Primary Blogging

Collecting blogs about primary education

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Oh what a lovely war

the primary head's blog

I read an article the other day about the final Hobbit film that is due to open this Christmas: ‘The Hobbit: The battle of the five armies film to end in 45 minute battle scene‘ screamed the headline. