As I return to London on the train from Bristol, having been to an Ofsted training session, (Assessment without levels and EYFS since you ask so nicely…i bailed before the HMI started talking about 6th Form- I genuinely wouldn’t know my aras from my elbow there, so leave it to my esteemed colleagues who know infinitely more) I find my mind flitting between the mind boggling event that was ResearchEd2014 and an upcoming Optimus conference I’ll be attending in London on 24th September…and I’m struck by just how incredible we are as a profession. I mean, we are currently in the eye of a perfect storm in terms of education…change of almost unprecedented levels and we still find time to go to events at the weekend to search for what works…how can we be better at what we do? Why do we do what we do? Perhaps we should sometimes ask? So what? If we do something, does it make a difference? Or, if we don’t do it will the missed benefits cause the world to tilt on its axis and cause a new Ice Age?
So, bearing in mind my ability to flit from topic to topic with a skittishness only normally seen in a small boy with a choice between, chocolate, ice cream, sport or a pond to fall in…let’s have a look at it.
The New National Curriculum – argh Armageddon we all cried when we saw the draft…and promptly did sod all about, apart from we few, we happy few who rode into battle and answered the consultation questions. So, now we have it, all shiny, new and ever so slightly scary with its increased rhetoric regarding rigour and higher standards of skills and knowledge running alongside. What do we do about it? Well, most of us will do our best to swot up and try to do our best for the pupils in our care, go on courses, “cascade” to our colleagues and wrack our brains to spin gold out of straw…colleagues such as @michaeltidd will ensure those of on twitter are up to date and ones such as @farrowmr will ask the questions that challenge us. (This is a cracking blog…you may not agree, but it will make you think.) But in the end, the curriculum is king…& hence, subject knowledge follows close behind, grasping the cloak hem and I’m not sure that we are going to be up to speed quickly enough. what do I mean? Well…for decades we’ve been shouting uniformly as a profession, “what do the media know? What do the politicians know? Can’t they leave us to get on with it?”
Well, guess what…they sort of have. Now the NC is in place, with all our new freedoms, it is up to us to make it work. And THAT scares the pants off me. Not because we can’t do it…I think we can, but we still have one eye on those sodding league tables, another on Ofsted, another on the parents…ah, wait…none on the kids. (Anyone spot the third eye issue too?)
If we are to make this work, we need to collaborate SO much more, we need events like ResearchEd and regional conferences sharing great practise…because, and I don’t feel that I’m being overly dramatic here, the vultures are waiting in the wings. Publishers, think tanks govt and govt in waiting have “contingency plans”… By that I mean ways to make cash. (It’s no coincidence that Civitas have an alternative curriculum already planned or Pearson spend a small fortune lobbying…in the States, so how much over here?)
I think it ludicrous that a curriculum was designed with so little thought to how we would assess it. I do also have a bee in my bonnet about whether you can really even call it a curriculum given it’s aims being so loose or whether you can call it National given; academies, independent schools don’t have to follow it, and others can disapply aspects of it.
The Curriculum as it stands will be fine, teachers will go away and learn how to teach it…however, there are issues with this. It is, like any curriculum going to encourage coverage which in the wrong or poorly led hands can be the enemy of formative assessment, it may be very comforting, particularly in Maths or English for someone teaching in a new year group that it is very clear what need to be taught- but is it what the children need? This can and has in the past caused a mismatch, which in turn slows the acquisition of skills and knowledge and so progress…it can lead us to a pedagogy based on assumption of prior requisition of skills that may have been taught explicitly
AND, I am also concerned that the curriculum doesn’t necessarily make it clear what needs to be taught – take reading for example.
If you look at what the National Curriculum says about inference, which we all know to be a common area of difficulty for many of our children, there is a distinct lack of detail…
Again – this gap will not be filled successfully without us sharing our expertise freely and a significant shift in how we teach some of these higher order reading skills, because it doesn’t mean just giving the children a “more difficult” book, or reading whilst hanging from a tree for that matter! I ‘ll be interested what people think about this.
Anyhow, I digress.
Whither do we go? Learning ladders? Levels? Are we emerging, at or exceeding? And, at some point to what extent are we exceeding? – does that mean I’m emerging on next years requirements? I genuinely don’t know. But I do know…we’ll be better if we collaborate…and the vultures are waiting in the wings…however, I have had some training recently that I think might be the answer…but, that’s for those that look at my next blog or see me at the Optimus event on the 24th Sept. (Well, at least until I clarify my thoughts – anyone wanting to join the event can book here and if you put Andrew1 in the voucher code, you’ll get £100 off!).
The removal of levels can and should be celebrated – after all, they slowly morphed into things that they were never intended for upon their inception. They often muddied the water in terms of what children needed to move forward in their learning and children got labelled as a 4b or 5c; which was completely unhelpful at best and damaging at worst.
