Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

This seems ominous to me…

An element of back watching? Because Ofqual has no idea of the effect of their own machinations? A symptom of Ofqual’s chaos? A warning that ‘uncertainty’ will lead to another pressing down of GCSE results?

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Something must have happened.

The world shifted on its orbit, perhaps; the polarity of our planet reversed; the sky fallen…

Michael Gove has tinkered with the GCSE syllabus (no change there then!) but has done it with… wait for it… some degree of consultation and for year groups not currently half way through their course! I’m almost grateful for this! And feel guilty!

Is this what Stockholm Syndrome feels like?

So there are various sources of information linked below:
The TES
Ofqual
The BBC and
the DfE

So, my first question is: when do these reforms take place?

They are described for first teaching in 2015 (at least for English Literature and English Language and Maths) which would mean when our current Year 8s hit Year 10, they will be subject to these. Twenty months to go.

Grades will be replaced with numerical .. well… numerical grades I suppose. The current 8 pass grades of A*-G will be replaced with 9 pass grades of 1-9. I see nothing terribly objectionable in that… but also nothing terribly constructive. I don’t see the point. Why? It replaces one arbitrary ladder with another. Are we meant to believe that schools will not simply replace the C/D border trauma with an equally traumatic 5/6 border – or whichever grades become synonymous with that border.

Tiered exams will disappear. Ok. Again, no massive issues in principle if I have confidence that the exam boards have the ability to set questions which genuinely challenge the most able to differentiate between the 9s and 8s and give the 1s and 2s a fair chance. And if I have confidence that a marker will be able to give full credit to the full range of marks. And I should have that confidence – after all, we as teachers are doing it day-in day-out – but, after the last two years’ results, I’m sorry but I just don’t.

Coursework and Controlled Assessments are removed in favour of a 100% terminal exam.

Now, this I do object to!

English is not apt for exams in my humble opinion. The key processes of reading and writing – by their very nature – are slow and ruminative and reflective. I spend time teaching kids to craft each sentence, to carefully make lexical choices, to control their writing, to balance control with a certain responsiveness to the text which they are creating.

For heaven’s sake, I even review, amend and redraft text messages before I send them!

To force either creative or analytical responses in – let’s say – forty-five minutes will not result in either careful or thoughtful or effective writing. What it will result in is content-led teaching in Literature where “the book” is taught rather than the skills of reading. Feature spotting. Writing toolkits. Similes shoehorned in; metaphors wrenched out of shape; alliteration abounding out of control. Skills demonstrated with no real understanding of whether they work or not.

It has been an eye opener doing coursework for the iGCSE alongside CAs for OCR GCSE and C/D students in controlled assessments are producing C/B quality work as coursework. I know there’s the risk that parents give undue help. But – notice the carefully chosen co-ordinating conjunction to open the sentence because it ‘fits’ with my current and somewhat conversational tone even though “However” might be more technically correct – you see, I think like this! – But some kids will just work better at home with nagging parents and away from other kids.

What other changes will we see?

More “whole book” testing. How can that be consistent with exam situations?

More 19th century novels and Romantic poetry. Well, fair enough! There’s great stuff there. Blake remains my favourite poet! But there’s a treasure trove of modern literary gems: Purple Hibiscus, Things Fall Apart, Mister Pip, Tsotsi. Yes, I do have a penchant for post-colonial literature! And I fear from the information released thus far that the curriculum is increasingly like the government: white, male, middle class, bound to the safety of the ‘classics’ and worryingly Anglo-centric!

And why is it that every time the BBC report an education article they use the same picture of the same exam hall every time?

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This is an extraordinarily difficult day for me as a teacher in the South West and a member of the NUT.

It is our turn to take part in the rolling strike action.

Do I strike or do I not?

I am not, by nature, particularly militant or aggressive or easily riled. I’d rather read a book, to be honest

I have, however, seen and lamented and grieved over an economic climate in which teachers have been made compulsorily redundant. I have known teachers take early retirement because the profession has been twisted to become target and results driven. I have talked to teachers who have simply left the profession because the pressure from government is to hit targets rather than to educate. And training children to pass exams in not the same as educating them. At all.

