Category Archives: Politics

Another damned expectation

I think one of the most useful qualities a headteacher can have is the ability to leave concerns behind at work. It’s never perfect – as I’m sure my family would attest – but if as a class teacher you find it hard to stop thinking about work in the evenings and weekends, then headship will only add to that challenge.

This weekend’s publication of a plan for music education feels like it was deliberately sent to test that ability.

True, you could say: never look at the news at weekends and never check your emails, but it’s not realistic. And so, early on Saturday morning I was presented with yet another document from the DfE telling me I’m failing. For that is how it feels.

Schools are different, so whatever you do, there will always be some school doing something better. Indeed because of the sheer volume of schools, you can usually guarantee that literally anything you do in a school will be done better somewhere. But as a head, so long as you can look at your own school and feel confident that you’re doing everything you can to offer the best deal on your priorities, you can live with that knowledge.

It becomes much harder when the government handpicks a small selection of examples and then tells every school in the land that what was the exemplar is now the expectation. It becomes an impossible task.

A couple of the case study examples in the new music plan talk about £20,000 annual budgets for music education in their schools. I just don’t have that money available. When I looked, half of the schools mentioned receive over £1000 more per pupil than my school: if someone put an extra £300,000 into my school next year, rest assured I’d find £20,000 for music!

Some of the (mostly urban) schools appear to be full, or even over subscribed. If each of my classes of 26 or 27 suddenly became 30, I might have another £60,000 in my budget which could certainly help music provision. But short of attempting to poach children from neighbouring villages or encourage more baby-making locally, there aren’t many options on that front.

None of which is to criticise what those schools achieve. The sharing of their practice is to be welcomed. We can always learn from other schools’ approaches, and can always strive to match those offers. But it’s not a level playing field.

So for government documents to state things like

The case studies included with this plan illustrate how excellent music education is being delivered now across the country within existing school budgets

is at best, unhelpful, and in truth disingenuous. Yet the DfE has chosen to all but insist that schools now create plans to bring their music curriculum up to the standard on offer in those schools.

Or, in fact beyond it. Even in their exemplar schools, not every one of the DfE’s bullet point list is met. Now you might argue that it’s important to be aspirational, but at what point are we setting people up to fail?

Music isn’t the only priority in schools. In the current climate, the massively underfunded need for recovery from the pandemic often tops the list; the near collapse of mental health services places a huge cost on schools both in terms of time and funding; demands for 90% attainment in English and maths will absorb both time and money. And neither of these things are in plentiful supply.

There isn’t a primary head in the land who wouldn’t like to give every child the opportunity to become proficient at piano. But for many, their first priority is ensuring that every child is fed, in a safe home, attending school in the first place, and hopefully mastering the basics that will set them up for their next steps.

None of that will be improved by a music development plan. Yet now school leaders will be forced to take time and money for other priorities to focus on this.

It’s demands like this that make me wonder how long the job is sustainable. Not because I don’t want to improve music education, but because I’m tired of constantly failing.

I’ve failed to get every child to attend school regularly.

I’ve failed to get 90% of my school working at the expected standard in maths.

I’ve failed to provide enough curriculum time for whatever subject Ofsted has lately pronounced upon.

And now I’ve failed to ensure that my school has enough practice rooms for music.

Never mind the fact that it doesn’t have enough space to provide calming spaces for all those children who need them because a special school place can’t be found for them. Never mind the fact that we don’t have enough teaching spaces to deliver decent interventions for those who desperately need to catch up. Never mind the fact that half of school leaders’ time is taken up with plugging the gaps left by failing local authority children’s services.

Now I must write a plan for how I’m going to create new practice rooms. Oh, and remove some teaching time from another subject to make room for more music lessons. Quite which subject they think we’re teaching too much of, I don’t know!

For me, this is the stuff that makes the job intolerable. I don’t mind there being SATs or an inspectorate. I can live with having to balance a challenging budget so long as it’s enough to pay for the basics. I can even cope with being on call on Christmas Eve to fill the gaps in the government’s pandemic strategy. But I’m tired of constantly being told to do more.

It’s exhausting to be told time and again that because one school has managed some accomplishment in some tiny part of their overall role, that we must now all do the same and more “within existing school budgets”.

