Archive for February, 2019


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……


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.






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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