A month ago, though, I may have taken the view that, whilst I fundamentally disagree with the way the Government and Gove operate and treat my profession, I might not have gone on strike.

I wasn’t comfortable that pay and pensions seemed to be being reported as the reason for the strike in the newspapers and media. I wouldn’t strike to get an additional few pounds a month! Especially not in an economic environment where getting a job at all is increasingly difficult and – according to today’s news – having a job is no guarantee of receiving a sufficient wage to live on!

Nor, being honest, did I think the strike likely to achieve its ends. Michael Gove is so entrenched in position that he is unlikely to be ousted. Ever. And the representatives of every union has – I believe – been in talks with him and pointed out the misunderstandings, errors and unfairness in all he has done and proposes to do. And he appears to have ignored every professional and expert opinion he has been given.

So, why then, am I at home today, currently feeding my baby?

Because, since September, the children I teach have had the rug ripped from under their feet. And the floorboards beneath the rug. And the on which the floor was built. Changes are made to core elements of their curriculum: Speaking and Listening just struck out of their English GCSE course; massive changes about early entry just announced without consultation or advice; timing of announcements and changes have been so suspicious that it seems to be deliberately undermining teachers’ ability to make considered decisions; continued changes to the wording of the early entry new rules snuck into the DfE’s website. The list goes on.

I have taken the decision – and it has been a really hard decision – to strike because our children are being deprived of great teachers; because the Government are changing the rules half way through a course and preventing children achieving; because the Government’s culture of targets, performance tables, accountability have created a situation where schools’ interests are divergent from children’s interests; because this government puts good results down to cheating and bad results down to poor teaching.

Whether I gain an extra ¬£20 a month or not is, frankly, immaterial; whether I lose a day’s pay today is immaterial.

I am striking because I care about my students’ education.

And that’s it.

The NASUWT website puts it succinctly.

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What a great photo!

It looks like a police Wanted poster. Wanted for crimes against…

I am still reeling from Sunday’s announcement.

I still find myself in a quandary. Do I want to believe that this announcement made to coincide solely with Party Conference season and Michael Gove is utterly ignorant of the imminent deadline for entries? Alternatively, do I want to believe that he deliberately chose to make the announcement at a time when schools had no time to respond thoughtfully? Neither bodes well for the relationship between the profession and Government.

Maybe the impending NASUWT/NUT Industrial Action (17th October for us) had missed a trick. Perhaps… just perhaps a strike to oust Gove would have more support?

Anyway, I digress.

Unlike the teachers that Gove fears are fiddling the system, we selected students for whom we felt the November entry would help them. For some, that support will come from achieving the C now. For others, the focus and motivation that comes from taking an external examination as well as the practical skills of time management and meeting deadlines and the emotional support in feeling part of a group are huge, regardless of whether the November grade is a C or a D. The opportunity to call back exam scripts and actually scrutinise their own work is an enormous benefit.

Michael Gove’s announcement cannot change those benefits to the student. He has simply created a situation where the school’s interests are at risk if the child obtains a D in November followed by a C in May.

If this course of action benefits those students and if, as teachers, we genuinely believe that, my view is that we have a moral imperative to continue to enter in November. The school may – inevitable will – suffer a public hit in terms of league tables but that is immaterial if the students benefit.

So, if a school pursues that moral stance to its own detriment in league tables, what will happen?

Publicly available league tables will reflect a downturn in results.

But a school website can record the true “best” result; local newspapers can run stories containing the true results; literature can be produced declaring the true results.

And the performance tables will be revealed for what they are: shallow, inaccurate and irrelevant. The law of unintended consequences is a strange and untamed beast. Could the outcome of this announcement actually be the end to league tables in their current form? We can but hope!

Conversely, what will happen if schools take the ‘safe’ option? Last minute withdrawals from examinations, uncertainty, confusion, angry parents. All the hallmarks of a failed qualification system which, I fear, would play into Gove’s hands and we would return to the proposed scrapping of GCSEs we were facing twelve months ago.

