What teaching ideas would you like to say goodbye to in 2019?
This is a collection of ideas I would like to see banished forever in schools across England. It builds upon past blogs I’ve written – some are new, others are awful concepts yet to be banished! You may disagree and some suggestions will not be a solution for everyone – write your views in the comments section.
On the matter of the ‘purple pen of progress’ or a ‘teacher must mark once, every two weeks’, where is the research to suggest this improves learning? We must challenge this dialogue. I would like to see every school move away from a marking policy towards feedback, which is meaningful, motivational and manageable for the teacher.
A top tip for all teachers here is to echo the wise words of Professor Becky Allen: “The best reason for teachers to become experts in assessment is to defend themselves against line managers making largely unwarranted inferences about their practice.” I’d argue the same for appraisal and work scrutinies.
Jury: What if we banished the word marking and replaced it with feedback? We could free up our teachers to get on with their job; spending more of their time planning and supporting pupils.
2. Graded Observations
This is old news, but believe it or not, it still requires a mention. According to my latest research, 35 percent of schools in England are still grading lessons and teachers. It’s unreliable and in today’s climate, a poor leadership decision. If a lesson is judged ‘Outstanding’ by one mentor/observer, research suggests that the probability that a second person would provide a different judgement is between 51% and 78%. (Measures of Effective Teaching Project). In other words, as Professor Robert Coe writes from CEM, “if your lesson is judged ‘Outstanding’, do whatever you can to avoid getting a second opinion.
If your school hasn’t yet abolished the grade, you could end up being a decade behind others by the time you pull the plug! Personally, I believe the Department for Education should ban schools from grading lessons. It may reduce our retention crisis!
Jury: Coaching transforms teachers; it empowers them and is the perfect whole-school ingredient for those who have already moved away from grading lessons.
Having spent 10 years leading and researching whole-school appraisal for over 600 colleagues, I can conclude that performance appraisal does not lead to teacher improvement, it leads to better evidence gathering and a good degree of accountability. What is fascinating, is that the process varies so wildly from school to school, it has largely been driven by Ofsted requiring anonymised targets presented on the day of inspection. (N.b. when asking the watchmen (September 2018) for an anonymised sample of their own processes, Ofsted refused – how ironic!)
Research suggests (ASA, 2014) that teachers have a 1 to 14% impact on educational outcomes which can be attributed to schools e.g. teacher effect. However, there are still many other factors, such as class sizes, resources and school budgets that can influence a teacher’s impact. The remaining 86 to 99% out-of-school factors are outside the control of teachers and schools (Coleman et al, 1966). Perhaps we should be setting common-teacher-research goals instead?
Without sufficient funding, headteachers cannot free up their teachers to become research-rich and engage with deep and meaningful classroom reflection. Instead, we use performance management and the notion that performance appraisal is a useful approach to motivate and keep teachers in the classroom. It is purely mathematical intimidation.
Jury: I would be happy to work in a school who shifts appraisal toward a research-enquiry process.
4. Work Scrutinies
We still have people visiting our schools making subjective decisions, fuelled by bias or the things that Ofsted inspectors should not do, bad science or lack of subject knowledge. This notion that we can determine a child’s progress from an exercise book is dangerous, unreliable and a poor proxy for learning. I wish summative assessment were that easy! It is my conclusion, having conducted hundreds and hundreds of work sample scrutinies over the past decade, that book-looks are useful (if you are a subject specialist), but offer little indication of learning or quality of teaching taking place.
Recently, I have discovered more and more examples of large 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. I fear some schools may be stuck on the ‘looking for’ methodology when observers make an assessment of students, rather than ‘looking at’ a snapshot of teaching and learning, which ensures observers can avoid unreliable assessments.
Jury: School leaders must start to determine the agenda in our schools – they must change the narrative with external visitors. Whilst we wait for the evidence, let’s stop this nonsense!
5. Evidence Gathering
I’ve still got my teaching files from 1993, even though there was no formal induction period for new teachers and Ofsted was in its infancy. We appear to be a profession that quantifies a professional by the amount of paperwork a teacher can accumulate. In today’s world of technology, I think this demand is increasing rather than decreasing with online portfolios which enable verification from an even wider group of ‘rubber stampers’.
Ask any newly qualified teacher what drives NQTs crazy and new teachers will reply with ‘evidencing the Teachers’ Standards’ to achieve qualified teacher status. Ask any teacher, what drives them crazy and they will most likely reply with ‘evidencing feedback/marking for observers’ or ‘evidence files for appraisal’ and performance-related pay applications. Ask any school leader the same question, the reply will be safeguarding paperwork or school inspection processes.
It seems to me that we are a profession blighted with some very poor systems for proofing our worth to others – even years after qualification!
Jury: How do we ask for external organisations who ‘rubber stamp’ the work that we do for evidence and impact, to work more smartly instead of under the illusion of micro-accountability and value for money?
6. OfSTED reform
Ofsted recognise schools work in different contexts, but they still refuse to differentiate them – the irony is unbelievable! They also claim that their role is not to be popular or useful (I’m sure this a bullying trait?) who now wish to focus on curriculum and cognitive science! Why is a regulatory body suggesting to schools what a good curriculum is? More importantly, how do they really think they will be able to measure these complex factors reliably in one-day inspections? It’s bonkers!
Despite impending reform, we are still waiting for the high-stakes inspection model to be abolished. A peer review model has been cited for almost a decade, already successfully operating in the Isle of Man, yet we are another generation away from removing the greatest barrier for school improvement – grading schools! Worse, what happens if your school requires a second inspection because an inspector has messed up? Ofsted won’t tell you which inspector is to blame because it could have a negative impact on the inspection process! (They clearly don’t care about how this model works for schools.)
With all this reform, what I’d like to know is, will Ofsted continue to police its own complaints process? A school can complain about an Ofsted outcome. This results in Ofsted appointing an ‘independent review panel’ made up of independent advisors and some members of Ofsted leadership. Following this review, if Ofsted upholds its decision, a state school cannot do anything about it, nor take it further with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. An act of parliament dating back to 1967 states that:
“We cannot look at complaints about schools, further education institutions or universities. We can look at the government departments responsible for education, but this is often limited to how they handle complaints.”
Not many people know, that only 19 percent of parents read a full Ofsted report, so why continue to waste taxpayer money? A tick-box process will never anything about how well pupils are learning and worse, cue school leaders evidencing ‘intent, implementation and impact’ in all their documentation as the new curriculum buzzwords take hold. I’ll report back in 2020!
Jury: Show me the research to suggest Ofsted improves learning? C’mon! Where is it?