Tag Archives: #blogsync

Primary Roll Call – ‘Leaders & Thinkers’

Last year I wrote a post entitled Primary Tweeters to follow in 2014. They are still good recommendations, but a year is a long time on Twitter – and blogs. Alongside a parallel post by Jo P, I have decided to offer a brief update of some highly recommended twitter users and bloggers for primary teachers to follow. Mrs P’s post (Primary Roll Call – Classroom Ideas) focusses more on the teachers who offer practical and inspirational ideas for the classroom; mine is more about those who work at leadership and strategic levels. Of course, many could easily feature on both lists, so do check out both!

In no particular order, my 10 recommendations are:

Dame Alison Peacock
Alison is headteacher of the Wroxham School – widely known for it’s learning-without-limits approach that saw levels disappear some time ago. She tweets, blogs and speaks with much sense as a headteacher and system leader.

Dr Richard Farrow
Never one to shy away from debate, Rich has a clear vision for what education should be about, and speaks without fear favour on a range of issues across education. He is a Y5 teacher in Stockport and tweets and blogs regularly.

The Primary Head and Old Primary Head
These two are the Batman and Robin, the Dangermouse and Penfold… the Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee of Tweeter, and of the Westcountry one presumes. Both engage on big issues, but also neither are afraid to shy away from the smaller ones. Both are headteachers, and both blog (The Primary Head / Old Primary Head) and tweet (@theprimaryhead / @primaryhead1) frequently with good humour.

Chris Andrew
Chris is a deputy head in London, and notably has begun his Ofsted training this year. He has a well-rounded view of education and is hopefully tackling the behemoth from the inside! He tweets and blogs/re-blogs.

Mr Chadwick
I’m a big fan of Mr Chadwick’s. He talks sense about primary education. In a world where much is too woolly, and where debate too often descends into petty argument, this man presents sensible thought, with reason and calmness. He tweets at @mr_chadwick

Tim Clarke
Another headteacher – this time from Hampshire – who engages regularly online. He has been a great support to me and others in matters relating to the new curriculum, and must be a great head to work for in many ways. He both tweets and blogs.

Tim Head
Maybe Tim’s have a tendency to be decent fellows? This one is a Computing leader in the Midlands – but don’t let any of those things put you off! I’m firmly in the anti-tablet and pro-drywipe board camp, but still this man offers much of interest and debate. He tweets with a shameless profile image.

Bill Lord
Bill is another Head – and another decent one it seems. He is frequently seen engaging with policy and strategy matters, and yet remains keenly interested in the nitty-gritty of teaching literacy and the like. He tweets and blogs.

Rebecca Stacey
Another headteacher – fairly new to it, having moved just slightly from London to Cumbria! She is another who blogs regularly, again on things that matter in the day-to-day classroom both technological and otherwise. She tweets and blogs online.

BONUS PICK – Since Jo got to pick a bonus, I’m going to add someone who doesn’t quite fit into the main category, but is well worth following: Sean Harford is due to taken over from Mike Cladingbowl as National Director for Schools at Ofsted, and so will doubtless be of great interest to many primary folk. He tweets at @HarfordSean

Finally, don’t forget to check out Jo’s post – she also tweets (and pins!) regularly. For other leaders and thinkers, you can take a look at my Twitter list. And of course, follow me!

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What place for testing in schools?

I was in the cohort of students who had no national testing at all in primary school, the first cohort to be introduced to the National Curriculum from KS3, and the cohort whose KS3 National Curriculum tests were boycotted. Consequently, I am probably also in the last generation of English school students to have found their GCSE exams to be the first external test of their lives. I can see, therefore, why it is perfectly reasonable for teachers to claim that we survived perfectly well before national testing.

I can see, too, the many arguments against high stakes testing for accountability, and even high stakes testing for assessment. I am not, though, in favour of the argument that says tests are automatically a bad thing, or that they automatically narrow the curriculum.

As a middle- and primary-school teacher, I have been guilty in the past (indeed, still am guilty) of using tests from a national bank of materials purely for the purpose of tracking progress towards some end-goal. It is still commonplace across the country for primary students to sit “optional” tests in Years 3, 4 and 5 (and often still Y7, 8 and 9) to make these tracking judgements. It is these tests that give tests a bad name – particularly when the same test is used each year and some teachers turn this to their advantage.

As with so many things, the problems of these tests are not the tests themselves but their uses. The need to gather data for tracking, and then desire to use that data for appraisal, and now even pay decisions, means that the focus of the tests is solely on the numerical outcomes, and far removed from the purposes of assessment. But we ought not let this flaw become an argument against testing, full stop.

Testing in its purest form ought to be means of ascertaining whether or not some given knowledge of skill has been learned. True, it’s not perfect, but then nor is a system which requires one professional to track the progress of 30+ students at at time. Problems arise when we use standardised tests across schools which are in no way adapted to the taught curriculum.

When carrying out mid-year assessments using optional QCA tests, it is inevitable that some of the content in the test will not have bee taught. What purpose then, these questions? True, it’s easier to photocopy an old exam to get an “accurate” result for tracking, but it tells us nothing about what has been learned. If testing is to be purposeful and meaningful then the content of those tests must be closely aligned to the content of the taught curriculum. That means teachers taking ownership of tests and assessment processes.

We hear plenty about places like Finland with very few standardised tests, but in these cases it is wrong to presume that there is little or no testing. Rather the testing is in the control of the teacher, linked to the curriculum and is genuinely meaningful in its feedback to both teacher and students. That doesn’t automatically mean a burden of time and organisation for teachers. Organisations like testbase provide questions organised by topic, and publishers produce tests that are perfectly usable in such circumstances. For example, the Rising Stars new curriculum assessment materials would fit the mastery approach to Maths and provide a simple snapshot of attainment for teachers and students directly linked to the content covered.

Testing absolutely has its place in schools, including with children in the primary school, but it must be an assessment of what has been taught and learned, not merely a tool to track progress on a numerical scale.


This blog is part of the June 2014 #blogsync project. Other blogs on the theme are available here

#blogsync: Dear Mr Hunt

This post is part of the January #blogsync project. Other blogs on the theme are available here.

Dear Mr Hunt,

I imagine that reading these posts will be far from revelatory to you. I imagine – indeed hope – that many places you go have teachers offering you advice about how you could make a better fist of being Education Secretary than the current incumbent. Consequently, I suspect that what I have to say will not shock or amaze you. But I also reckon it’s worth saying again and again, because it matters.

Almost every intervention that currently happens at secondary school is too late. The same is true of a large number of interventions in junior and primary schools.

Frankly, the fact that we automatically pay hundreds of pounds more every year for the average secondary school student than the average primary school child is nonsense. If we were serious about closing the gap, or social mobility or any of those other much-announced labels, then the investment we’d be making in Early Years education would dwarf that of secondary schools.

And I say this as someone who has never taught young children. I’m not asking for more money for me: I am only too aware that by the time children reach junior school, much of their future pattern of attainment has already been set. The children who are most likely to fail to meet the 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, the students most likely to become NEET, the students who won’t move on to further and higher education can in most cases be identified by knowledgeable infant and Early Years teachers.

What is more, in many cases, they also know a great deal about what could be done to support them, to allow them to catch up, and to avoid them ending up in the dreadful situation that faces too many of our young people. If we really want to make a transformative change, then don’t invest in free schools, or academies, or private schemes, or universal free school meals: invest in Early Years and infant education.

Provide every infant and primary school with the funding to employ highly-qualified and experienced Early Years teachers over-and-above the standard ratio, to provide small group, individual and intensive support and intervention for those children who really need it. Invest in systems that aim to have every child – every single child – working at expected levels by the time they are 7. Not by simply demanding higher average results, but by making clear expectations of support for those children who most need it, and providing the financial and structural support for it, whether that’s before school, or in the early years of schooling.

If we get that right, then everything else will become easier; keep getting it wrong and we’ll keep paying for it year after year. We may all have laughed about the title of the DCSF (“Cushions and Soft Furnishings”), but the reality is that education is about a lot more than which exams we think are important at the age of 16. It’s about children and about families too.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that the stability of anything depends on its solid foundations; it might take a brave Education Secretary to act on that obvious knowledge.

