KS2 SATS – a few thoughts

Nick Gibb’s appearance in front of the select committee earlier this week was as depressing as it was saddening. It’s not his fault, he’s simply clearing up the mess left by a minister who thought smashing everything to pieces would be some sort of magic bullet and raise standards. That said, his failure to get to grips with primary assessment is stark and nothing he said assuaged any reservations teachers have about primary assessment.

Lets be clear, this is not a moany blog: it is an attempt to shed light on the reality of what the new tests mean for kids, teachers and schools. It is by no means a reflection of my own school, but more the worrying stories I’ve heard via DM etc on twitter. It also contains my personal views on the new SATS regime and what will come of the massive hike in standards.

This blog has one basic premise:

The tests are too hard

The new KS2 tests are too hard. They are certainly too hard for those who experienced the old SATS in year 2. They are certainly too hard for schools where the worst teachers are chucked in years 3/4 and kids stagnate. Until the first cohort that got the new curriculum from year 1 reach year 6 – the results will also be meaningless – the rise in standards meant that those secure under the old system were actually a year behind on the new one. Where this year-long catch-up comes from (for y3/4/5/6 cohorts) is anyone’s guess. If the children aren’t on track by the start of year 6, you’ve no chance in reading, writing or maths of reaching the expected standard. Saving your best teachers for year 6 is now the equivalent of saving Matt Le Tissier to take the 5th penalty in a shoot out, only to find his four team mates missed, meaning he didn’t get a go.

There are no short cuts

Put simply, unless your children have had an excellent and well planned maths curriculum in years 3/4, focusing almost exclusively (80%+) on number, the year 5/6 curriculum will be way beyond the majority. Unless your children are reading Harry Potter at the beginning of year 5 and you continue to expose them to hard texts, they will have poor chances in the reading test. Unless your children are writing 2 pages of coherent and well put-together paragraphs in year 4, they have a low chance of success in year 5/6.

“We wanted to  produce tests you couldn’t teach to”

Problem is, teachers and headteachers still think you can teach to the test. What we are experiencing is a disconnect. It is unlikely that anyone in a HT role has experienced the new SATS at KS2, this is also probably true for most DHT’s too. This lack of experience of the higher standards means teachers are being leaned on to make that difference in year 6. The solutions vary, but I have heard the following: teaching nothing but maths and English since Christmas, before or after school boosters every day for children, Easter schools, afternoon catch up lessons meaning kids miss the subjects they actually go to school for, revision guides sent home and 30-60 minutes revision expected every night, teachers telling parents to get private tutors and so on. It’s all premised on a lie: that the SATS test children. They do, but their primary reason for existing is to test schools. We turn this pressure onto parents and kids because we have no choice. If we don’t we (or our HT) lose our (their) job. Its a vicious circle. And secondaries don’t give one flying bit of notice to the results. And don’t set on the basis of them.

Will somebody think of the children!?!?

I’m no bleeding heart liberal when it comes to education. I see myself as a traditional teacher, even if I have been deserted by other trads on twitter. Perhaps what I am about to write is why: these tests are making children think they are a failure. AND ITS UNFAIR. Anyone getting base points of 18+ in KS1 tests is now expected to be greater depth for everything. THAT IS SO LUDICROUS CAPITALS DON’T DO IT JUSTICE. Even if a child does well and passes the test, if the progress measure isn’t high enough, they’ve still failed. I suspect that rather than the old dash to push children to level 4, that smarter schools have looked at protecting the progress measure by ensuring those at the middle/top get high scores. The problem with this is those children may only be allowed to drop 5-10 marks on the reading paper in order to get that level, which given the 3 mark monster question last year, becomes a tough ask.

Hating school

I honestly think the main affect of these tests will be to wreck year 6. The kids won’t want to come to school, the teachers won’t want to be there and the behaviour will go out of control. Until the end of June the children will be worked into the ground and after that, assuming the teachers are still sane and the kids are still coming to school, they will do precisely no learning before the holidays start. And then precisely no learning in year 7/8 making the whole process crazy (THAT’S A JOKE SECONDARY TEACHERS).

