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Year Zero

June 22, 2019

I trained to teach in 2001-2002 and this blog began in October 2006. The mid-noughties were a time when progressives were consolidating their control of the education system. Although they were losing ground on preventing phonics teaching, and the policy of Inclusion had become an embarrassment, they had successfully seen off the original version of the National Strategies that had been inspired by Direct Instruction and were setting the agenda on the purpose of the education system. We were entering the period where education would be merged with social services, and the academic side of schooling would be given the lowest priority it ever had. GCSEs would soon become dominated by controlled assessment and retakes, and school inspection was becoming a racket where consultants made money out of selling schools advice on the “correct” teaching methods, while also working as inspectors who would ensure that schools were enforcing those methods. This enforcement was largely done through grading teachers on a 1-4 scale largely on the basis of their teaching methods.

If you look in the archives of my blog, you can see me discuss many of the developments and initiatives of the time, and also, as an anonymous blogger describe what was going on in the places I worked. The years from 2012 onwards saw much of this change. The Gove reforms, changes in OFSTED under Sir Michael Wilshaw’s leadership, and the growing voice of teachers on social media, have meant that many of my experiences from before those changes are bizarre tales that newer teachers might struggle to believe. Although some schools are still stuck in the past, and much teacher training is still run by people who left the classroom during that time without ever seeing those ideas be abandoned in schools, we have moved on. The collapse of the progressive hegemony is now a historical fact.

Except, of course, this is inconvenient for progressives. In the last few years we have seen progressives deny that any of this stuff happened in much the same way that they deny that there was more than a century of debate between progressive and traditionalist ideas in education, or that people in schools ever disagree over philosophy. I have covered this denialism in two posts already.

Nobody’s actually against knowledge are they?” dealt with the argument that there was never any opposition to the teaching of knowledge in schools. I recommended two main sources for those who ever doubted that there was an antipathy to knowledge in our schools. The first was Daisy Christodoulou’s book Seven Myths About Education. It provides many sources for the attitudes and arguments of the time in order to argue against them. The second source was this letter from 100 educationalists opposing the attempts to make GCSE more knowledge based, in which they make it clear that the explicit teaching of knowledge should not be encouraged.

…the proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity…

Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity…

…Schools in high-achieving Finland, Massachusetts and Alberta emphasise cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity, not rote learning…

More recently, I was told by several outraged progressives that the policy of Inclusion (closing special schools and stopping exclusions), that dominated the early years of my teaching career; that was abandoned after its effects on school discipline became politically toxic had either never existed, or was still the policy. Curiously, I had written a masters dissertation on SEN policy which included this period, and so it wasn’t difficult to research a post about the debates and controversies at the time. “Inclusion: Gone but not forgotten”.includes a timeline with links to both policy documents and news stories that illustrate what the policy was, when it was enforced and when it was abandoned.

However, it turns out that progressives are now denying more than their opposition to knowledge and the existence of the policy of Inclusion. The following quotation from Katharine Birbalsingh, shared by Loic Menzies, caused controversy on Twitter recently:

I find that Katharine can exaggerate for rhetorical effect (and that’s not a criticism, it is obvious and only a problem for the pedantic). There’s also plenty of things she has described over the years that, while teachers I know in London can confirm they experienced them, nevertheless don’t match my experience in the West Midlands. However, this is not in that category. This is a really good description of what I, and most teachers I know, experienced back then. I remember being absolutely hammered by OFSTED when I was the only teacher in my school not to cooperate with my school’s stance on putting tables in groups. While not every school banned rows, most that I worked in made it clear that if you were being observed then you wouldn’t get a good grade if the room was in rows. I remember endless INSETs on making lessons fun, repeat viewings of “Shift Happens” (see below) and the blanket condemnation of teacher talk.

Yet, amazingly, an army of consultants, and other ex-teachers, appeared on Twitter to deny this ever happened.

Now, some of the objections were based on deliberately misreading it as a statement that described everyone’s experience. Katharine did not say that this happened to every teacher in every school, only that it was terrible when it did. Interpreting statements as an absurd absolute is such a common tactic of insufferable partisans on the internet that it even has its own Dilbert cartoon. This is why the principle of charity is so important. But as well as those who misinterpreted the tweet, plenty seemed to want to deny that Katharine described any kind of widespread experience. Progressives seem to want it to be Year Zero. We don’t need to trouble ourselves with facts: we have always been at war with Eurasia.

Obviously, it doesn’t take much to disprove claims that this stuff never happened. Let’s face it, there are plenty of people like myself who were around ten years ago and witnessed it first hand. As mentioned earlier, Daisy’s book and the letter from educationalists, shows the attitudes to knowledge, and the former also gives many examples of the promotion of games over explicit instruction. But here’s a few extra sources for you anyway. Most of these are from after 2010, but they make it clear what was being challenged during the Gove/Wilshaw years, so if somebody wants to argue over when the tide turned then fair enough, but they should still make it clear what has now changed.

If all this is before your time, please have a look at these sources. If we do not learn from the past as a profession, we are doomed to repeat it.

 

 

 

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More popular than “Ban The Booths”

June 8, 2019

For the last six months, educational progressives have shifted their attention to preventing schools from keeping kids safe. Their two key demands have been to prevent students being excluded from school, and to prevent internal exclusion (i.e. where students are kept in school but out of their regular lessons).