When my time comes to jack it all in and walk, it won’t be the behaviour, or the parents, or the SATs that push me over the edge: it’ll be another damned expectation.


On joining the Chartered College of Teaching

After overcoming a few stumbling blocks, I’ve finally joined the Chartered College of Teaching. I say finally not because of the few days’ delay (my bank apparently thought my signing up might have been a fraudulent use of my card. Do they know me at all!?), but because it strikes me that this is something that’s long overdue.

I’ve always been a member of a teaching union – aren’t we all? – but like so many teachers, that was in part for the protection offered. Unions are there to protect and improve pay and conditions; while they may dress their arguments up in pedagogical terms, the bottom line is the same. And that’s all well and good: that’s their job.

But that conflict also makes it very easy for the government to dismiss what teachers say through their unions – not least the more militant groups with their outlandish demands at conferences. The profession more than ever needs a clear conduit for its opinions and expertise.

But a professional body has to cut both ways. As well as conveying views from the profession to the wider world – from parents to the DfE and Ofsted – it must also offer something to members. I’m pleased to see that the College will provide members with access to educational research, but perhaps more importantly I look forward to a useful professional journal that will help do the job of disseminating that research in ways that can have an impact in classrooms. We’re a time-poor profession as it is, and few of us have time to wade through academic journals on a regular basis;  an intelligent chartered college can be the medium through which teachers receive the very best of information on good practice – and also the very clearest of evidence to dispel the nonsense of the likes of Brain Gym and Learning Styles.

The key thing at this stage is to get people participating. If the college appears not to be the finished article, I’m hoping it’s because it isn’t. I hope, too, that that means teacher members will shape it.

So let me offer a few requests for Dame Alison Peacock and her team as she leads the College in its formative stages:

  • We need you to be brave, Dame Alison, on our behalf. Sometimes that will mean speaking truth to power; asking the difficult questions; putting politicians straight – saying the things we’re all thinking!
  • Focus on the classroom teachers more than the leaders. One of the toughest parts of the job is the solitude of the classroom. The College can be a way for teachers to get a sense of what is happening in other classrooms.
  • Remember the people that so many other organisations forget: the Early Years experts, the SEN schools, the sixth-form colleges, supply teachers, middle schools!
  • Put research and evidence at the heart of work to guide us and others, and be honest when the research doesn’t tell us enough to know.
  • Reach out across the profession, whatever teachers’ experience, across sectors, through the age ranges, the breadth of the country and those who aren’t yet convinced about the College: we’re stronger together.
  • (If truth be told, I’m not taken by the logo, but… maybe it’ll grow on me?)

If you think I’m right – or you think I’m wrong – perhaps you should put your own views across. Join the College at the start.

The Chartered College is currently signing up founder members, who must be teachers in schools, Early Years or post-16 settings:


A consistent inconsistency

With thanks to my headteacher for inadvertently providing the blog title.

With Justine Greening’s announcement yesterday we discovered that the DfE has definitely understood that all is not rosy in the primary assessment garden. And yet, we find ourselves looking at two more years of the broken system before anything changes. My Twitter timeline today has been filled with people outraged at the fact that the “big announcement” turned out to be “no change”.

I understand the rage entirely. And I certainly don’t think I’ve been shy about criticising the department’s chaotic organisation of the test and errors made. But I’m also not ready to throw my toys out of the pram just yet. This might just be the first evidence that the department is really listening. Yes, perhaps too little too late. Yes, it would have been nice for it to have been accompanied by an acknowledgement that the problems were caused by the pace of change enforced by ministers. But maybe they’re learning that lesson?

For a start, there are many teachers nationally who are just glad of the consistency. As my headteacher said earlier today, it leaves us with a consistent inconsistency. But nevertheless, there will be many teachers who are relieved to see that the system is going to be familiar for the next couple of years.

It’s a desire I can understand, but just can’t go along with. There are too many problems with the current system – mostly those surrounding the Teacher Assessment frameworks and moderation. But I will hang fire, because there is the prospect of change on the horizon.

It’s tempting to see it as meaningless consultation, but until we see the detail I don’t want to rule anything out. I hope that the department is listening to advice, and is open to recommendations – including those which the NAHT Assessment Reform Group of which I am a member is drawing together over this term.

