I’ve long had a problem with the linear expectations imposed on pupil progress. Early in my career, I railed against the idea that students in my class were viewed as figures and that those figures should behave in a linear and predictable way, regardless of the non-linear and unpredictable nature of being human, learning and life. I couldn’t understand how our representation and approach to progress had become so limited. What about the emotional ups and downs that temporarily slow or accelerate our progress? What about the harder bits that take more time and effort to master – the tricky bits, the thresholds we all experience as learners that momentarily halt our momentum? Or what about those children for whom life events impact their progress - the child who loses a parent or suffers an out of the ordinary illness. Do we limit them by labelling them (and their teacher/ school) as underperforming?
Why were NC levels removed?
So what does the new NC offer instead?
The new NC works on the premise that progress is about no longer about value-added, exceeding expectations of the speed of progress. Instead it is about breadth and depth of learning and mastery of the curriculum.
This offers an opportunity for teachers to design a framework that best suits their schools and pupils - if the right support and training is developed.
What are the challenges?
So what needs to be done?
First, we need to reclaim assessment as something that is done to support learning and that lies at the heart of good teaching and learning. Alongside this primary purpose, it can provide valuable information and what is successful and where and how improvements can be made.
Second, we need to build a robust understanding of assessment theory and practice within and across the teaching profession.
Third, we need strong leadership, intra- and inter- school collaboration and training support, that encourages innovation while working towards a collective understanding. Particularly important is linking what is being taught to what is being assessed, while keeping assessment contained to assessing what is important - or higher order tasks - (being called key performance indicators). Schools will need to use the new National Curriculum and their collective judgement when deciding these, as well as understanding and exemplifying performance standards through pupil work.
Headteacher Update, July, 2015: Life after Levels: the key challenges
Headteacher Update, July, 2015: Life after Levels: the next steps
The government's decision to get rid of levels, the system that has been used to track pupils' attainment and progress in the UK school system for years has caused furore and panic among many teachers and schools. I understand this - it is something we have worked with and known, many of us for our whole teaching careers. However, when it comes down to it, levels are about assessment. And assessment is about much more than levels. So removing levels still leaves us with lots to work. Not least our understanding of how to use assessment to drive improvement, inform teaching and learning and report progress and areas for development.
Having just spent 5 years working in international schools, which were autonomous, accountable to stakeholders (fee-paying parents, educational trusts, and, above all, students) and engaged in a continuous cycle of self-improvement, at the heart of which is a wide range of data regarding student learning, I am relieved to see UK schools being given the opportunity to develop the same internal rigor and deep understanding of learning based on analysis of data and evidence to inform decision-making and action. It is my great hope that it is the start of really professionalising teaching.
However, the removal of levels and the replacement of this with schools' developing their own systems poses risks, and needs support in the form of school leaders and teachers become data literate: understanding the principles of assessment and how it can contribute to improved school performance; engaging in rigorous discussions and decisions about how the school can collect, analyse and manage data in order to inform teaching and learning, as well as inform pupils and parents of their progress; using a wide range of data and evidence. Of course, this already happens in patches and to varying degrees of thoroughness. Removing levels may give schools the chance to help it happen throughout.
I've just finished reading Nicky Morgan's speech given two days ago at the Sunday Times Festival of Education. To be honest, there is little she says that I disagree with - academic rigor and excellence accompanied with an accompanying focus on developing the character skills and social/ emotional awareness to flourish; developing schools and systems adept in the skills of on-going, sustainable self-improvement and that are the engineers of social justice and capacity building in individuals, organisations and communities. In fact, I wholeheartedly cheer these grand principles and ambitions. They are the reasons I went into education and it has baffled me ever since that that actually isn't what I have been doing all the time.
