Archive for October, 2015


Share Advice For Trainees and New Teachers on the Starter For Five Blog

October 28, 2015

Can’t we have one meeting that doesn’t end with us digging up a corpse?

Mayor Quimby, the Simpsons.

I think my equivalent to Mayor Quimby’s question would be: “Can’t we have one discussion on Twitter that doesn’t end up with me setting up a new blog?”.

Last night I attempted to start a conversation about useful facts for new teachers and trainees to know. Instead of facts, I got opinions. Lots of opinions. So many opinions that I abandoned the facts conversation for another time and started to discuss what could be done with all this wisdom from experienced teachers that they were happy to share on Twitter. And so “Starter For Five” was born. This is a blog that will post advice for new teachers, collected around particular topics, and limited to 5 short pieces of advice per teacher per topic (each piece of advice is only a little longer than a tweet). You can look at it here. The idea is that (as it fills up) trainees and new teachers will be able to find advice from several experienced teachers on topics of their choice, by looking for the tags, categories or by searching.

If you would like to contribute (thanks), you can submit your 5 pieces of advice using the form below (or follow this link):


Please don’t expect your advice to appear on the blog immediately; that will take longer and we will have to check it follows the format (i.e. that it is about one specific topic). If you are not sure your contribution was submitted, just get in touch.

Thanks to (for creating the Google Form), (for designing and working on the blog) and (for coming up with the name of the blog).

Hopefully this will become a useful resource for new teachers. If you have any questions about it, ask in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them where everyone can see them.



This Blog’s 9th Birthday

October 24, 2015

Today is the 9th anniversary of the first post on this blog. It’s been on this site since 2009, but had three years before that in a couple of other places. I don’t know if this makes it the longest running UK blog by a teacher, I suspect that this depends on what kind of break is allowed before you say a blog has ceased to run and how you define “teacher”, but it is definitely one of the oldest.

My regularity in posting has declined this year mainly because inspiration and time have never been consistently available due to the nature of teaching, and after a couple of years of quite dramatic growth in hits, this year has been one of less frequent posting and activity. A lot of that comes down to a greater priority being given this year to blog-related projects outside of the main blog. In particular:

The last of these has been the most time-consuming, and I am hoping to make some changes to make it more manageable. Hopefully, then I will have the time to post more regularly on this blog.

Despite the smaller number of posts, there have still been some highlights of blogging this year. I’ll mention a few of them:

  • This week’s controversy over green pens and other marking policy nightmares;
  • Raising awareness over the education establishment’s take over of the proposed College Of Teaching;
  • An analysis of the arguments progressives have jumped on in the last couple of years (Part 1 and Part 2). The second part in particular identified two ludicrous arguments that have now become standard for shutting down debate.
  • A guest post about some very misleading research on P4C that was widely publicised;
  • Pointing out how wrong phonics denialists were about the accuracy of the phonics screening check;
  • A fairly heavy couple of posts about disagreement between traditionalists. (Part 1 and Part 2). Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have sparked the debate I was looking for;
  • A summary of the Daily Mail’s hypocrisy on school discipline stories;
  • On “just teaching” and in praise of explanations explain my teaching philosophy.

I have no great plans for the next year beyond trying to increase the amount of blogging, but I’m hoping to keep debate going and traditionalist opinions out there. Thanks to all my readers for staying with me, and I hope you stick around to see me complete my first decade of blogging.


There’s One Thing Worse Than Green Pens

October 21, 2015

I’ve had further feedback on the green pen fad since I blogged and tweeted about it earlier. Apparently, many schools have schismed from the church of the green pen and follow instead the Purple Pen Of Progress.

I’m not joking. Mike Cladingbowl (formerly national director of OFSTED) suggested this as a joke:

But the Purple Pen of Progress is already a thing. Google it. After a correspondent suggested I do this, I did. And now I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Also, I found this:

May God have mercy on my soul.

Update 21/10/2015: As well as the former national director of OFSTED taking the mickey, we now have the current schools director not taking it entirely seriously:

Now please, does anyone here still think you are going to impress inspectors by enforcing the right shade of peer marking on your students? End the multi-colour madness.

(And even now I suspect some senior managers are asking: “If OFSTED don’t want to see purple pens for marking, then what do they expect us to do with them? Let’s ask a consultant.”)



Enough With The Green Pens!

October 21, 2015

The last two schools I worked at were not in any way related. They were in different local authorities. One was independent; one a state school in a MAT. Yet both of them had a policy that students should be marking (i.e. self-assessment or peer assessment) in green pen. Today, a teacher from London told me their school had the same policy. I asked about it on Twitter and got responses from schools in Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, Tower Hamlets, Brent, Hampshire and many others saying it was school policy, and this included state schools and the independent sector. All had encountered the same phenomena.

