'Twas ever thus...
When the first National Curriculum arrived in 1987, I was a Deputy in a First School, appointed because my career in Primary and Junior schools, offered insights and guidance into developing and enhancing the curriculum. We created a very strong approach to topic areas, high levels of literacy and maths.
When the first cohort took the SATs, the level 3 outcomes were challenged by the attached Junior School, which refused to believe that the children could achieve level 3 at year 2, even when faced with the moderated evidence. By the time they left us at the end of year 3, the vast majority, with guidance, were a secure level 3 and some showed achievement within aspects of level 4, across maths and English.
As a HT from 1990, the same conversations occurred with receiving Secondary Schools, not wishing to accept the evidence within portfolios. As a new HT, there was internal evidence that, despite being a through Primary, teachers taking year 3 classes were inclined not to fully accept year 2 colleague’s moderated judgements. It was a case of the classic, “I’ll get to know them by Christmas”.
As a result, progress across year 3 was demonstrably limited.
As this was an issue, internal moderation activities supported most staff discussions for a considerable time, seeking to establish clear, consistent levels of expectation, to support progress and raise the quality of teacher judgement.
Diminishing or ignoring what has gone before, while it might give the receiving teacher a false sense of their own achievement, has long term detrimental impact on the learners; it gradually demotivates. The year 4 and year 7 children regularly came back to school with tales of covering the same ground as in years 3 and 6.
As year 6 SATs are in Maths and English, I can see precisely why Secondaries showed concern, as predictions in other subjects were, illogically, based on these scores.
The current pressures on Primary education, to achieve at the end of year 6, apparently at a level 4a/5c equivalent in Maths and English will have unintended consequences, especially as I have yet to be convinced that the new outcomes will be accepted on transfer.
KS3 will effectively become the topic side of KS2, moved to a different phase, having to start at a lower start point, as Primaries progressively cut down on foundation subjects. The focus on arithmetic, as maths, may impact in science and technology, where accurate application of measures may need extensive practice. Children’s hand control and fine use of art and DT materials may need a period of familiarisation. Their general knowledge about the world may be less well developed.
In other words, a false economy.
I recently met the parent of a child who went to Secondary with 3a/4c achievement, but a love of learning. He got good GCSE and A levels and went on to get a first class degree. He had learned to enjoy learning.
It has always struck me as odd that, within our English education system, we almost fetishise the idea of passing and failing. It was prevalent in my childhood, with the ubiquitous 11 plus, although it didn’t impact too much personally, as I lived in Australia between the ages of 7 and 11, returning to take the exam in a LEA office along with my sister, who, at 11 months difference in age was in the same year. I passed, she failed, which caused difficulties, as subsequent educational opportunities were significantly different.
Sifting out a few, at either extreme, causes a problem, for those that are not selected, as well as within the cohort of selectees. I can remember within my first Grammar School, selection was alive and well, even in an already selective cohort. We seem to like stratification, to establish a place in a hierarchy, especially if there is an instinctive feeling of superiority. Of course, what goes with that can be putting others down, sometimes very insensitively, such as comparison between siblings, “Why can’t you be like…?”
The current National Curriculum has embedded the idea of passing and failing; you are at or below a centrally determined national standard. Even the 9 scale new GCSE score has determined a pass level.
You would suppose that, in 2016, after many years of different systems, that we could come up with a system that values personal capability, celebrating what has been achieved, what can be used and applied effectively, and to know, and to be able to clearly describe those area that need some development and the steps to be taken to address them.
To some extent, the system of levels, when they came into practice in 1987, did offer the potential of describing capability, as they were general statement that sought to describe stepped progress, across a range of subjects. They were seen as potentially linking through to, and merging with, GCSE grades, to provide a ladder. Now we all know that learning is not linear, but, for children and for early career teachers, they did provide a relatively simple structure against which to make judgements and to give clear developmental advice to children and parents.
They were never perfect descriptors, any more than sub-levels, broken further into Assessing Pupil Progress tick boxes, but they were a guide. At any age it was feasible to have a general idea of what a level 2,3,4,5 piece of writing, or reading challenge, would look like, to be able to seek specifics for support and improvement.