“SATS in all subjects”

I read this tweet by Michael Fordham the other day (sorry if I’ve misquoted you Michael) – and it made me laugh out loud. The reason is this: no sane year 6 teacher is teaching anything other than reading, writing, maths, Science and PE. And even then, I suspect the PE and Science have disappeared in some schools (I actually know it has from conversations with other teachers). If your year 5 teacher is savvy and tuned into whole school priorities, then they are doing the same. The curriculum has been demolished because there simply isn’t enough time to fit everything in. In schools with nice catchment areas I expect things are tickety-boo right now, but for most it isn’t. The type of kids who need to be hooked into a varied and diverse curriculum are likely getting a maths/English heavy curriculum, leading to disaffection with school for those who need to be engaged the most. It’s a disaster for these children.

I’ll leave it there.

Comments welcome.

 

EEF marking review

I’ve rushed out this blog to try and take control of the narrative because in my view there are two damaging statements from the executive summary that are backed with no evidence and school leader may seize upon them. So forgive any grammar/punctuation mistakes(!)

They are:

1. The use of targets to make marking as specific and actionable as possible is likely to increase pupil progress

2. Pupils are unlikely to benefit from marking unless some time is set aside to enable pupils to consider and respond to marking

 

Let’s look at the targets section of the report:

It opens with:

“Very few studies appear to focus specifically on the impact of writing targets on work.”

This seems to be a theme with all of the report, which begs the question of why it was published in the first place. More concerning is that this statement is followed by this:

“However, a large number of studies and syntheses consistently identify the impact of making other types of feedback specific.”

So basically read the following: There is no evidence on written marking but we are going to get stuff from verbal feedback and use the conclusions so we have something to write about.

That theme is continued:

“Wider evidence on effective feedback – including studies of verbal and peer feedback in schools, as well as studies from related fields such as psychology – consistently finds that the specificity of feedback is a key determinant of its impact on performance, while feedback that is imprecise may be viewed by pupils as useless or frustrating”

So evidence from something completely different is being used to justify the following position:

“Given this wider evidence, setting clear targets in marking, and reminding pupils of these before they complete a similar piece of work in the future, appears to be a promising approach, which it would be valuable to evaluate further.”

Evaluating further is a must because there is no evidence being put forward, just fumbling in the dark and looking for parallels in different research areas. What is clear is the first sentence is totally without any foundation and saying it “could be a promising approach” is without any foundation WHATSOEVER. This section should be the other way around and read: “We don’t have any evidence but if we look at a related area there are pointers (but not direct ones) which MUST BE EVALUATED BEFORE ANY CONCLUSIONS OR CLAIMS CAN BE MADE.”

Again, in order to fill up space perhaps, the report goes on to say:

“Consistent with evidence about specificity, it is likely that short-term targets are more effective than longer-term goals, and when pupils are only working towards a small number of targets at any given time. Some studies indicate that different age groups may respond to targets in different ways, but no studies appear to have robustly evaluated this difference.”

Again, the other way around: “we have no evidence but we have to write something about this so we are guessing, rather than leaving this space blank”

To top it all off we have the following:

“In some cases, targets may be more effective if pupils have a role in setting them, or are required to re-write them in their own words. Studies from schools and universities suggest that teachers can overestimate the degree to which pupils understand targets or success criteria in the same way that they do, which may act as a barrier to improvement.”

By this time I’m tempted to cry because I know how this will all be received by SLT’s across the land. They will say the report says the following:

1. We need targets on work

2. They need to be short-term, i.e. on every piece of work

3. Pupils have to set their own targets

This DESPITE THE FACT THAT NONE OF THESE CLAIMS HAVE ANY EVIDENCE IN ANY STUDIES BASED ON WHAT THE REPORT IS TALKING ABOUT, NAMELY WRITTEN MARKING. I am appalled that the authors could be so cavalier about their choice of words for this section.

 

Response to marking

In the section on “dialogue marking” after the usual paragraph saying there are virtually no studies, this section is more blunt than the others and states:

“No high-quality studies appear to have evaluated the impact of triple impact marking.”

For me, that should have been the end of this section.