Therefore, Mr Gove, my protest against your change will not be to spout vitriol, nor to make rash decisions in the remaining 24 hours before entry deadline, nor to pull in my antennae and batten down the performance-table-hatches. My protest is this.

I will continue to do what is right for my students.

I will campaign for the management and government of my school to take the public hit in performance tables in order to serve our children best.

I will hope that other schools possess the leadership to do the same.

And I will look forward to the day when there is a different Secretary of State for Education.

There are certain responsibilities which fall to you when you become a teacher.

Other people’s children’s welfare becomes your responsibility.

Agonising over the placement of the apostrophes and whether to write become or becomes in that previous sentence! As the welfare is singular, so should the verb be? But is welfare a noun that can be quantified at all in terms of number?

We also acquire a congenital dread of Ofsted, suspicion of Sir Michael Wilshaw and repugnance at the thought and image and voice of Michael Gove. Admittedly, the latter is symptomatic of being a fully evolved member of the human race rather than necessarily just being a teacher.

So when Ofsted came into our rural coastal school, I was already arming myself with vitriolic, bilious and defensive adjectives with which to blog this weekend. I was prepared to be grilled, interrogated and probed – although not in an alien abduction way, there are limits to what I’m prepared to do for an Outstanding!

I was poised to leap to the defence of my Department and to fight our corner against politically motivated judgmental bigots.

And instead I’m reaching towards vocabulary like personable, fair and constructive. What has happened to the world? Is the sky about to tumble about our ears?

Yes, clearly, there was a huge amount of nerves and stress and rather limited family life for the 48 hours of the inspection. But the actual process was…

Okay.

It seems anathema to say it but, I quite enjoyed the process. Enjoyed. That may not be the right word. Relished, perhaps. Rose to? Maybe.

I did ask for (well, I asked robustly. the word demanded has been bandied about somewhat unfairly. A gentleman never demands, he asks robustly) an hour’s one-to-one interview with the English Inspector.

I was asked if 15 minutes would do; I said no.

Robustly.

As a new Head of English, with massive plans for next year, I wanted to be judged against them rather than the outgoing Head of Department’s decisions.

Results, Data, Progress and Pupil Premium were obviously large parts of the Ofsted brief. What were our headline figures? What was our response to last year’s GCSE fiasco? Were we being pro-active or resigned to being at the vagaries of GCSE (politically motivated?) grade boundary variation. I, in fact, had a range of reasons behind our headline figures last year and an even wider range of responses to them in place in the short, middle and long terms.

The Inspectors were responsive to both structural changes (things like iGCSE, English and Language/Literature entries, early entry and exam board choices) and teaching and learning changes (see previous posts for my plans for a skills-led Programme of Study as well as changes to our feedback and assessment).

There was a big focus on Pupil Premium: those students who attract extra funding because they have been eligible for free school meals within six years. They are therefore deemed socio-economically vulnerable.

What I actually liked was that they obviously had the data and wanted me to know and understand it. Colour coded spreadsheets and transitional matrices are, at the end of a day, just another text and as open to interpretation as Of Mice and Men or Composed Upon Westminster Bridge! I like to think I’m competent to understand them. I guess, they wanted to be talked through the data to see that we weren’t simply collating a variety of spreadsheets in a folder entitled Ofsted but we were using them to drive forward strategic planning.

But what the inspectors really wanted was to see that I knew the stories behind the names and data. They wanted to see that there was a reason why Pupil A wasn’t achieving progress and intervention had been put in place to facilitate their making progress; that there were a host of reasons which genuinely did limit Pupil B despite all the interventions; that Pupil C had progressed to a point where she was able to access her next steps even if that didn’t equate to 3 levels of progress.

I liked that. I teach children, not data. I was very much relieved to see that the Inspectors shared that focus.

It is possible that this post is merely the result of a freakish combination of the only decent and humane inspectors available to Ofsted. And I suspect that other conversations may have been more prickly but I can only respond to the conversations I had.

Which were genuinely positive and constructive!

This will be a teeny tiny post but I found this absolutely gorgeous photograph of Rita Hayworth:

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As a comparison to Curley’s wife, it bears a range of uses:

  • an analysis of her body language exquisitely echoes Curley’s wife’s body language in Chapter 2;
  • the sensuality of her half-closed eyes, half open lips is a parallel to Curley’s wife’s sensuality;
  • an analysis of small details such as the cigarette can encourage students to identify how the image of class and high society – with hints (more than hints) of phallic symbolism – has become in the twenty-first century perhaps almost taboo – a range of interpretations based on different cultures’ perceptions;
  • her dress and heavy make-up bear similarities to Curley’s wife’s red lips, heavily made up face and peacock-feathers all of which suggests a reaching towards sophistication which is artificial and a mask and does not reflect the truly lonely and damaged creature lurking inside Curley’s wife;
  • as a H0llywood actress, Hayworth – or actresses like her – would have been the role-model that might have inspired the pre-marital Curley’s wife to dream of being in the “pitchers”;
  • the image captures the glamour (in its more faery connotations) and appearance of sophistication propagated by Hollywood which would have appealed because of the extreme poverty and harshness of life on the ranch;
  • the girls in my top set went even further comparing the patriarchy of Hollywood and the patriarchy of the farm, suggesting that the sensuality and sexuality of both the image and of Curley’s wife are imposed rather than natural;
  • the direction of her gaze through the camera to the viewer was taken to suggest a desperation for attention that echoes Curley’s wife’s need for attention;
  • her body position, whilst undoubtedly sensual and sexual, is also artificial and unnatural, suggesting that she and Curley’s wife may both be uncomfortable with the role ascribed to them.

One unexpected side effect: exploring the possibility of the cigarette being a phallic symbol has so appalled everyone in the class that they have declared they will never be able to smoke.

No bad thing!

Okay.

This is scaring me, now.

I don’t mean scaring in the sense that children enjoy ‘being scared’ by stories and films. I don’t mean scaring in that delicious hide-behind-the-sofa Doctor-Who style.

I mean fully and totally clenchingly scared!

I want to – no, in my head, I have – turned my entire Programme of Study on its head. This puts the decision to swap from OCR to AQA examination boards on a level with, perhaps choosing between Cadbury’s chocolate and Galaxy. Being now permanently appointed, having a clutch of retirees and new appointments, I am rebuilding our curriculum from the foundations upwards.

And I mean from the foundations!

The curriculum I inherited – and, for my transition ‘Acting’ year haven’t really been happy with but equally, for reasons of laziness primarily, haven’t tackled – is I think a pretty traditional one.

We read books and write in response to them.

We analyse language for purposes and write techniques.

We report a single grade to parents.

We have been – and, in fairness to my school so has every other school I have ever worked in – almost wholly Literature focused, content driven and linear in structure.

So what am I changing to? Language focus. Skills driven. Cyclical and elliptical structure.

Head. Turned. Upon.

At the heart of this will be something called Covey tables, available courtesy of the PiXL club and named after Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Covey tables – at least in my understanding of them – are at their heart a marking tool.

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It is possible to list key skills that my students will be assessed on and I have ranked those skills along the top of the spreadsheet. They are drawn from the OCR markscheme for Controlled Assessments. In this case, they focus on AO4(iii) the sentence structures, punctuation, grammar and paragraphing. I planned on experimenting with this first because (as noted in the previous post) the changes to the KS2 curriculum and KS4 curriculum are massively raising the status of these skills. To be reporting to parents, students and SLT that a certain student may be “Level 4b” actually tells them nothing about whether they can create sentences, use paragraphs, vary vocabulary….

As can be seen from the example, teachers need to simply grade from 0-2 for each skill to represent their being no evidence of it, occasional evidence and consistent evidence. Through basic formulae and vlookups, these scores can then be converted into a GCSE grade or KS3 level.

Should I be using KS3 APP Assessment Foci for Years 7-9?