Today, with terminal assessment of KS1 and 2 soon to be effected, the tick boxes will be rampant, as schools seek evidence for external moderators. It will inevitably distort T&L further, as tasks are set to demonstrate specific skills, and will seriously stress teachers further.
To get more children to a 4b equivalent could have been more easily effected.
Sledgehammer anyone; I have a nut to crack.
There are no short cuts to becoming a teacher, in my opinion.
It is a mixture of art, science and craft, intermixed with individual personal qualities that are often hard to quantify, even if they can be described clearly.
Interviewing potential trainees is an interesting activity, trying to enable a candidate to share the best of themselves, to determine whether in one or three/four years they have the makings of a teacher. Their presentation as a potential professional is embedded, and likely to be judged, in their composure, body language, ability to engage with discussion and how they relate to other candidates within the group; trying to see them in a staffroom.
Before interview, they will have taken their maths and English tests and will have had to spend some purposeful time in a school. This latter point enables discussion about their insights and learning from those experiences, positive areas and their own understanding of their personal learning need. For subject specific applicants, drawing out their abilities to explain an idea might develop the conversation further. In a relatively short time, the interview has to determine their suitability; no one wants to waste three years of a young person’s time and money.
The key areas for any trainee in working towards becoming a teacher can be summed up in the teaching standards as 2,4,6,5,2; a cyclic rotation that starts with an awareness of what to expect form children of a certain age (TS2, progress and outcomes), gets embedded into planning for learning over time (TS4), raises teacher awareness within a lesson and between lessons about the need to intervene and adapt to evident need (TS6&5), resulting, hopefully in deeper clarity about the learning needs of the class from which to refine subsequent plans. It is a process of investigating anomalies along the way, identifying individuals and groups who may not be accessing the learning, refining the challenges to better match needs. Teachers are essentially learning detectives, especially where personal needs are concerned.
Knowing your subject is key, as is an acute awareness of the “audience”, which determines the appropriate vocabulary and visual modelling techniques; concrete artefacts, images, diagrams or other scaffolded schematic.
So, having got your “stuff” across, seen and worked with the children being actively involved, checking the outcomes for quality is important. What does a good piece of work for the year group in this subject look like? Is this good enough, good, or does it surpass expectation? This judgement is an important aspect. Discussions with classteachers are essential, to inform and moderate judgement. Reality is “Can I move all, some or none onto next step?”
It all takes time, and guidance and mentoring, especially on school experience is a key element. While the generic themes can be explored in lectures, it is in the heat of the classroom where the real decisions are made. These need substance to promote learning.
Learning, for trainees and children, can be messy at times.
In my mind, a significant aspect of teaching, as I have often blogged about, is the ability to investigate anomalies, those moments where the teacher suspects that a child, or a group of children, may not fully understand what is being taught.
This teacher mindset is supported by an internal schema which develops from the idea that the baseline plans have been based clearly on the prior learning achievements of the children in the class.
Overview plans that have a clear direction allow diversion then a return to the main plan.
Improvisation is a skill that is honed in practice, as teachers spot what they see as possible needs, then intervene to determine the nature of the problem.
This is where high quality questioning supports the scaffolded conversation, enabling the child to externalise what they are thinking and the precise nature of the issue so that the specifics can be addressed, rather than assume global, generic approaches, which do not support progress.
It may be that this process requires a level of modelling, of making explicit what they are thinking, through drawing, diagrams or physical representation, preferably from the child seeking to explain, but some, and especially younger children, may not have the vocabulary to explain their thinking. The teacher may have to unpick step by step, very patiently, where the block exists.
Knowing the process of how children develop as learners in the subject is essential teacher knowledge, to complement subject specific knowledge. While the teacher has reached a level of expertise, the children are still learners. What is obvious to the teacher and other adults may not be so for the child. It is often the nuances of vocabulary that constitute the block, for a number of learners, not just specific groups.
Investigatory skill is such an important aspect of teaching, embedded in the teaching standards (6&5) that it should be the teacher remit to undertake investigation, so that any specific intervention support can be carefully guided. I would go as far as to argue that teachers should be teaching those children in the class with the greatest identifiable need.
Differentiated lesson inputs can be a stage in investigation; if a group didn’t “get it” yesterday, start with a reprise for that group, with a challenge activity for the rest.