The case study, which attempts to show something, mentions a project done on verbal feedback via ipads, which has absolutely no relevance to the issue of triple marking in books. At any rate, the study mentions no substantive data whatsoever, other than there were 231 pupils involved and a number of schools. No evidence of how they gathered information or evaluated it. In fact, it has no reason for being there AT ALL.

However, we have to get to the “response” part of the report to (try to) drill down for the evidence to back up the executive summary claim (point 2 above).

Let’s unpick this statement:

“The most basic question related to pupil responses is whether pupils should be given time in class to consider comments. While no high-quality experimental studies appear to have looked at this question, surveys in schools and higher education settings consistently suggest that pupils do not engage with or find it hard to act on the feedback they are given, and that pupils value the opportunity to respond to feedback.”

Read: no studies exist but kids have told us they don’t read/understand written marking but they like responding (?)

Then we have this MASSIVE leap:

“Given this, it appears that there is a strong case for providing dedicated time to consider and respond to marking in class.”

Can we find the evidence that there is a strong case? Because some surveys have said so? Does it work? Help pupil progress? Increase kids learning stuff? You decide. The evidence, or lack of it, is clear.

Can we go back to the statement above which said:

“Pupils are unlikely to benefit from marking unless some time is set aside to enable pupils to consider and respond to marking”

Is there any evidence for this? It may seem like common sense, but its how this will be taken out of context by some ineffective school leaders and inspectors who do not understand ‘research’. If we flip this sentence and say: “pupils are unlikely to benefit from responding to marking because there is no evidence they do.” Can we be proved wrong by what we know?

 

Conclusion

This report is a living, breathing, example of why you should NEVER only read the executive summary. But that aside, the report has no evidence about anything useful (to do with written marking) and should never have been published. In fact, it could have been one paragraph saying the following: “we can’t find anything to look at so we are saying to the research community that they MUST research this. In the meantime we will not be publishing a report on this, just in case school leaders take it out of context.”

IF this report is quoted at you in your workplace to make you do something you feel is daft, say the following: “there is no evidence to back up any conclusions you draw from the report. We are still waiting for decent studies on this area of research.”

Comments welcome.​

Greater depth and mastery at primary

This blog is my thoughts on greater depth and mastery at primary. It includes what (I think) you (may) need to know and suggestions for a way forward.

With the demise of levels, a number of promising announcements from the DfE regarding assessment and learning have been produced. Although the message has become somewhat skewed through a combination of incompetence/lack of direction/purda/changes in education staff (delete as appropriate) the overall message remains the same: no longer is learning a tick a box exercise, which (SLT/OFSTED management of) levels had reduced teachers to. Learning needs to be deeper and long lasting. Time should be taken to properly address problematic issues, rather than taking a broad view and assigning an imprecise end of year ‘level’. This is a logical and sensible approach, given that progress through curriculum aims is not systematic and uniform.

Working definition:

A working definition is difficult to come by. I have had mastery expressed to me as “unconscious competence” – namely the idea that you can do something without really thinking about it. The example given was that of driving a car, you can do it because you have learned and thus your mind can drift off and think about what you are having for tea etc, without crashing. In a primary setting I would suggest that this is unhelpful. It is unlikely that children will unconsciously do anything and in many cases it is highly preferable that they don’t. Greater depth offers us a way forward. It implies that children use acquired knowledge in a more practical and abstract way, thus refining their knowledge and skills through application. It is also something that is within the grasp of most primary children, whereas “mastery” (in its conceptual form) was out of the reach of all but a small % of children.

Curriculum design:

A properly designed curriculum is essential for learning in greater depth. Logically this would take the form of the front loading of the necessary knowledge required to do what is required of the child. For example, there is little point teaching a child how to simplify fractions unless they have a working knowledge (or mastery!) of times tables, factors, division and multiplication. Equally to get to that point addition and subtraction, as well as a conceptual understanding of number needs to have been embedded. However, we are constrained somewhat by national curriculum tests at KS1. If these were removed, we could front load our maths/writing/reading curriculum with a heavy knowledge base in years 1-3 and spend 4-6 applying and exploring the concepts. Some would argue that this already happens, but it is incongruous to me that you need to spend time learning 3D shapes in year 2, when the same knowledge can be taught in a couple of afternoons in year 4. With the fact that end of KS tests will not be removed, we need to be devising our individual key stage curricula with this front loading in mind. For example: I would recommend a heavy amount of spelling, grammar, number, decoding and fluency in reading for year 3 and 4, ready for exploitation in years 5 and 6. The point is that, aside from the end of key stage tests, we have the latitude to deliver the curriculum in the way we see fit. I think we should exploit that to the full. Forget artificial year group targets, (made up by people who should know better) challenging end of key stage outcomes should be our main overall focus.

Classroom management:

As an upper key stage 2 teacher (year 5 and 6) I have recently been using a classroom model designed to move children to working independently and applying knowledge as soon as they “get it”. This basically involves me sitting at a table with around 8-10 seats which is known as the “I need more help” table. On that table I try to address misconceptions and support those who need a confidence boost to move to the other area of the room. The rest of the class is the challenge area, where children are required to apply their knowledge (in support of the lesson objective) to more abstract, deeper tasks. As an incentive, they can sit where they want, with whoever they want, so long as they are concentrating.

For example, in maths I might display a number board with 25 numbers from 1-999 on it. All children are given a number of tasks: 1. make two additions totalling more than 1000, 2. make two subtractions with an answer less than 100, 3. make one multiplication to 5 digits, 4. make one division to a whole number more than one. In a task like this children come and go from the ‘help’ table as required, some might need help with a certain operation, or a method to find a solution. For those who have finished, extension tasks are easy to produce: find two square numbers, make 2 prime numbers, are any of the 25 numbers cube numbers? etc. I find as a teacher I do far less, but the class is working far more effectively, it also enables me to give instant feedback where it is crucially needed to move everything on.

People always ask about writing, so here is how I use the above model. Based on the cold write children get a number of individual targets: use similes, punctuate direct speech properly or that old favourite, capital letters and full stops in the correct places. So a couple of times a week I might do slow writing with my class to address these, this can thus be far more effective than a whole class grammar lesson where 50% have already got what you are teaching them. By using the slow writing model, each child can have (at least) 6 separate and individual targets, based on their prior performance. In that lesson, if they get to something they aren’t sure about they can join the ‘help’ table for that sentence then move away to do the rest. It’s just one example, but there are others.

The main advantage of this model is the amount of time children are working independently. This is a real problem in primary, especially with the amount of guided group work that goes on. Children should seek help when needed. Developing that perseverance to succeed is vital for success in everything. Sometimes making things easy is very harmful in the long run.

Note on SEN: I am lucky to have only a few children who absolutely cannot access the year 5/6 curriculum. They are catered for by having another table in the class where they are supported by me or my TA. I am absolutely not of the view that the new expectations are within the reach of everyone, but I will try my best and expect the kids to do the same.

Note on teaching: Obviously this does not happen every lesson, there are times when whole class instruction is vital and I do not shy away from that, especially if encountering a concept for the first time.

Note on positioning: I obviously break off from the ‘help’ table to see if children have got it. I quick 30 second scout around usually gives me the information I need.

Assessment: pre learning assessment, post learning assessment, intervention:

In a model such as above, you need to identify those who will struggle with a concept as soon as possible, which in my view requires turning everything on its head. I am not content to have a set group system for any subject, as I believe this limits learning for all groups in the class. I want to give every child a chance of succeeding and applying concepts effectively. Pretesting in certain subjects is vital, as is intervention prior to teaching anything. Why bother with intervention when children have already failed? Give them the best chance of succeeding by front loading it. This requires intervention to operate in a more flexible way, which may cause problems for performance managing TA’s, but for the gains possible, it’s got to be worth it. As for assessment, wouldn’t it be great if at the end of the the year we just logged which children had ‘worked in greater depth’ (during lessons) for most of the year? If anything, this blog should reinforce the point that we (as schools and teachers) are judged by an end of key stage result. So what if a child is not meeting year 3/4/5 standards if it all clicks into place by the end of year 6 (or even after)?