The latter of these campaigns has used the phrase “Ban the Booths” referring to those schools whose internal exclusion facilities have barriers between desks. Led by the behaviour consultant Paul Dix, whose advice is very controversial among teachers and has led to some dire results they have achieved remarkable levels of, often uncritical, publicity for this campaign.

It’s been backed at union conferences:

It has been supported by MPs:

 

It was publicised by the BBC

It has been in the Independent, The Guardian and the TES.

And now, finally, their attempt to collect 10 000 signatures to force a debate on the issue in parliament has come to an end. And how popular was this high profile, widely publicised, progressive cause?

Strangely enough, the number of people that think kids should be either kept in class (regardless of their dangerous behaviour) or sent home (regardless of their safeguarding situation) is actually tiny. Common sense has overcome the gullibility of journalists and MPs who either assume that “behaviour consultants” are experts or have an ideological belief that schools cannot be trusted with the power to keep their kids safe.

Here are some parliamentary petitions that received more signatures:

 

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Inclusion: Gone but not forgotten

March 11, 2019

When I trained as a teacher (I did a PGCE from 2001 to 2002 and my NQT year from 2002 to 2003) the government had a policy of “inclusion”. As was universally understood at the time, this meant reducing the number of children in special schools and forcing students with special needs into mainstream schools. Other elements of this policy included a marked reluctance to exclude out of control children, and a large increase in the number of teaching assistants. I recall this time as very difficult for teachers, and the policy of inclusion as being unpopular within the profession. By the 2005 general election, this policy had become massively controversial, and afterwards the government backtracked and the policy of inclusion gradually ended. As ever, politicians were not terrible forthcoming about the change of policy, although it seemed obvious to teachers, and at times ministers seemed to be declaring they had no knowledge of the policy ever existing. By 2010, and with a change of government, there was an explicit commitment to end inclusion.

In recent years, progressives have used SEN as a trojan horse for dumbed down education and tolerance of poor behaviour in schools. The argument is that academic and behaviour standards should be low, in case students with SEN are discriminated against by the demands of having to learn and behave. Often it is simply assumed that there is a vast reserve of children who are unable to cope with an academic curriculum and explicit instruction, or unable to control themselves, and these students must be in mainstream schools. Sometimes it comes down to numbers. It can be amazingly difficult to get progressives to answer questions such as “what percentage of students do you think cannot access an academic curriculum?” or “what percentage of students do you think cannot cope in a school where rules are enforced?” But sometimes progressives will admit that the population of students they are appealing to is tiny in number, but still insist that all mainstream schools be able to cope with students with the most severe SEN even if that means lowering expectations for all children so as to remove obstacles for this small minority.

It is in this context that I have encountered what I can only call inclusion denialism. This is the claim that the policy of inclusion, of forcing as many students with SEN as possible into mainstream schools, which was tried from around 1997 to around 2006 and was abandoned, either never ended or, in some accounts, never existed. It is simply assumed that everyone still believes wholeheartedly in the policy of inclusion; that it was never controversial and it was never reversed. On Twitter, simply for mentioning the fact that there was a policy of inclusion that was unpopular and abandoned, I have been blocked; accused of hating the disabled, and some edutwitter trolls have even demanded that I be reported to my headteacher and governors for my appalling views. This is particularly baffling to me, as not only did I teach during this era and pay close attention to the public debate, but I did my masters dissertation on SEN policy, and the policy of inclusion was a major part of what I studied.

So here, for the sake of teachers who are to new to the profession to remember the policy of inclusion, and for the sake of rebuttal to any inclusion denialists, are a small sample of links and documents to confirm that this policy existed and was then abandoned.

To begin with it’s important to be aware of what the data shows. It’s worth looking at the graphs on pages 10-12 of this document from 2018 where it is explained that there is:

A general trend of the proportion of pupils in special schools falling until 2007, with evidence of some plateauing in the early 2000s. Since 2007 the proportion of pupils in special schools appears to be rising slightly.

I have put the other resurces in roughly chronological order.

