead of x number of pages and who knows how many more boxes.

And just to sweeten the joy:



In my first school, I was horrified to learn that we had to hand our annotated planning in to the SLT (duplicates of course, as we had to retain our planning and the school had to ensure the photocopying spend was twice what it actually needed to be). Consequently, a number of teachers annotated their planning retrospectively, at the end of the day, not because it was useful but to show that they annotated their planning.

Now re-read that sentence and consider the stupidity and futility of that exercise.


Now you might think I’m just moaning without practical solutions but I suggest that a lot of the (literal) boxes do not need to be ticked. A good teacher knows the class and knows who needs what support and differentiation. A good teacher will know if something has worked and what the next steps are. A good teacher does not need a box for resources, key vocabulary, next steps, shoe colour, trouser length or number of pets. By all means let a teacher add detail to the planning if it helps but don’t force everyone into that same box.

planning policy



Doing Supply When There Is No Work Left by @Juanofthefourty

Here are some thoughts I passed on to the excellent NQT advice blog https://starterforfive.wordpress.com Feels nice to be published by someone else. I hope the tips help some little lost supply teaching NQTs.

Starter for Five

Name: Jaun Ofthefourty
Twitter:  @Juanofthefourty
Sector:  Early Years, Primary
Position: Supply
5 Bits of Advice About: Doing supply when there is no work left

  1. Have something prepared (even just mentally) for every possible subject. It’s not fun having to improvise a day’s worth of engaging lessons.
  2. Use the walls and displays to give you ideas of what the children are learning. It will help your teaching feel relevant.
  3. Don’t plan anything that requires marking. Why add to your workload?
  4. Quizzes are brilliant. They’re easy to plan, build teamwork, test the children’s knowledge and they’re fun.
  5. Whatever you deliver, do it with confidence and conviction (faked, if necessary). Pupils are experts at reading body language and will pounce on any chink in your armor.

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Stick to what you know

I started writing a political blog post the other day, in response to recent events in Paris but deleted it before I was even half way through. Despite my lofty intentions, it came across as facetious and condescending. While anyone can hold an opinion on something, it’s never good to be shouting ill-informed and ill-researched material from the rooftops. It’s like when the World Cup comes around and suddenly people who don’t give a donkeys about the game become an expert on football and discuss it loudly on public transport.

loud rude person on cell phone on train
“Capello is mad to play the 4-4-2 formation, the 6-3-7 is far superior.”

I always feel slightly embarrassed for them (and by my own admission, I know nothing about football).

If you’re wondering, the gist of the article was comparing ISIS and the Western world to two children having a scrap in the playground and the answer, when someone hits you, is never to hit back but to talk it out. Just imagine the article as in depth and well thought out, with some thoroughly incisive observation and parallels with the playground and world politics. Have you done that? Good. It was an interesting article, wasn’t it? Alternatively, read 6 Ways to Keep Terrorists From Ruining the World from Cracked.com.

My blog post would have would have culminated in a link to this from the Onion.

Twitter and ‘the fruit of teaching’.

As I said the other day, the blog now has a Twitter account.

About two hours after I’d registered, I got my first follower: Teaching Issues. I was quite impressed, I’d pretty much only followed Michael Rosen and suddenly I’d already acquired another teaching/education follower. Awesome.

What became apparent very quickly is that TeachingIssues is clearly a robot on a two day cycle of posting adverts for highlighter pens, interactive whiteboards and hourly tweets of motivational gibberish. I would unfollow but I can’t stop compulsively reading the tweets.

Here are some of my favourites:

twit - 01 orientationYou’re right, map reading is an important skill.

twit - 02 warmthI’m not sure that sticking a child on a radiator will help it’s soul. Or a plant.

twit - 03 centreNo, the centre of ‘to learn’ is ‘le’.

twit - 04 chief forceEh?

The tweets remind me of the motivational posters my uni flatmates had. So, I’ve mocked up some – free of charge! – for TeachingIssues.

Poster 03 - Colonoscopy

Poster 02 - Fruit

Poster 04 - Mother

5 questions to ask your child’s primary school teacher – Part II

And part 2.