If the DfE listens to the profession, and in the spring consults on a meaningful reform that brings about sensible assessment and accountability processes, then we may eventually come to see yesterday’s announcement as the least bad of the available options.

Of course, if they mess it up again, I’ll be on their case.

A sinister turn at the DfE

I had an interesting discussion this week with a colleague who – very reasonably – questioned the merits of blogging and tweeting about issues at the DfE. Indeed, sometimes I have myself felt a pang of guilt about my posts, and frequently some sympathy for those who work in the department. Nevertheless, my argument in favour of such posts and tweets – not just my own – was one of holding government to account. That seems all the more important in the current circumstances with the opposition parties. And even more so tonight.

The majority of my followers are probably primary school teachers, so at first glance this is a story that wouldn’t necessarily affect or bother them, but if that’s you, I want you to read this, because it matters.

People often thank me for saying what they – or their colleagues, or sometimes (somewhat hyperbolically) the whole profession – are thinking. I hope that in some small way my words might represent some views held within schools that the DfE ought to hear, and that they might sometimes reach those who need to hear them. But I also know that my input is limited.

For government to be properly held to account we rely on the opposition benches, the parliamentary system, and a free press. Except the first is a disaster area at the moment, and that last one is under threat.

It seems that the same governing party which felt it so important to defend the merits of a free press after the hacking scandals, has decided that such freedom to scrutinise things shouldn’t apply to those questioning the DfE. They have created new rules that insist that when organisations use DfE data, their findings must be sent to the department 48 hours before being published.

It may be the thin end of a very sinister wedge; it may just be a desperate attempt to cover-up some of the disasters that seem to beset the department, but it isn’t a legitimate part of democratic governance. It isn’t acceptable that a department be allowed to prevent publication – for whatever period – of evidence and argument merely because it might seem inconvenient or unwelcome to them. It isn’t acceptable that a press that is free to investigate other organisations or publish details of individuals private lives should not also have the freedom to publish evaluations of government action.

Organisations like FFT and its research arm Education Datalab do invaluable work in informing the profession, providing context for national policy, and providing evidence to challenge and support government policy. Newspapers like the TES and Schools Week play a vital role in ensuring that the public is well-informed about hugely important issues that might otherwise be ignored. To try to hamper that work because it presents inconveniences for the politicians is unacceptable.

At best it seems like a childish tantrum got out of hand; at worst, it has echoes of the very worst of governments that try to manage the media to suit their purposes. And like with so many things, if this is allowed to happen, then what is next?

See Schools Week article:

Academics must show research to government two days before publishing, say new DfE rules

Teachers aren’t that special

We’re a funny lot, teachers.

It’s different to most jobs I guess. For a start, we get 13 weeks holiday a year. We also work in strange circumstances that are simultaneously both very public and quite private.

We also seem to have an on-going struggle with what it means to a profession, that doesn’t seem to affect other roles. Or rather, an on-going clamour to be considered a profession, without being clear about what that means.

The College of Teaching has served to highlight some of those troubles, but also one other: we seem to have reached a point in the profession where “leaders” can be lumped together as a “them” who are not in any way connected to “us” at the chalkface. (Disclaimer: I don’t know which group I end up in according to those determined to divide in this way)

I suspect that this is based, in part, on a truth: some school leaders are awful. Some who reach the position of headteacher (or Executive Head for that matter, I suspect), probably weren’t very good classroom teachers, and aren’t very good leaders. They can damage schools, teachers and pupils in the process. But to presume that such negative experiences mean that all those who have a leadership responsibility are in opposition to those who teach in classrooms is childish. Not least because it fails to account for the huge number of people – particularly in primary schools – who manage both leadership roles and considerable classroom teaching commitments.

This has come to a head from the small group of vocal opponents to the College of Teaching, particularly since the appointment of a very experienced headteacher to the role of Chief Executive. For some, led by Andrew Smith (@oldandrewuk), only a practising classroom teacher would have been acceptable to lead an organisation that they don’t even think should exist.