  • October 1997: Excellence for all children. Government green paper declaring the intention to increase and promote inclusion.
  • December 1999: From exclusion to inclusion: final report of the Disability Rights Task Force Report from government task force arguing that schools must follow the principle of inclusion.
  • May 2001: Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 Legislation requiring mainstream schooling for children without a statement and requiring LEAs and governing bodies to “prevent the incompatibility” where students with SEN could not be educated in mainstream schools.
  • November 2001: Special Educational Needs Code of Practice and Inclusive Schooling: Children with Special Educational Needs  Guidance for schools and LEAs. The former declares as a fundamental principle that “the special educational needs of children will normally be met in mainstream schools or settings”. The latter document “provides statutory guidance on the practical operation of the new statutory framework for inclusion” and warns that OFSTED will be monitoring schools and LEAs who use exceptions to the rules and the Secretary of State will intervene if they are found to be acting “unreasonably”.
  • December 2001: Disabled pupils ‘inspire teachers’ BBC news story about the policy of inclusion.
  • July 2002: Special schools ‘must stay open’ BBC news story about Conservative opposition to the policy.
  • October 2002: Special needs school pressure BBC news story about the policy and the effect on behaviour.
  • January 2004: Removing Barriers to Achievement The Government’s Strategy for SEN Government document most notable for confirming that LEAs should take account of the consideration that “the proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time as mainstream schools grow in their skills and capacity to meet a wider range of needs”.
  • April 2004: Special education policy ‘a disaster’ BBC news story about teacher’s union NASUWT opposing the inclusion policy.
  • August 2004: Tories to review special schools BBC report about Tories calling for special school closures to be reviewed.
  • February 2005: Special schools or inclusion? BBC news story discussing controversy over the policy.
  • June 2005: Turning point for special needs? BBC report about the political controversy and disillusionment around inclusion. Call for special schools review BBC report that David Cameron as a hopeful for the Tory leadership calling for a review of the policy and education minister Lord Adonis claiming the changes had only been minor.
  • November 2005: The Thick Of It Episode 3 of season 2 of this comedy series shows the policy of inclusion was well enough known to be used as the basis for satire.
  • March 2006: Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence Education minister Lord Adonis tells a select committee: “We do not have a view about a set proportion of pupils who should be in special schools, but we note that in fact the proportion has remained roughly static in recent years. If that is the view that local authorities take in fulfilling their statutory responsibilities, we are absolutely content with that. We have no policy whatever, I should stress, of encouraging local authorities to close special schools or withdraw resource provision where they do not believe that is in the best interests of their localities” in contrast to January 2004 above.
  • May 2006: School inclusion ‘can be abuse’ BBC news story about an NUT report criticising the policy of inclusion.
  • June 2006: Education and Skills Committee Special Educational Needs The select committee report observes that “statutory and non-statutory guidance, and… the Government’s original 1997 position” was a policy of inclusion that the government no longer supports and argues “The Government should be up-front about its change of direction on SEN policy and the inclusion agenda”.
  • July 2006: Special needs education ‘not fit’ BBC news report about the select committee report on inclusion calling for the government to clarify its position on the policy.
  • December 2009: Lamb Inquiry After almost 2 years, a government inquiry reviewing special needs provision reports back, making no mention of the policy of inclusion.
  • September 2010: Minister seeks more parental choice on special needs BBC news story reporting on the coalition government’s explicit commitment to ending “the bias towards inclusion” which dates the policy to 1997-2005.
  • May 2012: Q&A: Special Educational Needs BBC report on government reforms of SEN education and the background to them.

I hope this makes the point. There may be a couple of complications. There were moves towards moving more students from special schools to mainstream before 1997 and, as I argued in my masters dissertation, there is a tendency for policy literature to suggest that policies had been in place longer than was actually the case. Additionally, even at the height of the policy of inclusion, there were those who would defend the policy by talking as if “inclusion” was only a desirable virtue, not a highly contentious policy. However, hopefully these sources should make clear the reality and history of the policy of inclusion and provide some warning about what to expect if policy makers try to turn the clock back.

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More on School Chain Shaming

March 3, 2019

I wrote here about “school chain shaming” and the involvement of the TES website in sharing accusations about two MATs.

They began their contribution to the shaming campaign by finding a flimsy pretext to share the following uncorroborated accusation from John Tomsett’s blog:

In the blog, Mr Tomsett refers to “a MAT-endorsed behaviour ethos-setting exercise called ‘flattening the grass’ rolling assemblies”.

The blog goes on: “Allegedly, this involves the MAT executives visiting the school, en-masse, to stand around the edge of the assembly hall whilst the head of school outlines, in emphatic terms to year group after year group, the MAT’s expectations of students’ behaviour.

“Before the assemblies begin, individual students are identified for the head of school to single out in front of their peers until they cry.

“If the head of school is not emphatic enough, the MAT CEO walks forward, replaces the head of school and concludes the assembly in a more suitably emphatic manner.

“The students are the ‘grass’ which is ‘flattened’ by the experience.”

The TES named a MAT which did have a practice referred to as “flattening the grass” without actually providing any evidence that it resembled the practice described above.

In the aftermath of sharing this gossip, they then printed pretty much any accusation they could find about the MAT (no matter how different or vague); called that “flattening the grass”, and claimed it corroborated the original story. One of their earliest reports even flatly contradicted the original accusation. This is what they reported about one of the former employees attacking the MAT:

The senior leader [the TES source] …. said the executives did not select children in advance to target, but rather “just indiscriminately picked on children either in the line or in the assembly”.

The TES campaign has continued since then, dragging in another MAT, so that now, on the basis of what seems to be a handful of disgruntled (probably ex-) employees over 80 schools have been smeared on the basis of an original accusation that nobody now seems able to support.

A TES journalist has continued to defend this story, on the grounds that the people coming forward to accuse the school is sufficient evidence to support the story, rather than simply down to the fact that when you show that you are willing to smear dozens of schools, former employees with a grudge will get in touch and people who know it is not true will steer clear of you. In fact, far from there being anything unusual about this, I easily found hundreds of teachers who thought the same thing could be done to their school:

Shamed schools have learnt to their cost that there is nothing they can do to put the record straight. So we cannot expect to see the named trusts challenge the details of the story. However, after showing my willingness to challenge these stories, I was contacted by two edutwitter users who were willing to give me an anonymous account of what happened in their experience of the trust. Obviously, I acknowledge that my sources are just one side of the story. My claim is not that they can prove what happened in all 80 schools in the two trusts, only that if the TES had actively sought corroboration for the original accusations, and had not just been interested in dishing dirt, they would have found this other side to the accusations.

