Teaching Ideas To Bin: Work Scrutinies

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Are book-looks dangerous and unreliable?

We must challenge this dialogue: that the notion that we can determine a child’s progress from an exercise book using a cursory glance or a comparison with another. I wish summative assessment were that easy!

School leaders must start to determine the agenda in our schools. I’m not saying that the responsibility lies only with school leaders – we still have rogue inspectors visiting our schools making binary decisions, fuelled by their bias or the things that they should not do. This aside, it is my conclusion, having conducted tens and tens of work sample scrutinies over the past decade, that book-looks are dangerous and unreliable.

I have heard more and more examples of Multi Academy Trusts who are replacing grading lessons with graded work scrutinies instead. In the worst cases, this is happening to teachers once a half-term. Of course, looking at a book gives us a picture, but so does ‘looking at’ a lesson without grading it. However, I fear we may still be stuck on the ‘looking for’ methodology when we make an assessment of students and teachers from the work that is in the book (or not).

Jury: Let’s shift the debate to ‘looking at’ without judgement whilst we wait for the evidence …

Read the rest of the Teaching Ideas that TeacherToolkit thinks we should Bin in 2018!

8 thoughts on “Teaching Ideas To Bin: Work Scrutinies

  1. Work scrutiny, as with lesson observations should be conducted on the WWW, EBI basis. Leadership and subject managers who neither review lessons nor work have abrogated their responsibilities to ensure that they have quality assurance measures in place.
    Grading them is a nonsense, but producing a short commentary to indicate WWW, EBI and invite discussion is essential.
    Time and again, if teachers’ work is not reviewed, individuals will permit standards to slip. And if leadership do not review work collectively, how will they assure parents and stakeholders that all is well?

    1. I agree. Lesson drop ins , book looks, pupil and teacher feedback are valuable as a snap shot at that point in time. Improvements take time and so any evidence gathering should have long term goals clearly mapped out . Working with many many senior and middle leaders over the years , conducting book looks collaboratively is one of the few chances MLs get to come out of their classrooms to talk about the nitty gritty and focus very closely on one or two school/ dept. Improvement foci based on evidence at that one point in time. It should inform a dialogue between leaders and teachers and should be cyclical ( termly). We are after all in it together aren’t we?

  2. I don’t think that the original short commentary was advocating an abrogation of quality assurance activities. It was the concept of grading a teacher’s effectiveness on the basis of the partial and incomplete information gained from flipping through exercise books, or indeed the viewing of a lesson in isolation that was being rejected. Quality assurance derives from an accumulation of evidence, both formal and informal, which then forms the basis of a dialogue between trusting professionals. The use of a formulaic WWW/EBI approach does not necessarily enhance that professional conversation.

      1. Could one argue, however, that looking through books does give some clue as to what is happening in a particular class? For example, what does the work look like? Is it challenging, does it follow the curriculum etc.? Also, is the quality of the feedback appropriate or does a teacher need guidance or support? Years ago, my books were looked at by a deputy head and the feedback I received fundamentally shifted the way I approached marking and feedback. In 2002, he was asking me how my students knew how to improve their work. To me, as a young teacher, this got me thinking. The process was very supportive and helped me to focus on the students learning. I wasn’t graded and this was never ‘used against me’ and I found it valuable. I do agree that looking at books in isolation can be troubling but to me, get the culture and the reasons right and it can be part of a good method of helping to move teachers forward?

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