The problem with that argument is clear: what experience does the average classroom teacher have that would equip them to lead a significant organisation? There will, of course, be a handful of classroom teachers who have prior experience in other roles that might match the job description, but they are rare. And often such people would quickly take on leadership roles within schools, hence disqualifying them from this very narrow field.

What’s more, I’d argue that being the CEO of a large organisation doesn’t require the skills of a classroom teacher, any more than running British Airways would require you to be trained pilot. Running large organisations requires  a specific skill-set, and if the College is to be a success, then it needs the right people with those skills at its head. The fact that within teaching we have excellent school leaders who have the appropriate skills means we are able to appoint the combination of leadership and teaching experience.

Looking at other professional organisations, there is a mix  when it comes to the CEO role: the CEO of the Law Society is a trained solicitor with considerable leadership experience; the CEO of the Royal College of GPs has a background in social work and charities and isn’t medically trained at all; the CEO of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has a background in marketing. I haven’t yet found a single professional body that has an entry-level professional at its head.

The reality is, teachers aren’t some superhuman species imbued with some professional brilliance that makes them better than GPs or Chartered Surveyors. We are trained for a job. And all the while that some of those teachers also acquire the skills to lead large organisations, it is great that we can have a qualified and experienced teacher at the head of a professional body; but let’s be serious: it’s not the talent for imparting phonics knowledge that is required to manage a large charity.

Of course, the real issue here is not the appointment of  the CEO. Those who are wholeheartedly opposed to the College – or who object to the way it has been developed – would likely have opposed any appointment, just as those who object to the existence of the BBC would never welcome a new Director General.

For those of us who would like to see if this thing can work, it strikes me that you would struggle to find a better starting point as CEO than Dame Alison Peacock – an experienced teacher and headteacher, a strong figurehead who is widely supported by the profession, and someone who has publicly spoken in the past against proposals from government.

Some will always be happy to throw stones, just as there are those who continue to criticise the BBC. Personally I hope that both groups are proven to be in a minority.

My concerns about primary assessment – a letter to my MP

Dear Mr Bridgen,

I feel compelled to write to you to raise my concerns about the forthcoming publication of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 assessment data. I must apologise for the length of my email, but feel that it is necessary to convey the many significant concerns I have.

While I recognise – and indeed value – the need for schools to be held to account for the progress of pupils in their care, I really do feel that the results which will be published this year at both a local and national level will be unhelpful and indeed misleading on so many fronts that they present a genuine risk to the quality of education provision in the near future.

You may be aware of the delays that have beset the statutory assessment processes since the introduction of the new National Curriculum and the removal of levels. Primary and middle schools have worked valiantly over the past two years to introduce the new curriculum to their pupils, and to prepare them as best they can for the statutory assessments at the end of Year 6, but the challenges have been manifold.

Issues have particularly arisen in the area of statutory Teacher Assessment at Key Stage 1, and in Writing at Key Stage 2, which form part of the accountability processes. The system used this year – an interim solution following the removal of well-understood National Curriculum levels – has replaced a simple number system (i.e. with Level 3 being better than Level 2), with a system built on complex codes and accompanying descriptors. The descriptors were gradually made available to schools around Christmas, with the exemplification to support them not available until as late as Easter in some cases.

Teachers have been asked to apply these new standards with little training, guidance or support, and the messages and repeated clarifications coming from the Standards & Testing Agency have often been unclear. As a result, on the day that teachers are required to submit their final judgements, it is my view – based on my considerable connection with teachers nationally and through social networks – that there is still considerable misunderstanding about how these standards should be applied. Consequently, the data is likely to show an incomplete picture based on inaccurate data in many cases.

In theory, this problem should be mitigated through the use of the Local Authority moderation processes. However, it is clear from my discussions with teachers in many LA areas that this process has been inconsistent both within and between authorities, with a lack of clarity on expectations on key matters such as what constitutes independent work. If you are familiar with the many issues raised about the reliability of coursework assessments at GCSE, you will now find these replicated almost exactly in primary schools this summer.

Furthermore, up to 75% of schools will not have received a moderation visit at all. Thus these schools will have had virtually no support in interpreting the frameworks, nor in making accurate judgements. Notably, from my own discussions it has also been clear that many teachers are not fully aware of the full structure against which they should be assessing children. This is particularly an issue at Key Stage 2 where the framework is very complex.