This is from a teacher, no longer working at the MAT:

I trained with [this MAT], then worked at one [of their schools] for a few years, and visited lots more. I’ve never been in a flattening the grass assembly, but have visited a school newly taken on, and discussed the plan for how they go into a new school with senior staff. Flattening the grass is just an assembly to state the rules when they take over a school. People are missing the context. They’re going into very difficult schools and enforcing order. In the minutes found where the term ‘flattening the grass’ went public: the point before ‘flattening the grass’ is a kid was expelled for setting the changing rooms on fire at another school they had just taken over. In the point that mentions flattening the grass, it finishes with reporting that students sought out a member of staff to say they felt safer in the school.

From the minutes with the names of the schools removed.

I’ve seen people fixate on the ‘rolling assembly point’, It’s a “rolling assembly” is just because in most schools you can’t get all the kids in the school into the hall at the same time. They only have the assembly once each. It only happens when they take over a new school, to set the new rules. I have only been in a behaviour assembly once, a few weeks into term with 1 year group, because a large minority were behaving poorly across the school, so the rules were firmly restated to all. It is certainly not a regular thing in the trust to have behaviour assemblies. I don’t think the assemblies are particularly nice, because every time they state a new rule a kid makes a fart noise or shouts something. You can imagine. They then pull them out and issue a detention. When they first take over a school detentions are in the hall, because so many kids test the system. Lots then fail the detention, so isolation the following day will be in multiple rooms. There’s a huge spike in consequences after they take over, but it soon settles when the kids accept it. They then gradually introduce more rules. They aren’t trying to destroy kids, just settle the school down so teachers can teach and kids can learn.

I never heard the pre-selection line [i.e. the claim that kids were chosen in advance to be shouted at], and generally the behaviour policy is that you don’t shout. It explicitly says that you’re supposed to issue sanctions in as calm, detached and unemotional way as possible to not give kids the reaction they often want. I’ve had training in the behaviour system multiple times from very senior staff in the trust. No one ever told me to shout, and in fact they all emphasised that point that getting angry or pretending to generally doesn’t work. I disagree with [this MAT] on several things, but these reports, and the social media reaction, seem totally over the top.

This is from a teacher currently working at a school in the MAT:

The first time I heard the ‘flattening the grass’ phrase was looking around a [the second MAT named in the story] Academy when I was looking for another job. My life under the previous organisation of my school had become so awful that I was considering leaving teaching after 15 years, not just the school.

When we found out [the MAT in the original story] were to take over [my school], there was a huge amount of apprehension among staff. This was partly due to their reputation and partly due to the inevitability of redundancies. These weren’t due to anything other than a significant fall in students on roll that had never been addressed, with teachers replacing those who left, rather than taking advantage of natural wastage.

When [the MAT] arrived, I was present in some of the assemblies. They were done by year group because there wasn’t a space to contain all our students. I saw one child removed, having stood up and sworn at the member of SLT delivering the assembly. No one was otherwise singled out or shouted at. Moreover,  vulnerable and SEND students had already had a meeting with the new principal, where the new expectations and rules were explained so that they would not be subjected to undue stress.

As [the MAT] sent in a team to patrol the corridors and help the resident staff and SLT to enforce the new standards, each was paired with an experienced member of staff to ensure that no vulnerable students were put in difficult situations because those challenging them were not aware of their circumstances. To address one particularly ridiculous claim, I’ve never had a lesson on shouting at students.

A second reason I haven’t become involved in any of the [MAT]-bashing online is because I’m too concerned about the reaction of people I otherwise respect on Twitter. I realise it’s a wildly unpopular view at the moment, but I’m happier in my job than I’ve been for years. I can actually teach. In the first few weeks after take over, I regularly failed to plan adequately, with 10 to 15 minutes left at the end of the lesson where I had to make up activities. This is when I genuinely realised just how poor behaviour had been before. I’d been subconsciously planning to include spending 25% of lesson time dealing with low level disruption.

Don’t expect to see stories like this in the TES any time soon.

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The silliest feedback from work scrutinies

February 24, 2019

If you teach in a state school in England, you have probably experienced a “work scrutiny” where your superiors take some of your students’ books and try to determine something about the quality of your curriculum, teaching or marking.

Here are some of the things teachers have been told after book scrutinies (collected from this thread, thanks to all who contributed).

That I’d misspelled the word ‘smile’ in several books. It actually said ‘simile’. Who the hell would be writing ‘great smile’ on children’s work?

Not responding to my student’s responses to my initial marking. In detail.

You should have used group work. There were only 5 in the class.