Now, to be honest, I have only one problem with this policy and it won’t be a problem in all of these schools. It’s whether teachers have to distribute and collect in the damn green pens. If it’s the kids responsibility to bring a green pen and all the teachers have to do is say “use your green pen, now” then I don’t have a complaint. It will be what some teachers want and utterly harmless to other teachers to go along with it. However, if teachers have to change their routines before kids mark their books; hand out and collect in extra equipment; keep a class set of green pens ready or put kids in groups round pots of pens, then I would want the person who introduced the policy to have very good reasons for it.

And do they? Well, some teachers like kids to do marking in green pen, particularly if it involves redrafting as it makes it clear to that teacher what is the original work (blue or black), what is redrafting or corrections (green) and what is the teacher’s marking (red). In a decade and a half of teaching maths I’ve never had a problem distinguishing between students’ work, their marking and my marking , but perhaps it’s less clear in other subjects. And if a school has plenty of teachers who like to use this system, then ensuring the kids have their own green pens ready might help some teachers and is fine with me. That’s enough justification for that version of the policy.

However, if teachers are having to make an effort to get green pens in and out – if it is a source of work – then some teachers liking it is not enough. Those teachers who like green pens can make the effort; those who don’t, shouldn’t be made to. It is in this case that it is baffling to know why so many schools are compelling teachers to comply with this. When I asked about it, the most common answers I received were about it being convenient for managers who want to check that the marking policy, which might involve students responding to teachers’ comments, or even teachers responding to students responding to teachers, can be enforced. So, in effect, these are schools with a marking policy that creates extra work for the teachers both in lessons, and when marking, and extra work for managers who have to enforce it. In other words, an unwieldy mess of a marking policy. Sometimes the green pen phenomena was linked to other such marking policy messes as (compulsory) DIRT and dialogic marking. So much so that one tweeter even talked about being told that teachers must have “green pen training” in order to mark correctly.

So that leaves two questions:

  1. Why are schools still investing in these over-prescriptive marking policies?
  2. How are the details of the policy getting communicated between schools? (i.e. why green pen, and not, say, pencil?)

The answer to the first question is, probably, OFSTED, or at least rumours of what OFSTED want. The first stories of ridiculous marking policies seem to correspond to the start of OFSTED’s greater emphasis on looking in books (a by-product of moving away from judging teaching styles). But this is old news. Both the lastest OFSTED handbook, and some earlier clarification material, make it clear that there is no model marking policy (least of all one involving green pen) that they are looking for, that the marking policies can accept that what is required varies between subjects and that they inspectors should not be adding to “unnecessary workload”:

  • Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.
  • While inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback is used to promote learning, Ofsted does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers.
  • If it is necessary for inspectors to identify marking as an area for improvement for a school, they will pay careful attention to the way recommendations are written to ensure that these do not drive unnecessary workload for teachers.

And, knowing the background, I think I can safely assume this was a response to schools justifying burdensome marking policies on the basis of OFSTED. Teachers need to point this out.

As for the other question, how the green pen idea spread, I’m still puzzling over that one. It’s harder to spread misinformation online these days without somebody pointing out what OFSTED actually want. There are far fewer LA consultants to spread this guff. Inspectors can no longer use that position to advertise private consultancy work. So how did this fad spread? Via word of mouth? Via managers? Through private consultants? A conspiracy by Bic? Even those defending the green pen policy couldn’t tell me where they got it from.

If we could find out how these fads spread, and find out how to stop them spreading, we could do a lot to improve education in this country. In the meantime, all I can ask is that if you are a school leader and you are making teachers hand out green pens five times a day, just stop it. And if you are an inspector, and you see this happening in lessons, then why not mention that the green pen marking policy wastes time in lessons in the report? Do that just once, and let people on social media know which report it was in, and you will have given teachers a powerful weapon for restoring sanity to marking.


My post for @LabourTeachers : When Shadow Education Secretaries Lose the Plot

October 15, 2015

I have written a post for the Labour Teachers Website:

Andrew is a teacher and editor of Labour Teachers (and writing in a personal capacity).

A little over a month ago, Lucy Powell MP became Labour’s fifth shadow education secretary since the 2010 election. Of her four predecessors, only Ed Balls, who skewered Gove over the botched cancellation of the BSF, acquired any glory from time spent in that role. Messrs. Burnham, Twigg and Hunt, despite all starting in interesting ways, all ended up with little to say other than some subset of the following points, which I hope Lucy Powell will avoid:..

Continued here.

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