For example, in Writing, a child can be awarded one of seven different judgements, only three of which form part of the moderation processes. Worryingly, many teachers seem unaware of the lower judgements, and therefore some will erroneously be graded at a far higher level than is accurate. By contrast, in Science, only two judgements are available to teachers, while in Mathematics there are either 2 or 4 possible judgements, depending on whether or not the child sat the statutory maths test, and none of which provide recognition for those pupils working at a higher level than the national expectations.

I have long been concerned that these complex systems of judgements will mean that parents – who are surely one of the key stakeholders in the assessment system – will find it all but impossible to understand how their child’s progress and attainment compares to those of others nationally or locally. Schools will do what they can to mitigate this, and support parents. However, my concern now is for the capacity of the system itself to provide meaningful judgements at all.

With different interpretations of the guidance, significant inconsistencies between authorities in moderation, and many misunderstandings of the frameworks by the professionals involved, it seems almost inevitable that the high stakes nature of assessment at Key Stages 1 and 2 will lead to mistakes being made, and poor decisions being taken. Indeed, the lack of clarity surrounding the Teacher Assessment framework has meant that ‘gaming’ of results is very easy to achieve, even when a school is moderated.

I am particularly concerned that in the current climate it seems not uncommon to hear of schools where the whole process has been either deliberately or accidentally misinterpreted to an extent which would have a significant impact on final published results. I hear from colleagues of advice from Local Authorities or Academy chains that a ‘best-fit’ approach should be taken for some subjects or that some requirements can be treated flexibly, when this clearly contradicts the statutory guidance; I am aware of approaches which teachers have been instructed to follow which, while over-stretching the spirit of the guidance, could easily be argued to be within the letter of the law of the guidance; I know from my own research that there are wildly different interpretations of the guidance on what constitutes a child’s own independent work, and have no doubts that such interpretations could easily be used to inflate a school’s results, while a more conservative interpretation might have a significant negative impact.

As you will recognise from my email, the concerns about this year’s published data are both plentiful and significant. Therefore, while I recognise the importance of making pupils’ individual information available to parents, I am asking that you urge the Secretary of State to publish only national-level data on attainment and progress this year, until such time as the accuracy and validity of any school-level data can be investigated. I feel that a full investigation into this year’s processes ought to be set up at the STA in order that the usefulness of the data can be evaluated, and changes made to future years accordingly.

I would also ask that you remind the Secretary of State of the Department for Education’s protocol which states that significant changes to policy will be communicated to school’s with a lead-in time of at least one year. I note this because this year’s flawed system has been provided as an “interim” solution, but no permanent solution has yet been shared with schools, despite the fact that Teacher Assessment judgements will again be due in less than a year’s time. I really would be most concerned if we were to see a repeat of the delays schools have faced this year.

Should you wish to discuss the matter in greater depth, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the detail of my concerns. I look forward to your timely response.

Please be aware that I have placed a copy of this email on my Teaching blog and would like to publish your response there also with your permission. I have also copied this email to the member for the constituency in which my school is based.

Yours sincerely,

Thoughts on the latest fiasco

oopsgpsIf I’m honest, I feel a bit sorry for the DfE today. But Nick Gibb did his best to temper any sympathy I felt. So here are a few thoughts on the latest in what seems to have been a long run of cock-ups – the accidental release of GPS test papers and mark schemes to markers a day early.

The DfE are off the hook (well, almost)

It seems that this particular mistake was entirely the fault of the private contractor, Pearson. The department has outsourced the marking arrangements, fairly reasonably, and the organisation has let them down. Notably, the Chief Executive of that company admitted their mistakes immediately. Perhaps something the minster could learn from here?

Tests weren’t compromised

In reality, fewer than 100 people actually accessed the tests, all of whom were under contractual obligation to keep confidential any knowledge they acquired in the course of their work. Nick Gibb was right to say that many markers already have such access and have to be trusted to keep it to themselves. I see no evidence that a test paper was actually shared, so no reason to cancel the tests particularly.