I had an amazing work stamper, that all of the kids in my class wanted as I didn’t give it out very often (highly motivational for year 5). Sometimes it was used daily, but mostly it was every few weeks, and kids didn’t care. [The Headteacher] saw it during a book scrutiny and demanded it be used weekly, and it had to appear in all kids books at least once per fortnight (ruining the point of good work). Also, it was a rewards policy that I hadn’t cleared with him! When I was in KS1, the HOD was *very* Keen to impose rules, and her book scrutinies were terrible; she would be v critical, but never show her own. A teacher 10 years her senior lost it at her when she was told that her ‘pink for think’ writing, was the wrong shade of pink. This same HOD year 1 teacher told me my marking should be more detailed… for year 1. In September.

Worked not marked = Inadequate.
Worked marked regularly = RI.
Children ‘responding’ to marking = Good.
Teacher’s ‘responding’ back to children’s response = Outstanding.
(From an inspector + advisor c. 2009)

‘this child has got every question correct in maths and this is a big problem’.

That [a] Well Done stamp has more value than “well done” written in pen

A direct quote from SLT:
“I can’t believe you manage to get the results you do without using the ‘Verbal Feedback Given’ stamp.”

[My wife] runs media studies and most work saved on line so “no evidence” of feedback in quite rightly sparsely filled out books. Solution – suggested she should use a dictaphone to record the feedback given to each pupil!

“It’s great that they have responded to your targets, and that you’ve then gone back and checked their responses- but you need them to respond to your response to show real dialogue.”- Back when triple marking still wasn’t enough.

I should be dating / signing each time I mark the books otherwise I could just be doing it in one go before book check as the pen colour is the same!

You haven’t used the ‘You’ve smashed it today!’ Stamp enough.

Every piece of work, even just notes, needs a GCSE grade (for all years), an effort grade, and a ‘quality of written communication’ grade. Each of these requires a sheet to be highlighted and glued in. Go back and do it to all work from September. ~ this was in February.

No numeracy in a book full of calculations
Incomplete worksheets despite being done in on the [exercise book] pages
Lack of work in [exercise books] despite having been told to focus on coursework for the last month

SEND pupils are doing too many questions and their presentation is poor as a result.
I asked three times if they seriously wanted me to get the kids doing fewer questions but more neatly. They did.

The worksheets weren’t glued in correctly

You haven’t personalised the feedback or praised the student. Written in the book was “Amazing work here x, I know you found this really hard so well done for not giving up”. This was a general comment in addition to strengths & targets given. I was graded 4 based on this too

“That writing in the margin was enough to fail me as a teacher, As opposed to finding unrelated space on another page to write corrections, rather than where the corrections actually needed to be made.”
“Funny, I was told off for writing on the next page and that I should write in the margins!”

I received a grade 2 for the [percentage] of dates and titles which were underlined in a random selection of five students’ exercise books. In ICT. Where we used exercise books purely so we could show marking. This was in the first half-term of a September.

Some children had the same target as each other. That’s not individualised feedback, which is ‘best practice’.

“You seem to tell a lot of pupils that they need to support their arguments with evidence.”

You are STILL marking in red pen!

‘They look a bit dog eared’

SLT:Your literacy was not marked in pink highlighter
ME: it takes longer to mark (Maths) work in two different colours
SLT: Bring me these books when you have marked them (backdated two months), no later than 3pm tomorrow. This is non negotiable.
I moved to a more sensible school.

“It’s hard to see progress here”
1) Well obviously.
2) It was the start of a new year. They had new books. They’d done about three lessons.

You wrote VF for verbal feedback but didn’t write down what the verbal feedback was.

Teach KS1, (Year 2), a new genre in 11 hours.

Your green pen needs to be lighter.

X appears to be missing a great deal of work – X had been in Australia

3. And I have no idea what that meant.

Not enough mistakes in maths books.

A parent was furious that their child had done no written work for ten days. I indicated that half term would have probably impacted this…

A child getting too many things right means I don’t challenge enough. Not that I taught a lesson well and they understood it! The teacher who had a child getting lots wrong challenged them more apparently

Not writing homework above homework, they were but they wrote it in Spanish, which is what I used to teach. Not good apparently, as the person checking didn’t understand!

Where are your books?
I teach music.
I gave them a cd of the kids work with my marksheet scanned in.

Why is there no work in the books? That would be because performing layered patterns and incorporating a call and response structure whilst working in groups using djembes isn’t something that can be written or stuck in a book.

I was once told to take pictures to stick in their books as a way of showing evidence 🙄 I taught every student in KS3, can you imagine the printing bill?

How about feedback on my marking feedback? “You failed to address the date and title not being underlined. Your expectations of your team clearly doesn’t match that of the school’s.”

From Ofsted, the inspector said that although my feedback was clearly effective because she could see students work improving over time, I still needed more written comments (I was using a combination of flash marking/WCF at the time).

At a previous school-
Head: why is there nothing in the books for Monday?
Me: we were on a class trip.
Head: that doesn’t answer my question.

Difficult to assess because in IT some of the work is stored electronically……

One Y11 student’s work as more disorganised than the rest. Inability to revise from his notes would mean he would underachieve. Same student dropped three marks (/240) in the mock exam a month earlier. Nailed-on Nine.

Standard coloured pen issue.
No reds left so I used pink.
That was … a mistake.

I was pulled up on the shade of my pink and green highlighter once. Coral instead of hot pink and my green had a touch of turquoise! I was raked over the coals for my transgression!

‘You’ve not used the ‘verbal feedback given’ stamp….’