Teaching Assistants should be guided to undertake activities with children, with training given to support them in noting children’s responses, and any interventions needed, to support assessment after activity.
Investigation underpins personalisation of approaches. Working with Vauxhall Primary School in London, the head used the term “forensic” underpinning their investigation of children’s needs. As a result, tailored approaches were deployed, with the result at year 6, that the school regularly achieved 95% level 4+ outcomes.
The idea of “find out what they don’t know and teach them” happens in an investigative, learning centred environment.
Think like a detective, be forensic and take carefully planned actions. Reflect, talk and share.
Things happen on a daily basis, filling the airwaves with stories of disasters; yesterday was the Didcot power station, knocking the European Union (the Boris, Michael and Dave show) story off top spot. Recently there was the report of the severe storm that hit parts of the island complex that makes up Fiji.
Every story has other stories embedded within them, if they are to be put into context and to seek understanding. In today’s world, it can be a case of blink, miss it and another breaking story takes the place of that emergency. Where is Didcot? Fortunately I have driven past this area and seen the Power station; today it was described as close to Oxford and to the east of the Cotswolds, which provided some context, coloured further by descriptions of the current decommissioning programme.
The EU story has another four months to go; after week one I am getting a little tired of the personality contest that is developing. If it wasn’t as important as it is, I might be tempted to switch off.
As for Fiji, I have a memory of Suva the capital, as a result of a return journey from Australia, but that was in 1970, so it would have change somewhat.
We have a combination of first and second/third hand experiences, with the majority being in the second-hand category; tales told to us by others, interpreting events through their own filters. A lot of what we hear or see on the radio or television is edited through the producer’s decisions to retain or dismiss aspects of a story. We get a flavour, but then have to use imagination to fill in the gaps and perhaps to empathise with people going through the disaster.
Few will have been in the vicinity of an explosion, the EU debate will have many, very complex elements, while, apart from those souls who venture out into the rain and wind of a gale, or were alive when the major storms of the past hit this country, many will not have an idea of the damage that a hurricane can cause.
There will be households where the news is not a significant part of the family habit, on the radio, the TV, PC or a newspaper. So it is possible for children to go through each day oblivious to what is going on in the wider world.
For that reason, I used news stories in assemblies, or in lessons, seeking to make the links between the children and the wider world, to open their eyes to issues, to human suffering or just to the fact that, all around them, other people’s lives were being disrupted; trying to make them children of the world.
When they came in themselves with stories, that they wanted to share, we knew that we had achieved a goal. They were showing an interest.
That’s why topicality should have a place in school time; it’s the story of now.
A great deal of time is spent getting children to, first of all, learn to read while at the same time there is the aspiration that they will enjoy the whole experience of reading.
Almost for as long as I can remember, there have been surveys and apocryphal stories of a drop off in enjoyment, especially for boys as they get older. I can remember seeking out series of books that would appeal to the boys, with “boy themes”; football was common. Surprise! Some liked them, others didn’t. We tried non-fiction texts; again, some liked them and some didn’t.
It was while I was exploring reading and language development as part of a part time advanced diploma that I came across the idea of readability, especially with regard to non-fiction books. Using the available technology, it was possible to type in a piece of text, 100 words, and then to get an indication of the readability levels of the text. That this was often well above the reading ages of the children was not uncommon. The words were too hard.
Further exploration suggested two reasons for this, the words themselves were occasionally challenging their decoding and also that their background experiences did not support their understanding of the word, even if they could decode them. There was a link, both with the basics of reading, but also with their “knowledge” base.
On the basis of this, it became clear that the children needed a two pronged attack.
Each child was checked for their understanding, use and application of phonics rules; using any available adults for vulnerable individuals (usually me at playtime/lunchtime), or as a group test for more confident readers. Interventions were then planned; as there was no TA that was down to me.
The second aspect was to ensure that all reading material being used was checked for readability and glossaries of specific words that might cause difficulty were displayed within theme displays, added to as new words were explored. In that way, knowledge kept pace with the need. An “alphabetised glossary” became a part of every topic, could be incorporated into home activities and general class discussion, so enriching the experiences of all the learners, even those whose participation was sometimes patchy. It offered talking points, peer to peer, and teacher child.