I don’t see why.I am being tested at KS4, students are being examined at KS4. What possible advantage is there in tweaking the descriptors and language of assessment between Key Stages? I am prepared to report in the 4c, 4b, 4a, 5c ladder of the KS3 curriculum (or 4.2, 4.5, 4.8, 5.2 for the sake of the mathematics required by the spreadsheet) but why tinker with the language of assessment?

How do I see these Covey charts being used?

In a word (or three) daily, openly and engagingly.

A two week introductory Scheme of Learning will start by assessing prior skill and 1s entered as a result. It is the first piece of work and therefore by definition, there can be no evidence of consistency. Doing this in the first lessons back in September will mean that the quantity of marking is going to be limited (I am really pushing for regular feedback of shorter focused tasks: having achieved a level 5 in your first half page, do I really need to read another 5 pages of the same quality of writing?!) Once initial testing is done, two weeks of teaching will lead to a second round of tests. PiXL language might describe this as diagnosing, treating and testing? After the second test, the Covey table will be updated: 0s will become 1s; 1s will become 2s. A level can then be reported on. As our reporting cycle requires a report produced in October, this will fit perfectly!

And what do we have as a teacher? A partially completed Covey chart from which we can analyse who in each class can consistently demonstrate certain skills (and, therefore, train others) and who needs practise before their skill can be relied upon. It can be projected onto the board. The next time a student forgets a capital letter or a full stop or loses a chance to deploy a colon in anger, their score can be reduced in front of them! Along with a challenge to correct their writing by the end of the lesson. Students using correct apostrophes for the first time can see their 1 being inputted.

Use for discussion with SLT? Invaluable!
A role in identifying Intervention candidates? Incalculable!
Its place in selecting focussed 30 minute skills’ revision rather than wide ranging generic revision classes? Immense!
Parents’ Evening tool? Potent!

Further Covey tables could be (will be) created for the specific AOs: I think that creating a table of this nature for every level of every skill in every AO on one sheet would be far too cumbersome. And finally, an overview sheet could use formulae and vloookups to simply pull the final grades together for each AO and then average them into an overall grade. Weightings can then be applied as well if necessary.

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The onus is on teaching staff to keep each of these Coveys up-to-date: without up-to-date data, this will fall apart as I envisage the Covey chart being used as both a summative tracking database and as a formative interactive teaching tool. And, it will be an onus for at least some of my staff: another chore that would probably fall to the bottom of their to-do lists.

So what can I do to ease other burdens as I impose this one? Well, let’s think:

  • marking: the Covey sheet is marking! Mailmerge should allow us to create stickers or labels easily in which a grade is given to the child along with a list of skills which justify that level and other skill required for the next one and this could be generated weekly – although fortnightly fits with the rhythm of our curriculum more naturally;
  • planning: if I were to write Schemes of Learning focused exclusively on specific sets of skills – why should a Learning Objective make reference to anything other than these skills which are what they’re being assessed on? – then I both keep control introducing this very new framework and take one other burden from my team.

In fact, all I am asking my Department to do is to deliver (with verve and enthusiasm) my lessons and Schemes of Learning and to differentiate them according to the demands of their own classes.

So, what will this create? An integrated Programme of Study over five years with an integrated and unflinching focus on progress, skills and achievement? A single thread of skills informing Assessment for Learning, Planning, Schemes of Learning and Reporting? A rigorous, accountable and open system of assessment – firming up what may be one of our weaker skill set at Key Stage 3? A consistent marking policy?

Cripes!

And is it a massive burden on me to write Schemes of Learning across all year groups? Well, if it’s the right thing to do, for the sake of the children, that shouldn’t be a bar! And the benefits in terms of reducing marking will apply to me as much as to anyone else. And all I would be doing is sharing and directing others to use the Schemes of Learning which I would be creating for my own teaching any way!

Yes, still scared!

But the more I consider this, the more right it seems!

I have to be trying to teach children to read, write, communicate and (despite its removal from the new KS4 qualification) speak and read. To teach them to answer the set question on a set text is simply not good enough!