“You consistently write ‘S’ for a spelling error. The school marking policy clearly states ‘SP’”

Got grief for sticking in examples of different types of task completed when the previous scrutiny criticised us for a lack of evidence of variety of tasks

I remember feedback saying that the pencils weren’t sharp enough that some students had drawn tables in and so my books weren’t well presented.

From a few years back: Can you dot or sign each page that doesn’t need marking? So that even if it’s just ‘lesson notes’ we know that you’ve seen it…and another brilliant comment: ‘Your marking could be the reason we end up in a category’.

My feedback needs to be handwritten rather than typed (and so I continued to type)

Too many ticks, not enough challenge.
Okay, but what you don’t see is the support and discussion that went on within that lesson to get those ticks.

We use folders…
How come every student hasn’t done every correction?
How come you haven’t regraded every correction?
How come very student doesn’t have every page in the exact same order?

“Well… I thought teaching them was more important than paperwork…”

The pink pen you’ve used for the ‘tickled pink’ feedback is a bit too red looking.

I got told off for using a dark orange pen when I had no red pens left in the house mad marking at stupid o’clock. I laughed.

Previous school: Your handwriting isn’t the same as the school standard handwriting.
Me: I’m 39. I can’t change it now!
Previous school – staff meeting where the head demonstrates the school standard handwriting.
Me: Here’s my letter of resignation. [Not in school standard handwriting]

‘There needs to be 12 stamps every week and 6 of them should have comments with them.’ Department marking policy gone mad and completely meaningless.

Every page of student work must have evidence that it has been seen by a teacher.

ie. there must be at least a tick on every page…

“Brilliant standard of work for year 9, but I need to see how they got there, why don’t you take photos of the mini whiteboard work and glue them in”

Head – Why haven’t they done handwriting for 2 weeks
Me – I’ve been on paternity leave for 2 weeks and the deputy heads been covering me
Head – I don’t want excuses, don’t let it happen again

That although I achieved 98% on book scrutiny for quality of work and pupil progress it would still be rated by OFSTED as requires improvement as not all dates and titles underlined with a ruler. Then told to underline them myself.

1st shocking [experience] of state school book scrutiny 3 yrs ago (after 8yrs in independent school). I teach languages. Scrutineer asked if there could be more written evidence of pupils’ oral work.
Me: Well, there could, but that would SERIOUSLY detract from the time they spend doing oral work

I got told my ticks were too big

Get students to write “homework” at the top of homework, so that the person reading it would know it was homework. So, naturally, every time I marked a set of books, I would be the one writing “homework” at the top.

Some children got them all correct which doesn’t show progress.

Get students to respond to [verbal feedback] in their books

You haven’t given written feedback since July (book scrutiny first week of September) – oh really?

They could use sharper pencils

Told off for letting kids fold worksheets when they stick them in – apparently unfolding paper impedes learning

“you haven’t stuck a teacher assessed sticker next to the piece of work” “No but I wrote detailed notes justifying the level, sub level achieved and ways forward for the piece of work” “But how do we know it was teacher assessed without the sticker?”

‘Wow I like these whole class feedback things but you should really consider writing all this feedback in your Pupil Premium books as well as give them the feedback sheets…’

There isn’t any marking for SPaG [spelling and grammar] evident in books.
That’s because there aren’t any SPaG errors

“Student X’s book hasn’t been marked since December”
Student X had moved house and was no longer on the register but his book was in the bottom of the box.

Comments should always be written straight and on the lines to show respect to students (not slanted). I was writing at an angle because certain words won’t fit in the margin if you don’t.

You should pre-trim your [work]sheets.

‘No targets for improvement’ – the pupil never made mistakes and excelled in every subject at GCSE all A* and all As at A level. He could write me targets !

Head: There was no green highlighting.
Me: he met all the objectives brilliantly and his effort was outstanding, (He’s year 4)
Head: FIND something he needs to do better!

Use a consistent colour of green pen!

“we need to evidence marking”

My sole PM [Performance Management] target at MPS6 was to use different coloured pens to mark. Under ‘resources needed to achieve PM target’ I wrote ‘different coloured pens’… under ‘action plan to achieve PM target I wrote, ‘go to shop and buy pens’… That was the PM that got me to UPS…

That I didn’t have as much in our books compared to science. I teach music.

That the 2 staff on long term illness for whose classes i was setting work for, teaching every set on a rotation to ensure some quality input and checking their work with flick marking hasn’t had their books marked well enough…

“Why isn’t there any writing in your Literacy books for two whole weeks?” (It was the Easter holidays.)

Many years ago, I was told that the cloud/bubble I drew for the child’s repsonse wasn’t cloudy enough…. I received an hour’s inset and looked at colleagues book’s to develop my clouds……

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School Chain Shaming

February 23, 2019

I’ve been writing about school shamings for quite a while now.

A school shaming is where somebody on social media or in conventional media denounces a school in public and encourages others to denounce it too. The school staff get loads of abuse and more accusations come forward. While school shamings in local newspapers show no sign of stopping, the most recent school shaming on social media was the one that started like this:

And in the end it kind of backfired. There was more criticism for the trolls who started it, and joined in the abuse, than for the school, and it didn’t get into conventional media.