Teacher/TA knowledge:

Subject knowledge is vital. It really is. You do not have a chance at making this work if you are not two things: highly knowledgeable in (at least) the core subjects and the ability to identify misconceptions before they arise. Unfortunately this will only come with experience, so make sure you log somewhere (I usually put it in my brain- i’m not that organised) when something crops up.

I hope this helps and I’d welcome any comments and improvements.

British Values – More necessary than we think?

On the 19th April 1920 the allies met at San Remo to discuss the formalisation into international law of a number of secret agreements made during World War One. The most pressing concern for the British and French was the formal adoption of the Sykes-Picot agreement, which essentially divided the Middle-East between the two powers. Although the initial agreement was wooly, facts on the ground necessitated a solution. The British were the incumbent rulers of much of the region including Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt and what was to become Jordan. They had allies to pay off for wartime cooperation, as did the French, and all these had to come together into one agreement. What came about was a fudge: the British had simultaneously promised “Syria” to four different parties. The French interpreted it to mean they would govern “Greater Syria” which included parts of Palestine. The Arabs interpreted it to mean they would govern the entire Levant. The Balfour Declaration promised Palestine (and possibly more) to the Zionists, which contradicted with their promise to the Arabs. And the British were committed to retain control of the region as a bulwark in the defence of India. Within the resulting agreement lay the roots of the current antipathy between the Arabs and the west, but of more importance to this blog was the creation at the same conference of the state of Iraq.

Iraq was created in 1920, under the supervision of the British, who installed the Hashemite King Faisal as ruler, after he was ousted from Syria in the immediate post-war grab for power among Arab elites. A cursory glance at the map reveals that much of its borders had been drawn using a ruler, in a completely arbitrary way. This was not new, as anyone looking at the current map of Africa could attest.

Iraq forced together three major groups: The Sunni Muslims – who were favoured by the British – and who centered around the area of Baghdad, the Shi’a Muslims who were mainly in the south and east and the Kurds, who lived in and around Mosul and the north. This necessitated a state building process, a process mirrored across the Middle-East in the states created by the Sykes-Picot agreement. The British, in their role as ‘mandated power’ were charged by the League of Nations to get the new country ready for independence through training a bureaucratic class to leave the nation to when it was “ready.”

So how do you build a nation? You create a flag, a national anthem, a power base around a capital, a strong army, a common language of the bureaucracy and develop the historical basis for the state. Iraq had a rich history including the Babylonians, as well as the fact that Baghdad was the largest and most important city in the world from around 800-1000AD. This meant there was a starting point for nation building, but building a nation is far more complex than that. The key to developing a nation is to develop and encourage nationalism. In Britain nationalism is a dirty word, but across the globe the promotion of this ideology has been necessary to make states work. In a nation put together by people using a ruler and drawing on a map, how do you make them all live together in harmony?

The state building process was incredibly successful in Iraq, but only endured as long as there was a large standing army and a preferred state elite at the top of the ruling class to enforce it. When this was taken away after the American invasion, the state collapsed, resulting in what we have today: A Kurdish state in the north and a bloody struggle for power between the Sunnis and Shi’a. Added into this are the forces of ISIS, who interestingly are committed to the destruction of the Sykes-Picot agreement (yes, that again).

So what relevance has this to British values? In a world where most countries were created during the last 100 years, we have a privileged position where our nation is far older and established than most others. It is a nation where I could walk around saying the Queen should be beheaded and no one would care. The state is established and endures, with apparently little need for nation building. But, is it really? Many believe the challenge of mass immigration is eroding some of the fundamental values at the core of the state. The rise of individuality and self-interest (thanks Maggie) has made people show allegiance to brands rather than their fellow man/woman. Less people vote in general elections than ever before, less people care about politics, the party giving the best economic plan wins elections because this facilitates people’s selfish, consumer driven lifestyle which they care about above all else.

In this worst case scenario, the very roots and values that stop the disintegration of our nation are under threat, which is essentially why Gove promoted the idea. Despite what people thought, it was never the imperialist “empire was great” agenda that was important.

I have absolutely no issue with the values put forward. But I would question whether they are being supported by the parties in parliament.