No evidence of a ‘rogue’ marker

I also see no evidence that any test paper was “passed to a journalist”. The fact that a journalist came to know of the error is not the same thing. As yet, we don’t know how that came about, and so Nick Gibb had no business making such claims. This smacks of desperation, and as Tony Parkin commented on the Schools Week article earlier today, it may be that had the marker not alerted the press, that we would never have known about it. Personally, I prefer that the department be held to account, particularly given its wholly incompetent handling of the whole assessment debacle elsewhere. If the marker who shared the information had really intended to undermine the tests, it could far more efficiently have been done by many other means that reporting to a reputable journalist.

Sources must be protected

Journalists have every right (and hopefully ever intention) to protect their sources. The 93 markers who downloaded the document should not be harassed our accused in any way. For a start, at least 92 of them have done nothing wrong, and should not be hampered by the errors caused by their employer. Indeed, they are owed an apology for being put in this very difficult position.

In the case of the 93rd, it should absolutely be the case that Pearson should investigate how it became possible for this incident to occur. I cannot see how any further action could be taken to identify who shared the information.

No harm done today

In the grand scheme of things, this ought to be a minor sideline at the end of a news bulletin. Mistakes happen every year with exams; it’s inevitable. It’s a massive operation running on very tight timescales. There was no real harm done to students or teachers today, only to reputations at Pearson and the DfE.

The only reason that it has become such a big story is because it comes on the back of error, after error, after error. And all in a rush which was widely predicted to be catastrophic by the profession.

I feel for the civil servants who have been forced to rush through the rapid changes in unmanageable time frames. But I have no sympathy at all for ministers who have time and time again claimed that they “make no apology” for their actions. It’s time they recognised that this year’s assessment process has been a disgrace, and that they  – to use a word of Nick Gibb’s choice today – are the culprits.



RSCs… you ought to know better!

This week, Schools Week also have an article sharing the news that Russell Hobby of the NAHT has made a similar point to RSCs, but probably far more professionally. You can read the article here:


Last month I wrote about how I feared that Local Authorities were preventing schools from moving confidently away from levels.

Today, I have Regional Schools Commissioners in my sights. I’ve been concerned about this for a while because increasingly I see people who are doing their best to cope in a world without levels suddenly faced with demands for data from external agencies.

And in the case of Regional Schools Commissioners: they ought to know better. Yet clearly they don’t, otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing queries like these:

“We’re asked to predict progress for current Y6 (by RSC). How would you suggest we go about it?”

One of the most significant changes in the world after levels is the way in which progress is to be calculated across primary schools. It has deliberately moved away from a threshold model, so that schools can focus on improving the attainment of all pupils, instead of focussing disproportionately on those who are close to a threshold. It’s a shift that I happen to think is an excellent idea.

But it’s also a shift that means that it’s very difficult to predict outcomes, and impossible to predict progress measures. Attainment is hard to predict because we don’t know where the thresholds will lay. You can estimate what you think children need to be able to do, and guess where the threshold might be set, and then try to estimate which children are on track… but that’s a lot of approximation.

For progress, there is simply nothing you can do. Your school’s progress score will depend not on how many cross that magic 100 threshold, but on exactly how many marks each child gets on each test. And then on how every other child in the country scores. Even after the tests are completed, it will take the DfE months to calculate the first sets of progress scores; what hope has anyone got of predicting a measure based on so many complex factors?

The problem, of course, is that these people are still stuck on “old thinking”. Of course you can attempt to replicate the old systems. You can look at the number of children working at Level 2 in KS1 who you hope will reach the expected standard. But that brings us back to the guesses about attainment. You can look at the number of children who were working at Level 3, who you hope will reach some greater measure… except no such threshold exists. And even if we did know the thresholds, they’re virtually insignificant. The difference between a child getting 99 or 100 is far less important than the difference between another child getting 91 or 97 – even if they don’t meet the “expected standard”.

The aim of the new system is to stop schools from focussing on borderline pupils. To do that, you have to remove as many borderlines as you can. For RSCs not to understand that is concerning, and for them to put additional pressures and demands on schools for imaginary data that won’t help school improvement at all is unacceptable. Indeed, far from helping, they may end up driving exactly the sort of flawed behaviour that went on before that we’re trying to get rid of!

Or as Jamie Pembroke put it far more succinctly than have I:


Just Plain Wrong.