However, in the last couple of weeks we seem to have moved into a new phase of school shaming, where MATs are targeted rather than individual schools. This changes things in two ways:

  1. Because more schools are in the firing line (the recent chain shaming started with a MAT with 30 schools then added another MAT with 50 schools) it is very hard for anybody to say that none of the accusations are true anywhere. In fact, when you are dealing with dozens of schools and multiple accusations, the odds are that something will be true somewhere. After all, no chain  is going to have nothing but perfectly run schools. And anyone questioning whether the shaming is deserved will be told, “You can’t prove it didn’t happen in any school.”.
  2. Far more people will make accusations. Every school has disgruntled ex-employees, and 80 schools will have a multitude between them. You will get normally sensible people saying, “Well I heard bad things from a friend about this chain.” and warning you not to challenge the shaming. And because there will be more people to make accusations, and it will be harder to disprove every accusation for every school implicated, the education press are more likely to claim the story has been corroborated and run it. Journalists who would not think of shaming a single school because of the claims of one disgruntled employee, might nevertheless shame 80 schools on the word of 80 (or far fewer) disgruntled employees, even though the evidence base is proportionately the same. In this case, poor journalism by the TES is responsible for much of what has happened.

However, in other respects nothing much has changed. Witch hunts follow a typical pattern.

  • Accusations are made.
  • Accusations are widely accepted as true.
  • Any challenge to the accusations is interpreted as defending the behaviour people are accused of, not the truth of the accusations.
  • Any attempt by those accused to defend themselves make it worse.
  • When accusations start to seem unreliable, the accusations change.
  • People actively seek out new things to accuse the target of.

I’m not going to link directly to the stories as I don’t want to encourage people to share them, but just looking at what was published in the TES we see many of these features.

In this case the original accusation, for which no supporting evidence seems to have been found, was from a blogpost, but repeated by the TES:

In the blog, Mr Tomsett refers to “a MAT-endorsed behaviour ethos-setting exercise called ‘flattening the grass’ rolling assemblies”.

The blog goes on: “Allegedly, this involves the MAT executives visiting the school, en-masse, to stand around the edge of the assembly hall whilst the head of school outlines, in emphatic terms to year group after year group, the MAT’s expectations of students’ behaviour.

“Before the assemblies begin, individual students are identified for the head of school to single out in front of their peers until they cry.

“If the head of school is not emphatic enough, the MAT CEO walks forward, replaces the head of school and concludes the assembly in a more suitably emphatic manner.

“The students are the ‘grass’ which is ‘flattened’ by the experience.”

In my experience schools do not tend to use public humiliation as a punishment; nor do they try to make kids cry, and targeting particular students in public is likely to backfire. This juicy gossip, in a blog that did not even name the MAT, would be a story if it was more than gossip. And a MAT was named on Twitter as having a policy called “flattening the grass”. A MAT spokesman denied any connection between assemblies and “flattening the grass” but, bizarrely, the TES managed to report this as not being a denial even though it contradicted the main accusation.

Within a week the TES was backtracking, changing the story and introducing new accusations. The TES found plenty of disgruntled former employees to denounce the trust. But one of them said:

The senior leader [the TES source] …. said the executives did not select children in advance to target, but rather “just indiscriminately picked on children either in the line or in the assembly”.

This should have been the point at which the TES admitted the original story had not been corroborated. Instead the accusation changed to become vaguer and more subjective. There was inappropriate shouting and this was seen as a positive. Staff felt bullied. And, somehow, the second trust with 50 schools were dragged into the story. “Flattening the grass” ceased to refer to a policy of identifying kids in advance and deliberately making them cry in assemblies, and became a catch-all covering any behaviour that somebody didn’t like.

In 80 schools, it is highly likely that some staff felt bullied. As for regrettable shouting, many of us have been there:

It is possible that a line was crossed. No, let me take that back, if we are looking at a collection of 80 schools – any collection of 80 schools – it is probable that lines were crossed in some of them at some point. But there are few schools without disgruntled ex-employees, and fewer still without that teacher who thinks everyone else is beastly to the darling little kiddlywinks and that only they truly care.

Teachers often don’t agree about what is appropriate. Following this I had quite an amusing discussion on Twitter with various people who claimed only to “raise their voice” not to “shout”, so convinced were they that they were morally superior to those of us who have actually shouted.

What’s appropriate, when it’s appropriate and even what counts as shouting are all subjective. Too strict and not strict enough are all subjective. The only thing that ever made this chain stand out as doing something wrong, that couldn’t be claimed about hundreds of other schools, was the initial accusation of a policy called “flattening the grass” that meant identifying kids in advance, then publicly humiliating them until they cry. When that was being denied even by sources critical of the school, the story should have ended there and the TES should have apologised.

 

 

 

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Noise

February 9, 2019

Children are noisy. This is something people often don’t appreciate if they don’t work in schools, as can be seen by the recurring experiments with “open plan classrooms” that seem to happen every few years. Before I became a teacher, if I walked past a school at break or lunchtime, I was shocked by the sheer volume emitted by even very young kids playing. As a secondary teacher, I have noticed how kids are sometimes so noisy at break and lunch times, particularly if it’s windy, that even the politest kids might come into the classroom unintentionally shouting because that is the volume they’ve been talking at during their break.

