Standardised Standards

I visited City Hall the other day, the seat of London’s mayor. On entering the building I had to go through an ‘airport-style’ security procedure with an X-ray machine for my bag and a walk-through metal detector. Having done this, overseen by a couple of security guards, I walked into a lecture hall and waited around for a while until a cleaner came in and told me there was nothing on in this room; I then went into a lift that would only take me to three of the ten floors. After a while of this aimless wandering I was lucky enough to meet someone who could help me find the room I needed to be in. The official control systems were in place but there was no receptionist (like at the primary school where I work) so I was lost. This made me think of the English education system where centralised control and measurement have priority over actually helping teachers find their way i.e. develop their practise.

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A Letter to my son’s headteacher

My son’s school recently had to undergo an Ofsted inspection. The school ended up being given a ‘3’ which translates as ‘in need of improvement’ (aren’t we all). Here is the letter I sent to the headteacher. It was photocopied for all teachers in the school and a copy now takes pride of place on the wall of my son’s classroom. I hope that it might inspire other parents to write similar letters of support in the same circumstances.

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Another disgruntled teacher!

Here is a letter published in the Metro free newspaper on 15th October. It is from a ‘Disgruntled Teacher’ (not me!) Well done Metro for printing it and well done Disgruntled Teacher for sending it. I know just how you feel.

Readers have been blaming teachers for the below-average level of young people’s literacy and numeracy. I would like to point out that teachers are under constant scrutiny and pressure to drive pupil attainment higher. As a primary school teacher, I must ensure my seven and eight-year-olds reach specific attainment levels by the end of the year and I am subject to termly moderations to make sure they are all on track. I am wholly accountable for their progress.

            My problem is that this increased pressure on children to perform and make progress means opportunities for exploration and enjoyment of learning are pushed aside as there is ‘no time’. We are creating classrooms of robots who lack self expression and interest. As teachers, we are under such strict time constraints on what must be covered that it is having an adverse affect on education. So they may be able to write a perfectly formed letter at seven but at what cost?

                                                                        Disgruntled Teacher via email

“Never is anyone more unjust than the ignorant.” Adelphoe

            I was invited to observe a colleague’s lesson as part of some middle-management training. The idea is that if a school’s management know what the correct judgement for a lesson is (outstanding = 1, good = 2 etc) then that school knows its staff and will be able to explain itself to any visiting inspector. The process was straightforward enough but also insidious. The denial of subtlety and the insistence that learning can, and indeed must, be seen to be happening in front of any observer’s eyes is absurd, unintelligent and unjust.

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Ofsted Imperfect

Some thoughts on the Ofsted inspection process

There needs to be an acute awareness of the fact that what an observer sees and subsequently says is subjective. This is why non-judgemental feedback is crucial. The ‘Ofsted-style’ grading is divisive and unhelpful. It’s wrong for Ofsted to do it every few years and it’s even more wrong for staff within a school to do it to each other every term.

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Bogus judgements: a case study

The following quotes in bold are from a recent lesson observation; these quotes are followed by my thoughts on each one. The intention is to show how a system of quick judgements can be both inaccurate and destructive. ‘Performance-related pay’ is being pushed through at the moment as the obvious solution to poor teaching. The following few points illustrate how easy it is to make inaccurate judgements. There is also a sense that the final grade is more important than the development of the teacher’s practice. This has disturbing implications for a new era of ‘performance related pay’.

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A demoralised colleague

I sent the following message to a fellow teacher who has been treated with contempt by those employed to support and guide her. She had taught a literacy lesson to a class of five and six year olds. Some of the children had used ‘ellipsis’ (as a set of dots) in their writing because they had learned about these three little dots earlier in the week. The children knew about them and were intrigued by them and by their special name: ellipsis. The management/observers regarded this as reason enough to dismiss the entire lesson as ‘inadequate’. Curiously they felt the need to ‘reassure’ this particular teacher that she was an outstanding teacher but – due to the grave matter of five year olds messing around with dots – the lesson in question had to be judged as ‘inadequate’.

A message of support:

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Reader’s Rant – Cardiff teacher – NUT website 12.11.09

