THIS blog revisits so many of my earlier blogs about the state of education and the incessant drive by the current government to test, drive teachers by accountability measures and to pigeonhole schools, teachers and young people into categories. By categories I am talking about giving a ‘badge of honour’ (for the best or elite) or a ‘tag’ (for the lowest achieving), for the young person as an A* to G (or soon to be 9-1 at GCSE) learner or, a teacher/school being outstanding to requiring improvement/special measures. As a teacher/leader I am totally in agreement that we need to have high expectations, we need to challenge young people and we need to continually engage with CPD to improve and provide the highest quality of teaching possible. However I am becoming increasingly perplexed by the perceived constant need to put people and organisations into categories. Why do we as a country continually feel the need to label everything. Well I know for sure that when we label people or organisations it stops us being the best we can be.
Let me explain…
When we give an child an aspirational target of say a B grade which is based on previous data etc, we are actually saying to that child that this is their ceiling. What is truly an ‘aspiration’ is saying to them that the they need to be the best that they can be. As teachers we should be challenging the learner to be better and consistently encouraging them to get the very highest grade that is available. Not all will make it but I believe that if you aim for the stars then as a teacher you are actually creating more of a chance that they will land on the moon! My teaching ethos has always been to continually focus on improvement through formative assessment without worrying too much about the actual grade. I would go so far as saying that it is my belief that I would only do summative assessments if it will genuinely ensure that it will move the child forward, which in turn becomes more of a formative that summative assessment. My success in developing learners to achieve higher grades than they ever thought possible pays testament to this theory. I am heartened to hear that many schools and colleges are now moving towards less summative assessment (possibly one a term) and concentrating on improving the young persons ability and skills to learn through peer and self assessment. I know that this does create better independent learners who take more responsibility for their own learning and achieve better academic success.
I am also heartened to read and hear more stories of schools abandoning lesson observations that have a grade attached. This is a great move forward in my view as it will create a much more collegiate way of improving teaching and learning through teachers and leaders having a genuine and constructive dialog of the teaching that is taking place. It has to be carried out in a way that encourages and supports the development of the teacher. Not giving a grade allows the focus to move away from the despair of a potentially negative grade based largely on a very subjective opinion. Of course even constructive feedback is subjective, but the more variety of opinions that are brought into the mix through a truly collegiate approach will raise the standards of teaching and help teachers to become better and create the highest standards of education. For leaders, if that is not encouraging them to improve or having high expectations of their staff then I don’t what would be?
An article written in the TES recently discusses similar principles to those explained in this blog. The article focuses on the theory that OUR education system should be built upon the values of support, encouragement and empathy.
THIS blog is about what I believe would help create a more supportive education system.
P.s. I make no excuse for missing out the word ‘rigour’ in this blog. The word means “the quality of being extremely thorough and careful“, “severity or strictness” or “harsh and demanding conditions” as cited in the Oxford Dictionaries. My feeling is that it is a word that is only being used when showing a punitive approach by leaders. The only meaning I can relate my own values to is to be ‘thorough’ in my work.