Year 7 student: “HELLO, SIR!”

Me, standing back and covering my ears: “Hello. Why are you shouting?”

Year 7 student, now at the volume of a light aircraft taking off: “I’M NOT SHOUTING!”

Me, ears ringing: Okay, Caitlyn, just go to your seat and don’t talk, thank you. Dear Lord, please, don’t talk.

Another Year 7 student arriving: “HELLO, SIR. I DID THE HOMEWORK!”

Me, now standing at the doorway. looking pained: “Hello, Martin. Okay, year 7, just come in silently. Just go to your seat absolutely silently. No need to say hello, just go to your seat without talking. WITHOUT TALKING! ABSOLUTE SILENCE, YEAR 7! Thank you.”

Left to their own devices kids get loud, perhaps without realising it. Younger secondary students often just enjoy expending the energy involved in a loud conversation. Older secondary students are often asserting their position in the dominance hierarchy by talking over each other in ever louder voices. Once kids are talking in the classroom, the usual trajectory is for the noise to get louder, unless interrupted, and while sometimes a piece of work that requires an unexpected amount of concentration will cause a class to spontaneously become quieter, that is the memorable exception and not the rule for most classes. In fact, often a class getting quieter without being asked is so exceptional that it is immediately followed by one student shouting “WHY HAS IT GONE QUIET?”

One year, not very long ago, around autumn half term, I had a bit of an epiphany. Other than sixth form teaching, my main class was a very large bottom set in year 7 with a huge range of ability. As year 7 classes often do, they had begun the year barely speaking in lessons. I didn’t worry about that; this can often be a good time to enforce the expectation that you learn by listening to the teacher, not staring out of the window and then asking the person next to you what the teacher has just said. As the weeks went on, they had became more comfortable and were able to talk sensibly about the work. Then, as it got towards half term, their talking (for a small but significant minority of students) was becoming less about the work and more about winding each other up, and putting each off. Lesson starts were also becoming far slower as they stopped on the way in to chat, with some students having to be reminded that behaviour like going to your seat and getting out a pen should be immediate, and not left until the last possible moment. My epiphany consisted of the realisation that they had been easier to manage, and apparently learning more, when they were in silence; because of the size of the class, it really wasn’t practical to monitor which conversations were “learning conversations” and which weren’t. Besides, most weren’t yet capable of the sort of conversation that would aid learning, and they weren’t likely to learn to have that sort of conversation, unless it was modeled by hearing conversations about the work between students and the teacher shared with the entire class.

For all my classes, I began starting every lesson by sending students to sit down in silence and begin work. I then decided, for every piece of work I set, whether it was worth letting students talk. I quickly realised that, when teaching mainly a mix of weaker key stage 3 classes and sixth form, that the sixth formers needed to be able to discuss the work almost all the time (although this was a small class where I could monitor the conversation), and the key stage 3 students didn’t really need to talk to each other at all. I don’t want to make this a universal statement about all key stage 3 classes, or all subjects. Where motivation is good and work requires a lot of thought, but not much writing, there’s every reason to allow students to talk. When you know students have the judgement to give each other useful help and the maturity not to go off topic, learning conversations are the order of the day. Obviously, there are things to be learnt, or practised in some subjects that positively require talking. However, I genuinely think we make a mistake when we assume that talking is normal in class and silence the exception, rather than the other way around. If teachers were to ask themselves, “Would students benefit, or be distracted by talk during this activity?” and didn’t have to worry about whether they would actually be able to enforce silence, I think lessons in most schools would be a lot quieter. In fact, I think that we are often acclimatised to completely unnecessary and counter-productive levels of noise in schools, and don’t realise that it could be different, or that in some schools it is different.

Research seems to favour quiet classrooms (see here) particularly for younger children. Even a quick search with Google Scholar will find a lot of individual studies showing the negative effects of classroom noise on different types of students. However, we can tolerate more distractions if work is difficult, so the argument for silence is stronger on more routine tasks, but before we assume that “learning conversations” make for the best environment for problem-solving, there is some evidence that problem solving is not best done collaboratively.

I think those with an ideological commitment to making learning more like play, may positively favour noise. I do recall during the debates on “silent corridors” in schools, some progressives believed that even the conversations kids have walking down the corridor between lessons were valuable learning opportunities. Others also believed that silence was actively damaging to children. Common sense (and also perhaps the research on noise and health) tells us that silence for the duration of a single lesson, or for part of a lesson, or for short walks between lessons, is not only not harmful, but probably far healthier than the other extreme of a screaming racket. There are those who see children as terribly vulnerable to the normal stresses of schooling, or to the raised voice of an adult, but somehow immune to the stress involved in 6 hours of constant noise, with even friendly conversations having to involve yelling in each other’s faces.

Schools are noisy. That is not likely to change. But I think there are clear benefits to having schools where the default for classrooms is silence. It is one of those areas where consistency is important. Any classroom where it is okay to shout out whenever you like is likely to lower expectations elsewhere in the school. The existence of any classroom where the teacher feels powerless to prevent teenagers from continuing their social lives throughout the lesson, is likely to make it harder for other teachers. I suspect most schools would benefit from turning the noise down, and making a real effort to ensure that silence is the default learning behaviour.

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