Teaching is all about people not just data. Maybe we need a system where everyone in education becomes a mentor and everyone benefits from the understandings of others?
The education system has become hooked on data. It’s seemed to grow exponentially since the mid-90s, getting supposedly more and more refined, telling whatever story the interpreter wishes to tell; “x% of children can’t…” rather than”100-x% of children can…”
"It's the way you tell 'em." Frank Carson-comedian...
In many ways the ubiquity of data has supported politicians who wish to argue for more structural change, to be able to be seen to be doing something. In an “evidence-informed” world, the ability to interpret data from “evidence” to satisfy a particular end begins to validate the “post-truth” and “alternative facts” phenomena that have recently taken hold of political narratives. Since education is completely controlled by the state of politics, the rise of alternative facts is concerning. The demise of UTCs and the rise in calls for Grammar Schools would fall under the “busy politician” mantra.
On 10th February, in Schools Week, Dr Becky Allen asked “How can we know which schools are good if inspectors are inconsistent and biased and the data is wrong?” She talks of a range of biases to which we are all, as humans fallible. It is an excellent article, which raises many questions. She also shows how Ofsted can be flawed. as this is probably the single greatest current fear for any head and teachers, it's worth considering how the system could be improved to everyone's benefit.
Teaching is, and always has been, a very human activity. It is occasionally flawed, because people forget or focus on specific details. Teachers develop through self-reflection and occasionally beat themselves up when things don’t go as they anticipated. It takes time, discussion and much thought, to grow into a fully-fledged teacher. There are no short cuts, which is what education seems to be constantly seeking. Broad principles are distilled to single words. An example might be Growth Mindset, where Carol Dweck’s ideas are often reduced to the single word “yet”, instead of being seen as a constituent of a process.
Progress through school may be variable, from the differing start points, even if they are in well-appointed schools, with excellent teachers and outstanding resources, so that data at test points still show variability in outcomes. The data would be capable of sharing information about the value the school has added to the children as they pass through their education. Schools are organic, they grow and change over time. If they can attract and retain staff, they have the capacity to embed change, moving the school forward. The opposite is also true. Constant change requires a constant return to beginnings, with a year of hard work sometimes repaid by a teacher moving.
That is it possible to overcome deprivation is evidenced by a number of schools that I have visited for audit purposes. Unpicking the approaches that led to the high outcomes showed that personalisation of expectation, challenge, intervention and support, within a quality teaching environment was having significant impact; joined up thinking and processes. These approaches were put in place by analytical heads developing “forensic processes” that guided teachers to make clear decisions.
The audit was an opportunity for the school to take a look at an aspect of practice, with an external eye opening up areas for dialogue and continued internal reflection. Revisits showed the impact of the changed practices and the improvements in teaching and learning. For this reason, I have always seen Ofsted as an expensive audit tool. If it became less about deciding on four layers of judgement and instead was able to focus on a qualitative decision and allow for deeper exploration of the areas that needed development or that seemed to be having impact, the system, as a whole could be seen as mutually developmental.
I wrote an earlier blog on moderation and this has been a feature of the past couple of years as I have been training the mentors for a Teaching Schools Alliance. It is also possible to see monitoring and moderation as constituent of mentoring.
I’d quite like to see the ideas of monitoring and moderation leading to a mentoring dialogue, widely used across all aspects of school life, not just when each might be required by a specific process.
To some, the term moderation implies a greyness, somewhere between the polarised views of extremes. However, as a moderate person, I reserve the right to draw from the extremes and occasionally to do something to excess if that serve the purposes of the moment. Moderate does not necessarily mean grey, even if the hair has long changed colour.
Moderation implies to me a search for common understanding. Applied to different aspects of the teacher role, it has huge potential to be a development tool.
Whatever the school’s development framework, it is likely to have aspects akin to levels, even if these are “yearness” based.
Let’s say that two teachers work side by side with the same age group. If they bring together work outcomes, talk about them and agree a common view on the merits of the work, they will be sure that the two class expectations are common to both, at the same time deepening their understanding of their children and their needs. If this is extended through year groups, the process can also support consideration of the needs of lower and higher achievers. I'd almost see this as an informal, in-house form of "comparative judgement", which seems to be a term gaining traction.
- If mentoring occurs across a school, there is common assent to decisions regarding achievement and progress expectations.
- If mentoring occurs across schools, an area wide understanding occurs.
- If outcomes of National testing were seen as an aspect of moderation, the outcomes could provide exemplar material to support internal mentoring needs.
- If mentoring became a common tool across all schools, supported by external expertise as necessary, there could be an improvement in teacher judgement and a reduced need for formal testing, so we could save money on SATs testing.
- If in-house teachers became trained mentors, for internal and external use, the use of such people would provide opportunities for mass CPD and lead to higher expectations, based on a common understanding.
- If lesson observations became a mentoring exercise, based on the common agenda of the teaching standards, then feedback would be developmental. Nobody is perfect all the time.
- If Ofsted and other assessment/inspection visits were mentoring visits, to validate the judgements of the internal moderation team, we could establish expectations common to every school in the country.
- If Ofsted inspectors and HMI mentored each other, the judgements across every establishment would be more consistent.
- If Ofsted and HMI regularly produced reflective pamphlets about their distilled experiences, across all subjects, the system could benefit from such collated reflection. (Remember the "raspberry ripple" series?
It is a case of all things in moderation. I’ll drink to that- in moderation, of course.