I’ve just finished two weeks of visiting a cohort of School Direct trainees in their initial month of school experience, to ensure that they are operating in an appropriate context, with supportive colleagues and a dedicated mentor with the appropriate skills and time to engage with the development needs of the trainees. It is clear from these visits that the trainees have secured a place in the classroom as a person of teacher status, can lead the class with appropriate behaviour expectations, creating an environment where children are enthused and challenged, and are well ordered and organised.
These four standards characterise the vast majority of teachers. They underpin the role.
Personal teacher standards
Progress and Outcomes, teacher standard 2, is likely to be the area most concerning for a teacher, as they are judged on how well their learners do in their care across the year. That this has become more difficult and exercises many minds, is a result of changes made at Government level over the recent few years.
Of course, quality control judgements, based on outcomes, need to decide just how good the work is and what support and advice is needed to remedy issues, or to continue the forward momentum.
With experience, teachers begin to collect (mentally) and through events such as moderation of physical outcomes, a personal portfolio of what constitutes an appropriate quality outcome for a particular group of children. An early career trainee or NQT, or a teacher changing year groups will not have this as a part of their professional repertoire. It takes time, immersion, in-school moderation activities and much reflection to gain security. Yet it is exactly this security that supports decision making about the next steps for the teacher and the child. In other words, the teaching and learning approach becomes more refined.
Practical teacher standards, or 24652
Perhaps we have started to use the wrong word to describe what we want. What if we used growth or improvement instead of progress, as in a growing or improving ability in an area, so that our nurturing and feeding and necessary close attention to detail has sustained impact? Growth and improvement imply development.
Progress, as a word on it’s own might seem to some to be an inevitable effect of teaching, so that teachers engage less definitely with the process and the outcomes. Progress measures are, to me, the combination of the progress of each individual child, not just the headline figure for the class or the cohort.
There is a need to be able to describe progress through each subject, not as a means to determine the exact steps that will be taken, although some tracking systems have recreated Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) style approaches, which can led to that end. Learning in reality is slightly messy and is likely to be determined by the quality of tasking with embedded challenge appropriate to the needs of each child. These challenges should enable teacher and learner to engage in dialogue which supports continued focus and effort.
While it seems reasonable to argue that one lesson is not sufficient to see growth or progression, especially across all abilities, it can also be argued that through observation, the observer should be able to infer the likelihood of progress, from the lesson intentions, the challenge to different groups, the interactions between peers and between students and teacher, as well as looking at the developing outcomes.
Expectation mind-set supports the mental rehearsal of a lesson, where a teacher anticipates the points in the lesson where learners could exhibit misunderstanding or simply encounter a block. This allows preparations which ensure that issues are addressed appropriately and in a timely way.
The teacher/expectation mind-set:- analyse-plan-do-review-record
- expects something specific to change as a result of the carefully matched learning opportunities being offered, (analysis)
- supports the teacher in looking at the resulting activities and discerning the nuances of behaviour that suggest ease or difficulty being encountered. (planning)
- drives conversations seeking to unpick areas of concern or to understand the fact that they’ve taken five minutes to complete a task you’d planned for twenty-five. (doing)
- creates the start point from which adjustments to the expectations are made, within or between lessons (review and adapt)
- ensures that the learner(s) make(s) progress and provides food for thought at the end of the lesson about next steps. (record keeping)
There cannot be many lessons where some progress is not anticipated and planned for. However, unpicking contributory factors to progress is essential.
Are lesson expectations clearly expressed, or are they sufficiently unchallenging as to allow all to make minimal progress, or some to make none? There is an interplay between the lesson activity success criteria and individual development statements, with the latter overlaying the former, adding value to reflective developmental discussions.
Put even more simply, do the children know what they personally are seeking to improve, and in sufficient detail, that it has regular and sustained impact. Perhaps more importantly, do they have the capacity to do this alone or do they need support and guidance?
A diagram of in-lesson behaviours
Teacher and TA intervention and support need to be monitored and recorded to provide a true picture of the learner’s independent ability.
Of course, many experienced teachers will, intuitively, as a result of their teaching experience, be practised in how subjects develop across the age groups that they teach.
The situation is different for less experienced or new teachers.
During the year, ITT students join their school experience schools, getting to know the staff, the children and the realities of becoming a teacher. It’s a complex mix of personal, professional and practical knowledge and skills as seen above. They have had their preparatory lectures, as do all ITT students, covering the range of needs. Whether this is sufficient for each and every student is likely to be seen during the practice, with development needs identified by their teacher mentors, supported by the mentor, colleagues and linked tutors. The mentor role is vital in this process, especially within the current climate, where each school may have different systems across several aspects of practice.
