There’s been a drawn plan to replace a garden shed with a “summer house”, with a list of jobs to be done in a certain order. There wasn’t much point the new building arriving without preparation of the area, including demolishing and adapting the old shed, as part needed to be used as a bike store. My diary has been open, as a checklist, to see when I was working from home, so I could put some time to dump trips.
Checklists are very much in the news, as teachers, in the latter half of the school year, especially in years 2 and 6, face the prospect of filling in a significantly long and difficult set of checklists to be able to present a randomly selected set of workbooks to external moderators, to demonstrate that these children are at the appropriate standard. While some guidance says that this is not necessary, others suggest that they are being told that it is. The school where I am a Governor shared their County linked approach. It is APP plus, but apparently “the teachers asked to do it”. I will watch with interest and a considerable eye on workload.
There is a groundswell of feeling, as expressed on Twitter, that this situation has gone too far, with significant pressure being put on teachers and children, and ultimately schools, as adverse judgements about efficiency and effectiveness could mean some form of takeover. This feeling will manifest itself in a conference later in the year, building on the earlier “Life Beyond Levels” initiative.
I think that I am one of the diminishing band of people who were actively teaching before, during and after the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1987. It is almost a case of having to have been there to really know what occurred.
Pre-NC, there was invariably a maths scheme and a reading scheme that went through the school, to coordinate those areas. PE, games and music often required movement to the hall, field or music room, so were timetabled. There was usually freedom to decide on topics, covering Science, Geography, History, modelling (DT), art, from which much of the written English curriculum was derived. This could sometimes be skewed by a teacher special interest or lack, but, in reality, the schools in which I worked from 1974-1987 all had specified topics to be covered in different years, to overcome some of these issues. The English and Maths approaches were graded to suit the year group.
The ticklists within this period were more often where a child had reached in the maths or reading scheme, and which topics had been the focus for study. These were supplemented with phonics and spelling checklists, passed to receiving teachers. I still have a topic checklist that I developed as an aide memoire. I have to accept that this was not the case in all schools at the time, and that, as a result, there was a need for a coordinated National Curriculum. As I have said in other blogs, when this was introduced, internal audits gave a 95% correspondence between school reality and expectation, so a few tweaks were made, but largely it was a case of carry on.
The structure of the original NC, in three parts, started with pedagogy, which was rarely read, the detail of the subject requirements, which were widely read and the “Level descriptors”, which many ignored in the first instance, then bolted on as an afterthought. In the school where I was deputy, I promoted the idea of discussions between staff of outcomes with the descriptors being seen more as “progress descriptors”. The wording of these, when looking at produced work, focused minds and created greater consistency in expectation and enhanced outcomes from children as colleagues began to look at significant details. We had, effectively introduced moderation, with a common language.
“What’s next in learning?” was more important than “What’s the level?”
Two years later, I started as a head teacher. It was a salutary experience to find outcomes from year 2 to year 6 broadly similar, within what was a level 3, with a few higher. Introducing conversations that unpicked these issues, through moderation exercises, saw a rapid and sustained rise in expectations, with personal, class and school portfolios developed to share and celebrate outcomes. Each of these portfolios had a checklist of features evident and suggestions on next steps.
Checklists can provide the vehicle for detailed discussion. However, like the needle in the haystack, if the detail is unnecessarily small, it can easily distract from the big picture. Teaching is a case of holding to the big picture and the learning dynamics, while keeping an eye on each traveller, to support them to keep up. There are different levels of checklist, covering the overall and the detail.
Realistically, the teacher plans for learning are checklists, as aides memoire, to keep a track of where each lesson is heading, with a list of resources and other reminders, without which the lesson will flounder. They don’t need to be scripts, as an articulate, reflective teacher should be capable of improvising the bits between the headlines, if they know their stuff.
Checklists can help the teacher and the learner to keep a track of their progress, as targets for focused effort and as a support to teacher judgement when marking. This enables personal focus to be embedded within different contexts. An example for use of English books is developed in Exercise books as personal organisers?
However, there is a need to control lists. When I started to organise a list of lists, I decided to rearrange the whole lot. Checklists can occasionally be maddening!
Ps. I finished the summer house today, apart from the flooring. The list was adapted in the process, in order to respond to un anticipated elements. Hoping for a sunny day to be able to christen it with coffee, or a glass of red.