P.S. I’m not averse to a pay rise myself, naturally. I’d welcome more funding for junior- and secondary-aged children too. But if you’re stuck for priorities, let them be supporting our youngest children and their families so that we don’t end up trying to turn things round too late.

Effective marking: a primary slant

This blogpost is part of the October #blogsync initiative. You can read other blogs from the set at blogsync.edutronic.net

I love the #blogsync project, and always look forward to reading blogs on the theme. However, too often I find myself nodding along, agreeing, and then wondering how much of the wisdom really applies to my own students. Already this month there is a balance of blogs which reflects the more secondary-based balance of bloggers. It’s inevitable, and I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage any blogging, but there is sometimes an issue when the focus is largely on students at the upper end of that phase. As such, my blog will be less about specific examples of making marking work, but more on the generalities of how it applies to primary level teachers and their students.

There has been a great deal of advice and ideas about how to make marking more effective, and the use of focussed feedback and DIRT time is certainly recommendable. However, as students get younger, so the challenges of these approaches become greater. I teach Year 5 at the moment, so am in something of the middle ground, but you can imagine how difficult it might be to expect a Year 2 child to read and respond to written feedback in a meaningful way.

Does that mean that marking is less important in KS1/LKS2? I would argue not, but that its focus is necessarily different.

The nature of development of both students and teaching means that we rightly expect more independence of older students. When I taught KS3 I found marking feedback could often be reasonably complex and still be understood and acted upon by students. For example, when marking Year 7 history essays, I could comment on the need for a clearer explanation of a point, and expect the student to be able to consider that for themselves and edit appropriately. The challenge is very different when the main area for feedback is the need to use paragraphs appropriately, or to use the column method of subtraction.

Often with younger students the focus of marking is necessarily more on the work of the teacher. Interestingly, this seems to be a key area of assessment that is too easily overlooked. It also seems worthwhile to note, therefore, a tweet posted by Dylan Wiliam this week, when asked for an example of a mistake he had made which led to learning:

For primary teachers, particularly those with younger students, a lot of the process of marking needs to be about responsive teaching.

Take an example from my own recent assessments. I have used some processes not unlike those suggested in other blogs, such as formative use of a summative test (as suggested by @headguruteacher, Tom Sherrington), and the use of symbols and DIRT time (as championed by @Shaun_Allison). In some cases that has allowed students to act for themselves to improve their work or their understanding. However, the most important outcome of those processes has been my own awareness and understanding of what has been understood.

If I take a shortlist of key things I’ve taught so far this year, I can very quickly use my marking (and elements of my feedback) to identify my own areas of success and development. Column addition and perimeter have been well understood; multiplying/dividing by powers of 10, less so. Most of the students are confident with text-level structures of the non-fiction genres we’ve studied, but structuring paragraphs is going to be a target. The majority can recall the French subject pronouns in ‘order’, but fewer can correctly select the correct one on demand.

These aspects of feedback are not part of my written comments on students’ work – they are far too broad for that. They are elements which form my own feedback; the aspects which must guide my teaching over the coming weeks. They are areas which will benefit from re-visiting as a class. Alongside those are some more specific areas for individuals and small groups. Some of these can be tackled in brief discussions, others will need more focussed intervention, but all of these decisions should be outcomes of the marking process.

Sometimes I appreciate the superficially easier process of marking the work of younger students, but it’s clear that the younger the students, the truer Wiliam’s words are that formative feedback is as much about responsive teaching as it is student responses.

It’s perhaps worth noting at the end of this blog that the real challenge for me now is the management of these necessary interventions in a way which supports those who need it, while continuing to allow those who have secured the necessary learning to continue to make progress. Answers on a postcard?

The Purpose of Education

Written as part of September’s #blogsync project.

The Purpose of Education

Part of me wonders where even to begin. And part of me feels guilty that I don’t already have this clearly defined in my mind. After all, if education is the mainstay of my life’s work, then surely I should know why I’m doing it.  But, of course, reality is that there are many competing “purposes” which impinge of my work, not all of which are part of my philosophy and not all of which I properly address.

That said, after some brief thought, I ended up with a not-entirely-unpredictable conclusion. To me, the purpose of education is Broadening Horizons.