But a couple of things left me a little bemused. The first was that, despite this rhetoric, there was very little practical information of how they intended to achieve this vision. OK, so that is normal for political speeches. But the reality is that while their ideas are mighty, their practice (an entirely new primary curriculum in both content and organisation and the abolishment of measures of progress and attainment with no suggested alternatives - schools are advised to work this out themselves or pay for someone else to with money they don't have) has created confusion and a void.
While I believe great things can spring out of this in the spirit of innovation and freedom from red tape, it requires strong leadership in and across schools. Yet the profession is facing a leadership crisis, especially in certain areas and sectors, as well as a recruitment and retention crisis at a classroom level too. Add to this huge cuts in funding and the fragmentation of the system across free schools, academies and all others (itself divisive, confusing and demoralising in the face of the governments concentrated support for free schools and academies to the neglect of much else) and it is a bit like the wild west.
In the meantime, at the school level, we are trying to make sense of what we've got and how we can move forward. Personally, I am excited about being given the space to drive improvement from the ground up. Although...it would be nice to know what we will be measured against. Delegates at a recent training course I attended run by the local authority were convinced that Ofsted were coming in looking only for things the school was failing on so they could rate them Requires Improvement and start the process of making them academies. Whatever this might or might not mean in terms of making them a better school, they were feeling disempowered, distrustful and disinclined to dance to a tune that was being driven by a remote political agenda.
None-the-less, I remain hopeful that the remarkable convergence of knowledge and understanding from sectors such as education, psychology, neuroscience, change management and leadership skills will give us the insight and tools we need to build great education - just so long as the government mean it when they say they want us to take responsibility and provide us with the support and time we need to grow the capacity and capital of the profession.
Two years ago, I conducted some practitioner research into the effective deployment of TAs to support student learning in our school as part of my MSc in Educational Leadership, which I have written about previously. My research was driven by curiosity and need. How do we use this sizeable workforce, who are often at the school longer than the teachers and come from (and therefore have a better understanding of) the local community from which the school draws, to have the greatest impact possible on pupil achievement and progress?
The new school I am joining in September has a similar question hanging over it. So, I was interested to see the Education Endowment Fund have just released a report looking at TA deployment 'Making best use of Teaching Assistants'. The report, summarised on the Guardian Teacher Network, outlines three areas in which TA deployment can have a positive impact if managed correctly: in the classroom; in structured interventions; and in integrating work done in interventions with work done in the classrooms.
In the classroom, TAs' support should allow teachers to spend more time with those who need additional support. In addition, TAs can support student learning in the classroom by reinforcing rigorous teaching methods used by the teacher to help deepen students' understanding and take ownership of their learning. In order for this to happen well, TAs need to receive adequate training and supervision. Furthermore, teachers and TAs need to ringfence time to formally meet and share planning, data and feedback about pupils' progress and needs.
TAs play a vital role in delivering structured interventions, often helping pupils make several months of additional progress across a year. Again, this needs rigorous structure, support and training and have their impact carefully monitored.
Finally, the work TAs do with pupils in interventions needs to be explicitly linked to their broader learning, for pupils, parents, teachers and TAs and ways need to be found to integrate it thoroughly and consistently.
Accounting for 13% of the education budget, and a invaluable resource in supporting our pupils and improving outcomes, isn't it worth getting this right?
2 brilliant videos related the The Ladder of Inference. The first video, Rethinking thinking, demonstrates the what happens at each rung of the ladder. The second, The ladder of inference creates bad judgement, demonstrates how damaging and self-perpetuating this thinking model can be and suggests two techniques for breaking it
I wrote in my last post about the Ladder of Inference, a model first devised by Harvard professor Chris Argyris, which demonstrates the human habit of making inferences and drawing conclusions from a small amount of data.
Although the Ladder of Inference model is new to me, interestingly enough, the concept it demonstrates is one that I came across from both a personal and professional direction at the same time a few years ago. In his book Full Catastrophe Living, John Kabat-Zinn explores this human habit relating it to stress and the way we relate to ourselves, others and the world around us. Mindfulness cultivates attitudes and practices that help us stay on the bottom rung of the ladder longer, collecting more objective data. It also develops our awareness of the interpretations that then take place, giving us time and space to make choices before we draw conclusions to act.