Christine Gilbert, Ofsted chief inspector, says she thinks that boring teachers are responsible for the deteriorating behaviour in our schools. I wonder if she launched this crackdown as a smokescreen to divert attention away from the failings of her own organisation. After all Ofsted had just described Haringey’s children’s services as ‘good’ shortly before the death of Baby P, and as ‘grossly inadequate’ shortly afterwards.
The Guardian reported on 5 January that the chief inspector felt there was a link between pupils’ “boredom and achievement” and that their “behaviour is deteriorating because they are not being stimulated enough in the classroom”.
Representatives of both the NUT and NASUWT pointed to evidence allegedly showing an improvement in the quality of teaching over the last 15 years. However there is no independent evidence on how standards have changed. Ofsted judgements have varied throughout the period (with greatly fluctuating interpretations of the 3 grade – is it sound? Is it satisfactory? Is it unremarkable? Or is it unsatisfactory after all?)
Is it possible to make every lesson exciting? It’s very difficult to conduct four to six exciting lessons every day, five days a week, plus having to deal with late night and weekend marking and preparation. Not every child is interested in your subject or likes your approach. Not every child comes from a loving and supportive home. Or maybe the school is lacking the resources to help the teacher make their lessons more exciting?
When I joined the teaching profession in the seventies, we were encouraged to be creative and collaborative. I organised residential courses, educational trips and theatre visits for my pupils. I invited speakers in, introduced educational games and role-play exercises, used quizzes, puzzles, videos and computers, and team taught, to instil a love and enjoyment of my subject.
By the time I retired two years ago I’d had enough of government initiatives. Their insistence on a mechanistic approach to the national curriculum, their obsession with testing and examination preparation, the pressure of league tables, the naming and shaming, the negative impact of Ofsted and its dubious political role. Performance management led to increased teaching to the test, which, while it may have caused temporary test improvements, has also led to narrow, restricted and extremely boring teaching.
The conclusion is obvious. Schools could be happier places, and children could enjoy their education more, if New Labour would drop its insistence on the national curriculum, testing and reductionist approaches to teaching. It’s time for this government to listen to teachers and educationalists.
Chris Newman, Cardiff

Stephen Ball and others on ‘Performativity’

Performativity invites and incites us to make ourselves more effective, to work on ourselves to improve ourselves and to feel guilty or inadequate if we do not

Performativity is enacted through measures and targets against which we are expected to position ourselves but often in ways that also produce uncertainties about how we should organise ourselves within our work.

Performativity ‘works’ most powerfully when it is inside our heads and our souls

Experienced either way its effects are to alter our working practices, our goals and satisfactions and our identities – our sense of who we are at work. In a sense it is about making the individual into an enterprise, a self-maximising productive unit operating in a market of performances

In being responsible and serious we make our work and ourselves into measurable entities and render our worth in terms of our ‘output’.

Performativity drives out those things which cannot be justified in its terms.

Commitments are sacrificed for impression. But the force and logic of performance are hard to avoid.

This is, ‘the re-invention of professionals themselves as units of resource whose performance and productivity must constantly be audited so that it can be enhanced’

Performativityindividualises and fragments and leaves us to struggle alone with our doubts and fears.

We are required to spend increasing amounts of our time in making ourselves accountable, reporting on what we do rather than doing it. And there are a particular set of skills to be acquired here – skills of presentation and of inflation, making the most of ourselves, making a spectacle of ourselves.

Ball S.J. (various papers)

The point is that we make ourselves calculable rather than memorable. Experience is nothing, productivity is everything. We must keep up, meet the new and ever more diverse targets which we set for ourselves in appraisal meetings, confess and confront our weaknesses, undertake appropriate and value-enhancing professional development, and take up opportunities for making ourselves more productive,

Ball S.J. (Aug 2005) ‘Health Sociology Review Special Issue: Workplace Health: The Injuries of NeoliberalismVolume 14/1Published

We and our workplace are made visible and we become ‘subjects which have to be seen’ (p. 187)

Foucault, M. (1979) ‘Discipline and Punish’ Peregrine Harmondsworth

Gray illustrates this in her discussion of the performance management of Training and Enterprise Councils. Her examples show ‘how the preoccupation with quantitative indicators and quantitative targets in “contract culture” leads to perverse results’. She calls these perversities ‘target fetishism’, that is ‘a concern with targets which threatens to become detached from the social purposes of the policies at stake’ (p. 353).

Gray, A. (1997) ‘Contract Culture and target fetishism: the distortive effects of output measures on local regeneration programmes’ Local Economy, 11, 243-257

Saltman sees the hegemony of the market and the profit incentive as displacing the struggle over values, which is an essential condition of democracy.

Saltman, K. J. (2000) ‘Collateral Damage: Corporatizing public schools – A threat to democracy’ Rowan and Littlefield, Lanham: Maryland.

Rose points out this involves ‘the supplanting of certain norms, such as those of service and dedication, with others such as those of competition, quality and customer demand’. We are re-positioned as ‘autonomous’ but ‘calculating’ agents. We are thus made responsive and productive. Deliberation and judgment are no longer of value here – except when applied to commercial well-being. Our contractual obligations, survival in the marketplace or achievement of targets are the new basis of ‘professional’ responsibility. (p.56)

Rose, N. (1996) ‘Governing “advanced” liberal democracies’ in ‘Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, neo-liberalism and rationalities of government’ Eds, Barry, A., Osborne, T. and Rose, N. UCL Press, London.