I think it’s worth contrasting this with some things that might otherwise come up and with which I can’t agree. For example, although a socialist of sorts, I don’t see the purpose of education as being to remove inequality. Obviously I would hope that it might go some way to doing that, but that is not its purpose. After all, if it were simply that, then it would be far simpler simply to hold back the opportunities of the ‘haves’ in order that the ‘have-nots’ might catch up.

It also isn’t simply about employability. Again, hopefully the by-product of a good education is the employability of its recipients. But again, if we were looking only to fill job posts then there must be easier ways.

I think the reason I reached Broadening Horizons as my conclusion is because of its over-arching nature. Each of the students in our care will take something different from the education offered to them. For some it will be limited, for others it may be a springboard, but most importantly for all of them it ought to offer something that they might not otherwise have encountered.

The offer seems more obvious for those children from backgrounds where even basic literacy and numeracy present a challenge. In these cases it is absolutely necessary that the horizons of such children are broadened to encompass some of the essential building blocks of social life and communication. True, they are the basic skills of employability, but also of engagement in wider society, of culture, of pleasure and so much more.

But even at the other end of the extreme, education should offer those who seem to have much, an opportunity to have some knowledge or experience of that which is ordinarily outside their existence. In an affluent area, with well-supported students, the basic skills are of course just as important. But so too are the opportunities to recognise that not everyone lives in the same way. To recognise too that things have not always been so.

The latest incarnation of the National Curriculum, which Mr Gove and his allies consider to contains the greatest of all that has been said and done (or various other combinations of verbs) offers something of this. The recognition that there are many aspects of history, society and culture which are valued widely and so should be shared widely with our children is not an unreasonable one. That’s not to say that I believe that the choices made are always correct, but the underlying premise is sound: that all of our students deserve something more than just a diet that resembles that which they already know.

Other blogsync entries can be found at

Debates go on quite regularly about the place of ‘relevance’ and ‘engagement’ in classrooms. I’d argue that all learning can be relevant if we value it for what it is. And true, sometimes it’s useful to have familiar content or contexts as a starting point, but the true purpose of education ought to be about more than that. It should be taking that which is familiar to our students and showing them how their experience fits into that of the wider world; introducing them to knowledge, ideas and experience which they might not otherwise have met.

The 0.4 hinge-point of Hattie’s work is now familiar to many: we talk of a difference between that which works (pretty much everything) and that which makes more of a difference than any random intervention. We need to look at schooling the same way. Our purpose should be to have a far greater impact on a student’s life, to introduce them to more, to broaden their horizons in a way that might never have been achieved had it not been for those important years of education.

Other #blogsync 7 entries can be found at: http://blogsync.edutronic.net

Progress in my classroom? How it is made and how I know it

I don’t know it.

There. Let that be my first confession of this blog, as part of the #blogsync for April.

Of course, I’m being flippant. I’m not quite that ignorant and inattentive. But the reality is, I don’t know half as much as I or anyone else pretends. Because as with so many matters educational: reality’s not quite like that.

It’s very easy to say that progress is “knowing more when they go out than when they came in”. Except, that’s as easy to achieve as to say. It doesn’t mean much.

Currently as part of my class’s Geography work we’ve been enjoying naming the counties of England. At random times I ask them to name, for example, some counties beginning with ‘N’ and we reel off a few. If we had a revision session then as they left they would know more of them than when they came in.

So is that progress? What about if they’ve forgotten them next week? Or next lesson? Or next door?! There is a quotation – oft attributed to Einstein – that does something like:

Education is what is left after all that has been learnt is forgotten.

And in this case, there is every chance that many of them will have forgotten the names of those counties pretty soon. And for those who don’t… what good will it be? So, either they’ve achieved nothing, or we would need a way of measuring “what is left”, and I’m just not sure it exists.

Inevitably, it seems, we must now value that which is measurable, and so the ever recurrent theme of levels and sub-levels appears. And how it looks scientific. Johnny was a 4b last term, and he’s a 4a this term, ergo he has made one alphabetic place of progress. Whatever that means.

Except the adage remains: reality is not quite like that. Because what we think we see when we measure, is but a tiny fraction of the truth. And the more frequently and precisely we attempt to measure, the more we fool ourselves that we’re getting closer to the truth. We do it all the time with progress charts.