The removal of levels has removed the artificial part of assessment…but without them, teachers will need to rely much more on everyday assessment and review, assessing learning and turning this into something that will have meaning, both for teacher and child. Where it informs our daily teaching and learning…which will mean a significant shift for some teachers – and they will need supporting with this. Time to throw away the security blanket of levels and do something more useful instead.
Yes, I know. I know. Why should we feel any sympathy for those bastards? Don’t worry I’m not asking you to…but biscuits would be nice if I happen to be shadowing the team coming to see you. There is a very real sense of change within the inspectorate and it is starting at the very top. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Mike Cladingbowl et al are determined to make the system transparent and fairer. Mike recently spoke of his desire to make inspectors get their hands dirty to talk to teachers and children much more in a dialogue – and they will have to in order to really get a grip on what standards and progress are like in schools, given the issues I’ve touched on above. Whether the curriculum is appropriate, being delivered and reported to parents in a way that they can make sense of…but all this will have implications for us on the ground, not just inspectors. Do we think that longer inspections with more explicit guidance for improving the school would be useful? Challenge inspectors if you feel that their subject knowledge isn’t up to scratch and this is leading them to make incorrect judgements. They’re going to have to get used to this. It was heartening to hear Sean Harford speak dismissively of the lunacy of Ms Morgan’s pronouncements regarding the EBacc and compulsory setting in Secondary schools and Ofsted’s role in enforcing her views – these policies had more than a touch of “policy by announcement, or policymaking by ministerial whim” (See @Samfr ex policy advisor to they who must be obeyed…)
Given the announcement of 40 no notice inspections I do wonder at the almost universal cry of, ” stop treating us like children!” THAT disturbs me as much as the no notice inspections. *waits for bewildered shuffling to stop.
I’m not convinced by need for no notice inspections and think that if anyone inspector can’t spot or unearth significant changes in a school after 1/2 days notice then they really shouldn’t be inspecting…but let us step away from the plaintive bleating that paints us as victims. Some teachers and in particular Heads can act like children…trying to pull one over the inspectorates eyes or act in a childish way. You would genuinely be incredulous at some things I have heard & seen. If you disagree with Ofsted, its’ practice and purpose, fine; but argue using logic and rationale.
Where does this leave us?
I’m not sure but I think that I’ve probably arrived at my main area of concern.
What I do know is that as hard as it will be for the teachers and staff implementing all this change, SLT and Heads will have an almost impossible job. (I know that it’s not popular on twitter to be sympathetic to SLT, but what’s the worst that can happen?)
Teachers will be under pressure to implement massive change, Heads will have their jobs on the line ensuring that change happens…but I do think that we have a wider responsibility to tone down this rhetoric. We do sometimes overthink what education is about. Can we possibly take it back to the bare bones? What are schools for, why do we send children to school? Teachers teach the children in front of them; can they read? Can they write? Are they capable of using and applying the 4 rules in maths and associated facts? Are they safe and getting a wide range of experiences? Are they happy? Let me make it clear, I wince when I hear about preparing them for the workplace…it is not why I entered the profession and not what I will aim to do, it is a by product of the process. I aim to teach them the knowledge and skills both academic and personal to be happy, fulfilled and successful individuals. Or, at least I’ll try.
I worry about the teaching profession, we sometimes take the burden of the world upon ourselves and give it to each other, yes we support each other, but some are not terribly good at acknowledging that they need help or support. And do you know who are often the worst? Heads and SLT, how do I know? Let’s just say, personal experience.
Things happen to people…good people, good teachers; illness, bereavement, financial difficulties, relationships ebb and flow. But we keep it private. Which is fine. However, we have a duty of care to each other and to our children. If we do not support each other, if we do not let others help us, then it is often a misguided sense of how people will perceive us or our capacity to cope. (And, yes, I do know the reasons for this.)
We don’t want them to “make excuses for us.”
We don’t want them to think that we are ” not up to it…”
We don’t want to let anyone down…
We don’t want to lose our jobs.(Often the sense of this is coming from an environment that won’t be supportive or where hearsay and rumour drive perception of the SLT.)
But the reality is that once a couple of people understand the strain and pressure you are under, they can help you manage the workload, the guilt and sometimes the loneliness of the struggle.
Anyone who has read my previous blog will know I don’t like excuses dressed up as reasons for failure…but I genuinely feel that as a Deputy Head, if I can support my staff through these changes, keep standards high and have staff that are still happy in their jobs come July, THAT will be my biggest achievement.
So come on, share the pain with a couple of us and let us help – many of us aren’t the emotionless automatons often portrayed on twitter.
It’s a big year for us…let’s deprive the vultures of their banquet and collaborate, get this right and show all those naysayers that we are capable of delivering a world class education to our children. I for one am bored of having policy imposed on us that is borne of whimsy and of need driven by announcement.