Introductory conversations are inevitably illuminating, with simple questions often being the ones that throw the student into a slight panic.
A recent question asked during visits was what a good piece of writing for a year x child might look like. It is common for trainees to be unable to offer insights into what they might be looking for as an acceptable outcome and, as a result, they are unable to suggest what they’d be looking to offer as next step challenges.
These responses made me reflect on the place of progress and outcomes in the holistic aspects of teaching and learning, particularly for ITT students starting out, and early career teachers. If they don’t really know what to look for when they are looking at work outcomes, they are not really in a position to support development.
It is, still, to me an argument for school and national exemplar portfolios across all subjects, as reference material.
The notion of a “national standard” is in current vogue. This is having an impact throughout schools, with school reporting to parents across a number of statements at year end.
Above standard • National standard • Working towards standard • Below national standard
Some use above, secure, below…
These statements alter what was levelness to yearness, but with the added complication that a number, perhaps 10-15% will have the statement that they are below an “acceptable standard”.
The 15th centile and below are inevitably going to be comprised mainly of the SEND children, with a proportion of EAL children new to the country, whose ability to take the test will be compromised by limited language. So SEND and some EAL children will be told that they “do not meet the national standard”, as if they are being graded like eggs on a conveyor. Apart from telling them that they have failed, they have not met the standard, so they are sub-standard. “Working towards” also equates to sub-standard.
Has there been, in recent times, a more degrading vocabulary choice to describe children who find learning more difficult?
But I digress, if only for a short while.
C.S.Lewis We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
Progress in a subject is likely to be viewed as somewhat linear, if only because learning opportunities, within curricula determined by schools and interpreted by the teacher, are created into a timeline, of knowledge transmission and activities and challenges, to seek to embed concepts and facts into a child’s mind.
Life offers opportunities in a haphazard way. Walk down a street and information is available to you, if you know how to look, take notice and store the information. Each learner is a product of their home and school experiences, with each child unique in retention, ordering experiences and the ability to recall information at speed and with a fluency that enables rapid working.
If you compare outcomes within a class, the chances are that in any situation where work is produced, the top child will largely always be top and the bottom will remain firmly stuck. There may be a little shuffling up and down in the middle, but this may be insignificant. Comparison of a child’s personal outcomes over a time scale, with consideration of the embedded foci for their thinking, is more likely to have a significant bearing on their immediate effort, focus and self-worth.
At its simplest, judgement seeks to articulate the essential values or quality of the outcome. This supports detailed learning dialogue, orally or through written comment. Teacher judgement does need a frame of reference.
Where there is an arbitrary line that says “These are the features of a good outcome” clear articulation of the qualities expected at the outset of the task, with modelling and exemplars (WAGOLLs), are likely to give the learners insights into expectations. These are often stated as learning objectives (LO) success criteria (SC), steps to success (S2S), or what I’m looking for (WILF).
Assessment language talks of baselines. In plain English, this asks where the children are now. The “now” describes current capability; they know a discrete set of things, skills or knowledge. If these become non-negotiable in lessons, it is the adding of further capabilities or skills within the knowledge context which can be described as progress, improvement or growth.
Any planning for learning needs to acknowledge this expected progress, at group level, but also with the potential to be very specific to individuals or small groups who fall outside the general remit for their work group.
If these expectations are articulated in ways that children can understand and are attached to their workbooks in a way that allows them to be opened out during working sessions, they become prompts for in-lesson personal dialogue. With large class sizes, teachers cannot be expected to memorize every target for every child in every subject. Too often the personal aspect is somewhere within the child’s exercise book, but is hidden from view, so that it plays little or no part in their current challenge.
Progress on one level, is a constant shifting of the baseline, through the wide variety of means available to the teacher, embedded in progressively better outcomes.
The two essentially practical teaching standards are (6) assessment and (5) adapting learning. If these are interpreted as “thinking on your feet” and “engaging and making adjustments to expectation and tasking”, they become active constituents of lessons, rather than being seen as something that is done after the lesson, as marking and feedback, or as “tests” although that act contributes further to development and future progress.
Learners and their teachers need mental maps of progress, supported by overt descriptors as reminders. Evidence of achievement can be noted and celebrated at the moment, but also as a collation of evidence at summative points, perhaps as formal reports.
Progress is not necessarily “gap filling”. The progress of achievers when unpicked, articulated and shared, can support the progress of others.
Progress is a fluid concept. Outcomes are reflection points, which determine the next appropriate steps.
Assessment judgements which imply “not at standard” do not support vulnerable learners to make progress, yet they need to make significant progress.
The bottom line, though, is always likely to be expressed as, “How well do you know your children?”
G.K Chesterton. The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us.