Democracy: where fewer than 30% of the population voted for a government who now has absolute power to rule for the next 5 years and almost 4 million people voted for UKIP who got 1 seat and 1.5 million people voted for the SNP who got 56.

The rule of law: where politicians can get away with launching illegal wars, where politician’s mates can get away with tax avoidance, where nationalised industries can be stolen on the cheap by those connected to the government.

Individual liberty: where you are compelled to ‘work’ if you cant find a job, where your status in society depends on how much money you have.

Tolerance towards those with different religions or faiths: where a parliament has a huge under representation of minorities, where Islamophobia is rife within a parties that won over 15 million votes.

I recognise the need for British values, and the importance of them. I just wish we had some genuine leadership on these issues from the political class that has foisted them on us. Schools I have worked in have naturally promoted these values, if not in an explicit way. It’s time for the politicians to follow suit.

Getting started with Twitter

Ramblings of a Teacher

Whenever I speak at conferences or Inset sessions, I always drop in a recommendation that teachers and school leaders should sign up to Twitter. Naturally, it’s not the main thrust of my presentation, and so I move on, but I thought it would be useful to have a post to direct people to, with suggestions for getting started.

Because of the work I do, the suggestions are probably more useful for school leaders, but for classroom teachers getting started I’d also recommend Mrs P Teach’s blog on inspirational teachers to follow.

Firstly, some words to reassure:

  • You can register completely anonymously
  • You don’t have to ‘say’ or ‘tweet’ anything if you don’t want
  • It’s nothing like Facebook

The main reason I recommend school leaders in particular to sign up for Twitter, is the ability to keep track of changes in education, which no-one can deny are frequent and rapid. Often now…

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What type of teacher are you?

N.B. This post is inspired by a conversation with @gazneedle on Monday night and is the first blog where I do not have an answer to the questions I ask.

What type of teacher are you? No, I’m not talking about the progressive/traditional tropes. Are you teaching kids to make them smarter? Are you teaching kids to give them skills for later life? Are you imparting knowledge into minds? Are you “lighting fires” in their imagination? (pass me the sick bucket….)

What I’m talking about is results. Are you teaching to get results? In many teaching jobs and classes this is not a factor. If you had stayed out of year 2/6 in primary this didn’t really apply until recently where the year 1 teachers suddenly got a dose of this harsh reality, even if it was only in phonics.

Who are the best year 6 teachers? Are they ones who teach the kids a varied curriculum and do not place any emphasis on SATS? Or are they those who get the best results? Is this a false dichotomy? I honestly have no view either way, aside from the fact that as a parent I would want my child to do as well as possible (whatever this means).

And what about the knock on effect on the rest of school? If the year 6 teacher has a great time doing loads of PE and drama and produces SATS results that are less than satisfactory, this drops the entire enterprise in the doo-doo, especially with the OFSTED obsession with data. Are you willing to ‘let-down’ your colleagues?

More importantly (because this blog is read by teachers) what would you do? Are you willing to forgo a varied curriculum to reach the 85% in 2016? Are you willing to force the kids through exams papers over and over again until they work out the nuances of the questions? Would you put your principles to one side for the sake of the ‘school’ and their results?

Maybe I’m getting this wrong – maybe there is a way of doing some proper teaching and getting great SATS results, but looking at the sample papers for 2016, I can only see a disaster in progress. Who cares if a child is a fluent and engaging writer, if they can’t identify the determiners/fronted adverbials/perfect verb in their sentences? Does this even matter?

I can see only drilling, endless practice papers, shouting, crying (both teachers and pupils) until the raising of standards works its way through the system in around 4/5 years time. I also see a lot of stress, a lot of teachers “sacked” (deliberate inverted commas) and a lot of schools in RI and forced conversion processes over the next few years.

What would you do?

researchED – Drilling down to the evidence

While I take and understand the point about confirmation bias, it is absolutely the case the Dylan Wiliam articulated in one hour everything I have been banging on about in tweets and blogs about educational research over the past couple of years. The only difference being that while Dylan is an internationally regarded educator, that I am a totally insignificant figure, even in my own school (or house – ask my wife).