When I posted this,

I was joking really. But in my absence, a video and bizarre supporting webpage emerged from the DfE that have further raised the profession’s collective hackles. So here are my thoughts. They can be best summarised as follows: mostly the DfE is right, but where they are wrong, they’re just plain wrong.

Five things you need to know

  1. Setting a higher bar
    The government has the right to set different standards and a curriculum, and to set new tests. Although they did not quite meet their own deadline of providing information a year in advance with the new-style tests, they weren’t far off. This part of the department doesn’t seem too chaotic to me, which is a marvel considering what ministers have thrown at it.
  2. Preparing for the new tests
    I’ve said before that I agree that the thresholds can’t be set until after the tests have been taken. And the fact that this is the case means that they can be reasonably set at around the old 4b standard, which the government has given its evidence to support. (It happens not to be evidence I agree with, but that’s another matter). I think that actually this will make the tests acceptable. That some people disagree with the content of the tests doesn’t mean they’re chaotic.
  3. Getting it right
    Ironically, this is where it starts going all wrong. They talk about the frameworks being published later than they’d like. In fact, they were published back in Autumn 2014, which was a reasonable time. Except that they were so awful that they had to be scrapped and started from scratch: the delay was caused by the DfE. Then the exemplification which is so vital to interpretation of such discredited approaches to assessment was so late that some of it still hasn’t arrived. If there is any disingenuity here, then it is undoubtedly on the part of the person writing this statement. If there were anything but chaos about this, then we would at least by now have some vague idea of what Teacher Assessment will look like in 2017, yet there is none. The fact that we are having these battles just 10 weeks before the tests is shocking.
    I’d note, too, that we were promised the exemplification by the end of January (which itself was far too late). For the DfE to claim some magnanimity in moving the KS1 submission date back by 2 weeks when the materials are already over 3 weeks late after their already late deadline is far worse than ingenuous. It once again shows their complete disregard for the profession, and is unacceptable.
  4. Teachers won’t have to fill out 6,120 check boxes
    The exemplification guidance is quite clear that teachers must “check and record whether there is sufficient evidence for each of the statements within the standard”. That could not be more plain. For the secretary of state to claim that this is scaremongering is ignorant. If the document is erroneous in stating that, then she ought to apologise for the confusion caused by her department, not blame others (as @theprimaryhead points out in his blog)
    As it is, I still fail to see how this can be got around if teachers are to ensure that moderators cannot find any gaps in evidence and thus potentially report teachers or schools for maladministration. Again, if this is not the intention, then the secretary of state ought to apologise for the confusion caused, not blame the unions.
    Currently, as a teacher of Year 6 pupils, I can see no other way of preparing myself for the high-stakes moderation process, than to collect an evidence trail of ticks to assure the moderator (and myself). And as a deputy headteacher, I can see no other way of preparing my school for the high-stakes league tables and floor standards, than to corrupt good teaching to try to tick those boxes.
    Lindsey Thomas’s excellent blog addresses this point in greater detail well.
  5. A new floor standard which sets high expectations for all
    Firstly, it annoys me that the department continues to claim that the new standards challenge schools with able intakes. The attainment element of the standard removes challenge for the schools with the easiest catchments.
    That aside, I’ve said before that it’s reasonable to set the expected progress measure after the results are in. The problems come from the ridiculous way in which Writing attainment will be measured. The secretary of state seems to missed the point made by the unions that the new expected standards in Writing for both Key Stages are far in excess of those proposed by the DfE. The secretary of state refers to children “mastering the basics”; I’ve yet to find anyone who thinks that use of semi-colons counts as a ‘basic’.
    The original argument was that pupils who achieve 4b have a far greater chance of achieving 5 good GCSE grades, and so the new threshold should be set at this level. The interim frameworks and exemplification documents clearly show that the DfE has far overshot the bar with its new materials. Setting such a high bar will lead to huge proportions of children being deemed to have failed to meet the standard, and of schools being described as failing. I genuinely believe that this is more a cock-up than a conspiracy, but it’s one that the department seems determined to deny. It is this approach which leads to claims of chaos in the department, and to the claim that the DfE don’t know what they’re doing.


The irony in the repeated use of the word “disingenuous” won’t have been lost on teachers.