I hope you’ve had a relaxing summer and are feeling refreshed for the new parliamentary session. It seems a long time since we last heard from you, so I’m hoping we can catch up soon.
You’ll recall that just before you broke up for the summer recess, there was a little bit of, shall we say ‘slippage’, on the publication of the Assessment Commission report. I have to confess, it would have been nice if you’d been able to let us know about that. It was a bit of a shock for it to emerge in the manner that it did – we thought that you were keen to develop effective relationships with us. It was a bit of a surprise to find that you reneged on that promised support right at the last minute, and only thought to let us know by hiding a message on a webpage.
Of course, I know that you weren’t away sunning yourself all summer, so presumably any of the decisions that you needed to take in response to the report have now been made. After all, 8 weeks is quite a long time, as they sort-of say in politics. So, is there any chance we could have it now? It’s just, I know that it seems like a small thing to you, but it matters rather a lot to us.
You see, governments of all shades have spent the past few years using the levers of curriculum and assessment to drive the changes they want to see in schools. And we’ve grown used to that; many of us don’t even mind it. That’s how democracy should work, I suppose. It’s just become increasingly hard to keep up lately. We used to talk about moving goalposts; it’s beginning to feel like we’ve come prepared for a football match only to find bails and wickets in the middle of the field.
We were promised this report by the end of the summer term, which frankly was rather late after 2 years of little guidance, but to then take that away at the last moment seems particularly unfair.
And the matter is only worsened by the lack of information about performance descriptors. I had to stand in a staff meeting today and apologise to the teachers in my school for an incomplete review of our internal assessment and tracking processes, because – to my frustration – I still have no idea what will be expected of us by May in terms of assessment of Writing. That’s not on really, is it?
It feels almost churlish to remind you so soon after publication, but your department did say just a few months ago that “There should be a lead in time of at least a year for any accountability, curriculum or qualifications initiative coming from the department which requires schools to make significant changes which will have an impact on staff workload”. Now, perhaps we disagree on what constitutes a significant change, but don’t be under any illusions: the process of Teacher Assessment of Writing is no walk in the park. It’s a task that the most experienced of teachers find time-consuming and challenging; that burden will only massively increase with the introduction of new criteria. So there is no doubt in my mind that the impact on staff workload is huge – and to be having to fit that into heavy school improvement schedules mid-year presents real challenges.
Anyway, I’m sure I’ve made my concerns clear. I know that teachers all over the country would really like to get on with focusing on teaching and learning, and would dearly like to meet the new high standards that you intend to set. But until you actually set them, that’s pretty tricky. And it’s doing nothing for that positive relationship that I’d really hoped might be built after the workload challenge doo-dah. It would be nice to think someone there was taking it seriously, really it would.
P.S. I know you might need to, you know, get it photocopied or something, but… perhaps you could just tell us when we’ll actually get it. And maybe stick to it this time?