Last Monday saw the first ever Clean Slate twitter discussion, continuing the theme of my last post: assessment. Attending the discussion were teachers of primary, secondary and further education, as well as other interested parties. That makes it sound huge, but there were seven of us, which on Twitter was quite enough for a lively discussion.
I had some questions to start up the discussion, but we ended up in all sorts of interesting places, including homework, social deprivation and how to judge teachers.
I asked if we needed assessment at all. The consensus seemed to be that we do – we need it to plan the next step in teaching, to fill in gaps and to give feedback to parents on how their child is doing. Assessment needs to be thorough, consistent and most of all relevant to the individual student – but does it need to be formal? We thought not. Teacher assessment was agreed to be most useful and accurate, as the teacher knows what the student is capable of day to day and not just on the day of the exam. In Early Years this is already the model used for measuring the children’s progress – why can’t this be implemented all through school? All it takes is putting a bit more trust in teachers. This concept was greeted with (virtual) hollow laughter by most. Apparently, teachers are not feeling very trusted currently. The amount of paperwork loaded on them suggests that it is not their word and their expertise that counts, but their recordable, measurable results.
This led us to talking about recording: how should our assessment of student progress be written down, and how much detail is needed? Although some felt that quantifying learning & progress was important, and that it was helpful to be able to present parents with a record of their child’s achievements, many of us did think that recording progress had definitely gone too far in schools. One teacher said: “Too much focus on physical evidence devalues the bit that needs to happen first. Play, language development, exploration.” And why is all this physical evidence collected? Because it is being used for performance management purposes.
This brought us back to the purpose of assessment: who are we recording for? Ourselves? Parents? School? Or Ofsted?
We ended up talking a lot about how teachers are judged, and whether we thought this was fair. At the moment, the students’ grades and achievement of targets feeds in to the teacher’s performance management, along with observation grades. Many of our possible ideas and solutions for making a change in assessment ran aground when we thought of all the ways in which teachers are monitored through students’ achievements.
I will have more to say about this in a later post, and will get back to some of the suggestions made in the Twitter discussion then, but for now I would like to say once more: when we talk about educational reform, nothing should be off the table. It is too important. Certainly, scrapping Ofsted or current funding models is on my to do list, as in their current format they seriously hold teachers back from excelling at their job.
Another interesting point that came up was students who need extra support, especially those who come from families that are not keen on school themselves, who will not help with homework because they don’t have the time, skills or resources. “Schools should be community hubs offering support for the whole child/family,” one teacher said. “Hopefully all want what’s best for the child. [It should be a place] where staff can try stuff and if it fails, hey try something new! Supported to improve own practice and innovate.” This idea of a community hub was inspiring, and other came with suggestions: “mixed age classes, classes for parents to take/teach, parent support staff on hand…”
All this made me think: what is progress? Why are we setting unilateral targets for students when they all start in different places, learn at different rates and end up at different destinations? As one teacher put it: “for some, just managing to stay in school against all odds is an achievement.”
Finally, I’d like to end with some quotes that reflect the views on education we shared:
“Education should be a cultural growth experience, not a fast food menu of facts to memorize and regurgitate, ever evolving as the culture shifts from generation to generation”
“Education is a fun learning curve, every day all of the time, not something crammed into curriculums & assessments”
“The school belongs to the kids and their families, not to the teachers, the LEA or the DFE.”
Let’s do this again! Next Clean Slate discussion Monday 2 September 2013 at 8.30pm GMT. Use #cleanslate.