It was the section about meta-analysis that really struck a cord. Dylan showed in ten minutes the major difficulties with this method of analysis. Put simply, you cannot compare like for like unless you drill down to the exact thing you are investigating. Thus, it is pointless comparing 100 papers on feedback if 33 refer to immediate verbal feedback, 33 to written feedback, or 34 to peer feedback (not sure if that last thing exists, but it sounds ok). By aggregating the effect sizes of these papers (taking the notion of effect size with a massive shovel-full of salt) you are actually aggregating an overall result from three different types of intervention. In short, this makes things like Hattie’s meta-analysis, the Sutton trust and the EEF toolkit at best inaccurate, at worst incompetent, misleading and plain wrong.

People are obsessed with having absolutes. Sam Freeman’s talk showed that. In order to have effective policy you need (he said) a clear goal, a clear problem to solve and a clear outcome to aim for. You get to this by investigating the issue, reviewing the evidence and making decisions on it. When I questioned the Sutton Trust toolkit I was told it was a “good starting point.” I reject that entirely. It tries to make absolutes without having the basis to have absolutes. And this is massively damaging. Its impact can be toxic on a school culture.

An example: TA’s have no impact on achievement, or class sizes don’t matter, I mean you could have picked anything, but I have had this repeated to me by people senior than me (not my current SLT just in case they are reading) who are certain that the “research” findings are sound. They have not got the knowledge or insight into how research is carried out to question these findings.

Feedback is the key thing for me. According to everyone (an obvious overstatement) feedback is a cheap and effective way to move learning forward. Is this actually the case? I’m not sure it is. I get the impression that someone picking up this idea and giving their pupils constant feedback (because they have been told to do so) will do massive damage to their ability to learn in the long term. According to Wiliam’s slides, 38% of (the remaining) studies on feedback in a meta-analysis of 3000 showed a negative effect for feedback. Leaving aside what form that takes, that is a big number. So on average: 62% of the time feedback increases achievement. This is far from the ‘feedback is king’ trope we are constantly subjected to.

On a micro-level this is damaging too. OFSTED have recently started effectively grading teachers through book scrutiny. This is, I think, for two reasons: 1. because doing it through lesson observations was inaccurate and 2. Feedback is now king because the research says it is. But what this leads to are: intricate and long-winded marking polices, the use of different colour pens for no reason, the downgrading of verbal feedback (in my opinion the most effective form of feedback, backed up I think by the research, see Wiliam’s slides) and teacher exhaustion. I find it disturbing that this fatal mistake at the top level can trickle down to effect every teacher in the land. But I understand how it can happen.

David Didau talked about the “sunk-cost fallacy” and I am beginning to think it applies to the current fad in education research. So much money has been invested in RCT’s (which I am CERTAIN will not give us anything useful, see Wiliam’s presentation or wait for the results with massive confidence intervals to come out) that it will be seen as a disaster if nothing comes out of them. What is the answer? Didau summed it up I think when he said if in your experience it works, then it probably does. I am firmly of the belief that you can find absolutes through research, BUT, and this is a big but, you have to work out in advance what you CAN and CANNOT prove. Research design is all-important, but there are so many intangibles involved in education I feel the latitude to prove anything is limited. “Never work with children or animals” – you better believe it.

I put it to Carl Hendrick that I think we might need more qualitative rather than quantative research and his reaction was “qualitative?!?” (I need an interrobang here but my keyboard hasn’t got one – look it up if you don’t know what I’m on about). His reaction was perfectly understandable because it goes against the current trend of finding reliable data, but for me this is the problem. If the data cannot prove anything BECAUSE of the intangibles and a qualitative analysis COULD start to understand those intangibles (in the overall scheme of a research project of course) then why not do it? Put simply, the answer is cost. A qualitative study containing enough work to actually be meaningful would take thousands and thousands of hours of observation, analysis, interview, transcription etc etc. and would be took expensive by a mile.

BUT, if this is the only way of gaining valuable insight then should we bother? Or should be just do what we feel is right? I don’t have the answers, but like a true Sociology PhD I like to complicate it enough that people might consider these points.

*ducks for cover*