Again, interesting from both a parent and a teacher perspective.
I’m not sure I agree with the suggestion that it “is an opportunity lost if parts of our science and history lessons do not involve significant episodes of writing,” especially for kids just starting school. It’s better to give them raw, hands-on experiences that will provide them with the basic understanding of scientific processes, without the worry of letting literacy issues obstructing the child’s achievement.
Also, I like the section about “asking questions about what happened from the teacher’s perspective before deciding whether you have a genuine complaint.” That reminded me of
this delightful experience.

Filling the pail

In the first of these two posts, I suggested questions that you might wish to sensitively ask your child’s current or prospective primary school teacher about behaviour and reading. There are three more questions that I wish to propose.

3. How do you teach history and science?

Both of these subjects contain significant amounts of world knowledge and have the potential to expand your child’s vocabulary and reading comprehension. Ironically, they can be potentially displaced by a misguided effort to over-teachreading comprehension strategies, perhaps under the guise of ‘guided reading’.

If they aregiven curriculum time, science and history may be taught well or badly. I have no problem with a few papier mache models and dioramas in primary school – they are a right of passage – but science and history taught primarily through these means areimpoverished. I still remember being in primary school myself, collecting leaves in…

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5 questions to ask your child’s primary school teacher – Part I

Suggestions of what to ask at an impending parent’s evening. Interesting from a parent/teacher perspective.

Filling the pail

This post is for those of you who, like me, have children in primary school or children who are about to enter primary school. It’s worth knowing some questions to ask that will give you a better idea of the provision on offer. However, you must tread gently. If you asked your mechanic how she intended to fix your car then she would probably be delighted to explain at some length, but children are not cars, they don’t need fixing and teachers are not mechanics. It’s a messy, human affair. And decades of perceivingthat politicians and the media are against them makes many teachers defensive. So use these questions but address them sensitively.

1. What’s your behaviour policy?

This is probably worth talking about before you send your child to a school.There is no right answer other than that the school should have a policy, it should be clear and…

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The black dog of planning. Or how support isn’t always supportive.

It’s been interesting being offered supply work by my new agency.  They seem determined to offer me unsuitable, Y6 full-time positions (bearing in mind they know I can only work part-time and hate teaching Y6).  What’s has been interesting is my reaction to their offers of longer term work.  Instead of being with the same children every day, a regular commute or the prospect of being with the same colleagues all the time, what really makes me feel angsty about longer term placements is the prospect of planning.

Planning…be it Y2, PPA cover, nursery or whatever, the prospect of having to plan really makes me feel queasy and unsettled in the stomach.

Some think he was poisoned but what killed him may well have just been the prospect of planning next week’s guided reading.

This reaction has been a bit unexpected.  Planning is one element of teaching you can just get on with in your own time and in your own head space but at the moment that is the one aspect of teaching that I really don’t ever want to have to do again.

In my first school, we were just kind of free to plan how we wanted.  As long as the kids were going in the right direction and no-one died, SLT appeared content.  I took this approach to my next school, to find that the SLT did not appear content with it.  From the off, my planning was dissected and deemed unsatisfactory, which lead to weekly ‘support meetings’ where every aspect of the planning that I’d spent most of the weekend producing was analysed.

“Why did you think reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt was a good idea?”

It was down to me to justify each choice I’d made with, seemingly, a retort or response about why each choice was not satisfactory and questions about why I was doing what I was doing or why I wasn’t taking a different approach.  It got to the point that each Monday afternoon my anxiety levels would be raising as I anticipated this ‘support’ and then spent the entire meeting trying to second guess what the SLT would like to hear, so as to not have the next aspect of my weekend’s work torn to pieces.

You will note that I don’t feel like this was a particularly supportive experience.  It certainly didn’t help me improve my practise or make me feel supported.

I’m definitely not saying that teachers who are seen to be struggling should not be supported but often, in schools, support comes in the guise of more and more observation and deconstruction of the exact thing that you have been told is a weakness and, consequently, now feel insecure about.  For some people – myself included – that additional focus and attention just makes the problem ten times worse as you expend so much physical and emotional energy trying to second guess the correct response to questions you don’t know you will be asked.  Time and energy that could be better spent actually thinking about how to produce a better quality lesson.

To be honest, I’m not sure what the answer is to ensure that teachers that need support are given it in a supportive way.  I’m not sure how one would support an area of concern without drawing additional attention to that area.  Thoughts?

This man never had problems with his planning.