On a professional level, at the time I was writing my Master's dissertation which was focused on organisational and individual learning and the inter-play between the two. This took me to the work of, among others, Peter Senge, and some of the theories about adult learning and organisational learning, which again, broke down the process of how we gather data, interpret it according to existing schema and then conclude and act according to that. Which explains why developing collective understanding and commitment in school systems can be challenging even when it at first appears straightforward. I have since been training in the skills and processes of coaching, as I believe these can contribute to the developing awareness and challenging assumptions part of the ladder theory.
Anyway, I find it fascinating - it has definitely changed my thinking about thinking and the way I think in all areas of my life. I''m looking forward to learning more about how it can be further integrated in school improvement work.
I'm currently taking a course offered by Harvard Graduate School of Education (through EdX) called An Introduction to Data Wise, which is an approach to whole school improvement based in the rigorous, collaborative examination of data. I'm taking the course because understanding and using data to improve teaching and above all learning has been vital to my growth and enjoyment as an educator. Using a wide range of data and evidence to inform practice is something I want to see integrated at all levels of education policy and practice. Here in the UK, autonomy and responsibility is increasingly being passed to schools to manage data and to be accountable to all stakeholders. This excites me as I believe it is such a powerful tool for improving teaching and learning but one that, until now, has been highjacked by accountability measures that stifle its use in this way. I'm taking this course to hopefully identify tools and approaches that I might be able to introduce to my Primary school to help us use data and evidence as a driver for self-improvement.
Data Wise is underpinned by three habits of mind that they call the ACE habits of mind and these are:
The course introduces two strategies that can help in developing the ACE habit of mind: Agendas, norms and protocols, which contribute to A and C above and the Ladder of Inference which contributes to E - a focus on evidence. Check back for more.
The first big idea in this section is that what is easy to attribute to a person problem is often a situation problem. We’ve all done stupid driving manouveres, not because we are all selfish, stupid people, but because we were in a desperate rush or had a lapse in concentration. Yet when someone else does a stupid driving move, it is easy to brand them as stupid drivers, or selfish idiots. We are frequently blind to the power of situations. This has been labeled Fundamental Attribution Error, in which we are inclined to attribute people’s behaviour to the way they are rather than to the situation they are in. Shaping the path is about making the right behaviours a little bit easier and the wrong behaviours a little bit harder by tweaking the environment. For example, the Haddon Matrix is a framework that provides a way to think systematically about accidents by highlighting three key periods of time (pre-event, event and post-event) and design ways to prevent, minimise and respond to undesired outcomes.
Kotter and Cohen found that in most change situations, managers initially focus on strategy, structures, culture or systems - but the heart of the matter is changing people’s behaviours which requires speaking to their feelings. Helping people, therefore, to see the problems or solutions in ways which influence emotions not just thought can be vital for engineering successful change. Rather than analyse-think-change, the sequence should focus on see-feel-change. It can, however, be hard to distinguish why people aren’t supporting change - do they not understand or are they not enthused?
Lack of change is often attributed to a lack of understanding. Yet in many situations, we know what to do, we just don't do it. Despite this, our first instinct in getting people to change is to teach them something, when really the problem is not an understanding one.One of the reasons why thinking our way into change is limited is that we are lousy self-evaluators. Many of us tend to think we are better at things than we really are - known as a positive illusion, serviced by ambiguity in definitions of good. We don’t necessarily see all the shades involved in being good in different contexts - we may have fixed views or limited perspectives. As a result, we need to get people to see the situation as it is.
I'm an educator driven by the desire to see people realise their potential by gaining the tools they need to be successful. I love being part of a community of learners for whom there is always more to be known and understood. For me, learning and teaching is cognitive, social and emotional and takes the whole self.