Finding that background understanding was often a problem for the children, we also began to look at theming fiction reading material, so that themed collections would become a focus for the class, to take home and share, returning to class with food for discussion. Author selection and book selection was also much more carefully monitored to guide less confident teachers.
Where teacher confidence grew, in their knowledge of the available material, so did the reading confidence of the children.
It became the knowledgeable leading those with the need to know.
You need know how, to be able to show how…
On my personal blog, I have sought to reflect on my career, ideas that have developed over that time and also consider the current landscape. I hope that anyone reading the blogs will find something to think about and may find some of the ideas useful within their own practice. The blog will continue to develop, until it becomes just a reference piece. Others are rightly developing to take it's place.
In true Dewey style, I have my own personal thoughts and principles that have driven my own development and determined my actions, as a teacher, finally a headteacher and now as a consultant, assessor for national awards and ITE (university and School Direct) tutor.
My personal approach to learning.Since my early training I have been convinced
that the greatest service any teacher can do for children
in the earliest stages of education
is to instil a love of learning, to enjoy enquiring and to generate questions
which they can then seek to answer,
by a variety of means, and share with others.
To learn to think, to talk and to question is the birthright of every child.This simplification of a much broader approach
has been my guiding principle
both as a classroom teacher and as a head teacher,
seeking to harness children’s interests to become dynamic learners
in and out of school, both in school and all other settings.
The development of learning
through making explicit appropriate cross-curricular links,
starting from relevant first-hand experiences,
gives children both thematic overviews and the ability to explore,
discover and place relevant individual items of information within a wider context.
This is often now described as a metacognitive approach, learning about learning,
but I would argue that it is, and always has been, good education practice.
Children need to have a grasp of where their current learning fits
into the wholeness of their knowledge,
to know where and how to store this for future use,
and to have skills of rapid recall,
so that the information or skill can be applied in other contexts.
Children should learn to become solution finders.
The concept of retaining tribal memory came up in a conversation with a teacher who has become a part time classroom assistant for a couple of years to run-down gently into full retirement. It linked with a documentary on TV about Anglo-Saxon Britons and the rites observed, including the sacrifice of the leaders if they failed in their duties. Familiar?
We discussed the ebb and flow of school development. Her school moved from a need to improve to outstanding and her current situation was in a school which moved from special measures to good. After long careers in schools, we reflected on how schools change over time, as new teams form and move forward, then slowly disintegrate as promotion or life takes over and changes the dynamics.
We agreed however, that there are no easy rides, however, it has probably been a truism that successful schools attract a significant field of applicants for posts, so choice is greater and potentially of higher calibre.
Continuity is maintained by those who stay; the “tribal elders”, the holders of the tribal narratives, the history and the myths, to share with newcomers. These myths can be positive in continuity, but cause problems, if poor approaches are retained.
If the leader leaves, like any tribe, the successor has to be selected and they will take time, especially if from outside the tribe, to understand the working methods of the group and the make-up of the group. This can be a difficult period. The need to make change, probably accepted by many, can be resisted by some, who see the articulation of the need for change as criticism of previous approaches.
Within any tribe, there can be factions, cliques and coteries, of supposedly like-minded colleagues. Long established, across all staff categories, they can be a source of strength or weakness. Some may see themselves as the real leaders in the group, especially at a time of change and seek to strengthen their positions. Minor politics can become a distraction from progress, especially if side issues develop, rather than substantive changes.
Change can be the catalyst for rapid improvements, if the leader’s vision and plan is clear, clearly articulated and effectively communicated with the members, with clarity of rationale based upon real internal understanding, involving tribal members in creating plans based on internal strengths and knowledge of individuals with specific skills and knowledge. Moving together and sharing success provides the feeling of tribal goodwill and self-worth.
The moral of this is that there should be a coherent narrative to be told and shared with new members of the tribe, so that they can quickly understand and establish their place within the tribal workings, ensuring the best available advice and support has impact, enabling the smooth and effective running of the group.
Teachers staying in a school create the potential for development. Too much change can be destabilising and disabling.