Image

Every time we discuss progress as a point score, or a plot on a graph, we choose to overlook the erratic richter-like variation of progress in reality.

So… maybe one of my students will end up knowing those counties by heart, and will happen to win University Challenge because of it. And maybe another will just have a glimmer of understanding about where Rutland is on an occasion where it really matters (!), but as to what I know of it today?

I’m a fool if I think I can take anything but a well-educated guess!

Maybe my knowledge of progress is just what’s left after all that has been measured is forgotten?

What might make teachers stay?

Part of the #blogsync series for March 2013

The theme of this month’s #blogsync project is the matter of why so many teachers leave the profession in the first five years.

As with so many things, it sometimes helps to look at matters from a different point of view. It is hard to understand the myriad of factors that affect human behaviour, and so hard to understand the many factors that might lead to an individual teacher deciding to opt out of the profession. But what if we looked at the factors that might help to motivate teachers to continue to stay in the profession and develop increased skill and expertise in the field?

Let me first recommend a video by the RSA: an animation of a fascinating talk by Dan Pink all about MIT research into motivation for employees. It isn’t teacher-specific, but it certainly has a lot to think about that might be relvant:

In it, Dan Pink describes three factors which were found to be key in providing motivation – and perhaps more importantly, satisfaction – for employees:

  • autonomy, mastery and 
  • purpose.

Which of those are attainable within the first 5 years for the average newly-qualified teacher? How many of those departing teachers, who might otherwise have been successful and positive contributors to our education system, feel that they lack one – or perhaps all three – of these opportunities?

Autonomy

I’ve been teaching for 7 years now, and lead my own team. I am fortunate enough to work in a school where the leadership team recognises the strengths of its staff and encourages them to take a lead on a broad range of areas. I work in a classroom where – within reason – what happens is entirely up to me. Of course, I am required to demonstrate that what I do has a positive impact, through observation, assessment and the like, but within those parameters, I hold a considerable amount of autonomy over my daily work.

That autonomy has allowed me to make changes to the way I work, to the curriculum, to teaching styles… a whole host of things. Not always with fantastic outcomes, but always in a safe environment where it is possible for me to say “that was a disaster” and not feel concerned for my post!

How many new teachers have that opportunity? Or rather, perhaps we need to ask how many of those new teacher who have left never had that opportunity? Of course there are risks involved in autonomy, but there are also risks involved in removing it entirely. The overwhelming view of teachers at all levels today appears to be that the gradual decline of autonomy within schools is a matter of regret. Curricula, exam syllabuses, strategies, inspection frameworks: all of these limit our schools’ autonomy in some way, but perhaps if we can at least maintain that which remains for all our teachers – including those who are still making  mistakes – then perhaps we can reduce some of the exodus?

Of course, the freedom of autonomy comes with responsibility, and a responsibility that is much better managed with increased experience. Which leads us nicely onto the next theme.

Mastery

I haven’t masted my profession. In fact, I would say that I frequently fail at it. If Gladwell was correct about the 10,000 hours then I should be at least half-way there and I’m not convinced.

The reality is that mastery is probably too much to hope for. But I do know that I’ve got better. I know not because of Ofsted or observations or data – although all of those have been part of that journey – but because I know and understand a lot more about my craft than I did when I began. And I will know more in another year’s time.

So if we can never achieve mastery – or at least, certainly not within those vital first five years – then what hope have we?

I’m going to venture into risky territory here and wonder if we might not learn something from Catholic guilt. Maybe if we all permanently carried around the guilt of original sin and our own misdemeanours we might become better at managing our failings?

Because in real life, there is always something more that could be done. The marking of books could always have been more thorough. Each lesson could have had one additional differentiation tweak. Each plan could be just that bit more detailed. Each child could have just a little more time. But each of those little failings soon adds up. It is all too easy to become overwhelmed with a list of failings, rather than recognising what has been achieved.

I won’t ever be the perfect teacher, and I will never truly master my profession. And now safe in the knowledge of that burden, I can really focus on being the best teacher I can be – while hopefully still having a life. How do we make sure that new teachers entering the profession are supported to recognise their limitations, without making them feel like failings? Because after all, if anything draws people to teaching, it is most likely to be the third of those great values.