When I heard the term golden handcuffs, with regard to teachers, I wondered if I had fallen into a new plotline for “Fifty Shades…” However, it would appear that Sir Michael Wilshaw, the retiring head of Ofsted was advocating some kind of “bung” to say thank you to some groups of teachers for doing their job for a few years after qualifying. This same group may well have already received a bursary to cover their Initial Teacher Education (ITE) fees and living costs. They may take a little while to really prove their worth. In the meantime, their colleagues, who may have been in post for significantly longer and will be doing the same job, well, will not receive the pot of gold, as they have already shown their willingness to stay in service. It could just begin to feel a little unbalanced, in a relatively short time.
In 1972, during my ITE period, Lord James of Rusholme produced a lengthy report looking into teacher education and seeking to reinforce quality provision across the whole sector. It is worth looking at what was proposed then.
1. teacher training should be seen as falling into three consecutive 'cycles': the first, personal education, the second, pre-service training and induction, the third, in-service education and training;
2. teacher training should be administered and planned by Regional Councils for Colleges and Departments of Education (RCCDEs);
3. a National Council for Teacher Education and Training (NCTET), linked with the RCCDEs and representing all branches of the teaching profession, should be established;
4. in the third cycle, all teachers in schools and full-time staff in FE colleges should be entitled to paid release for in-service education and training for not less than one school term every seven years;5. there should be a national network of 'professional centres';
6. teachers in schools and colleges should have opportunities to take part in curriculum development projects;
This was over forty years ago. Needless to say that it didn’t become a total reality, although some elements became part of my early career, especially 5 and 6, although both have largely gone.
The bit that encouraged me to get out into the world to teach, rather than stay on longer, as I was invited to do, was point 4, the opportunity to return for a period of in-service training, after seven years in service. For a teacher of seven years’ experience that would cost somewhere around £10000, so can appear expensive. However, having the potential of a sabbatical period, with study creating an incentive for the next seven years, might just be the fillip needed to restore equilibrium.
We need to start rewarding teachers for long service, not for a short period as a stop gap. That way the system can grow utilising the stability engendered.
If someone has had a bursary to cover their training costs, I think they already owe something back; three years doesn’t seem too much to ask.
On my main blog, I have a number of posts on marking, looking to make it a realistic aspect of a teacher life, while ensuring that children can participate fully and utilise advice and feedback effectively.
In “Marking; keep it simple”, the main premise is that the child targets should be on a fold out sheet that can be seen within a lesson, to guide teacher-child conversation, but also be a guide for marking later. It can incorporate non-negotiables, as they appear in earlier scripts.
In “Marking”, there is a discussion of marking as a dialogue between the teacher and the learner. I also question the place of homework where that generates marking load.
Homework can create additional marking need, but, if the activity is considered within the learning dynamics of the topic, does not necessarily need to do so.
Consider as home activity:-
• Draft from notes taken in a lesson, to be brought back as first draft, for editing in class.
• Summarise what has been learned into three key pieces of information. Boxed, it becomes a form of revision note.
• “Drawing and colouring” to save class time for discussion.
• Personal research which adds to the lesson.
• Reading a piece of text before the lesson.
None of the above needs detailed marking, as they are part of continuous effort.
As children mature as learners, they can begin to direct the teacher to areas for marking. If, say, adjectives have been the subject of learning, then the child can be asked to highlight the adjectives used, so they are easy to see.
In “Is marking moderation step 1”, the teacher is acting as quality control, feeding back to the child where their work is ok and where there are areas for improvement. Teacher judgement is key to these stages.
Moderation stage 1; teacher child conversation.
Moderation stage 2; teacher-teacher conversation.
Moderation stage 3; school-area conversation.
Moderation stage 4; school-national outcomes conversation.
In “Back to Marking”, in addition to the above, I also suggest a number of key steps to consider.
• As an organisation, schools should set marking expectations that are clear, concise and achievable and have impact on learning.
• Plan mark loads over a known timescale, so that books are marked appropriately in timescales that enable feedback to be useful. If a whole week of devoted to “assessment activity” it is not surprising if workloads are heavy, especially as they usually back onto school holidays.
Learners should see themselves as active partners in work review. It should be done with and through, not always done to. Marking in a lesson is a very supportive strategy, especially for struggling learners, where immediacy of response is needed.
There are no easy solutions, as this area is often unique to the teacher and their interpretation of expectations. But it is worth significant consideration.
The header photo comes from the blog, "Exercise Books as Personal Organisers".