Purpose

At some point every one of will have sat in an interview explaining to some university professor why we wanted to enter the profession. And while we may not all have been entirely honest in our responses, it is fairly likely that the vast majority felt that it would provide some sort of higher purpose: it’s not just any old job.

Often we contrast purpose with financial incentive. “Teachers aren’t in it for the money” we claim – and rightly so in my opinion. Yet often in this world of ours we find ourselves talking only of another currency. We professionals who came into the career that would allow us to foster relationships, to educate, to engage with young people, find ourselves talking in the same hard numerical terms as any city banker.

That’s not what I see as my purpose. That’s not to say that I don’t want to use data. On the contrary, I think it can do a great deal to help me to achieve my purpose. But perhaps like the difference between a charity worker welcoming a big donation, and a banker welcoming a big bonus, I want the currency to be a means to an end. And I know that it is.

But what of those teachers who find their role dictated by the currency. The schools for whom the currency becomes the be-all and end-all. What offer of purpose does this provide to new teachers? Particularly those new teachers for whom, in the early years, a lack of mastery means that the demand for the currency leads to an erosion of autonomy in pursuit of the goal. What then?

As Dan Pink says at the end of his presentation: ” if we get past this kind of ideology of “carrots and sticks” and look at the science I think we can actually build organizations and work lives that make us better off but I also think they have the promise to make our world just a little bit better.”

Maybe if we can re-introduce some autonomy and purpose, and the freedom to work towards mastery, without demanding it from the off, then maybe we can start to stem the tide?

Other relevant blogs:

@headguruteacher Tom Sherrington on Plantation Thinking to Rainforest Thinking (Autonomy)

The rest of the #blogsync blog

A universal panacea? Not quite!

I love the idea of the #blogsync project, and have enjoyed reading blogs – especially concurring with Chris Curtis’s blog and Simon Warburton’s post on building some form of professional body that really represents teachers and education.

But with that key topic covered, my mind wandered away from the unachievable panacea to the second part of the #blogsync statement: The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime. And for that, my viewpoint is very much based on my experience as a middle school teacher.

Doubtless many readers (if I reach numbers that can be called ‘many’) will be thinking “I thought they closed all the middle schools. Well, rest assured: they’re still trying! And I’ve long given up on the possibility that we might eventually recognise the wisdom of middle schools for what they were and turn back the clock on thousands of closures. But actually, there’s something more important about one of the problems they were once intended to solve. The matter of the “bridge” between primary and secondary education.

FrostReportClassSketchI never cease to be astounded at the ways in which our two sectors have diverged. (I’ll confess now to being a secondary-age-range teacher in a primary middle school). How many secondary teachers can honestly say that they know what goes on in their subject in the average primary schools classroom? Maybe they once spent a few days during training visiting and observing a Year 6 class, or perhaps have attended a few liaison meetings over the last few years, but is there any real understanding? Or more importantly, is there ever any real sharing of knowledge, experience and understanding of the ways in which we work?

And fear not: I know that this cuts both ways. Being in a primary middle, I spend a great deal of time reminding KS1 and KS2 colleagues that much of our work is not about achieving SATs goals, or mastering a creative curriculum, but about preparing students for what they will do in their 4 or 6 years at secondary school. But as with the reverse, the average primary school teacher hasn’t spent a day in a secondary school since they were 16.

Of course, there are examples of great practice all over: teacher exchanges, curriculum forums, shadowing arrangements, shared Inset… all sorts. But that’s it. It’s small-scale local projects which work with success or otherwise, but never amount to much more. Where is the national programme, led by teachers and teaching organisations that really gives credence to the oft-spoken words that we should be learning from one another?

I’m not proposing an organisation, or society (although if a Teaching Council ever emerges, I hope that it will see as part of its role to make use of the expertise we have in each sector). Rather, I would like to see a cultural shift. One in which colleagues in pyramids but also more widely begin to recognise and maybe even give life to the maxim that we’re all in this together, for the good of our students.

And who knows? We may even like what we find…!

 

This post is a response to the #blogsync topic for January suggested by Edutronic. You can find other blogs on the issue of “The Universal Panacea? The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime” here: http://share.edutronic.net/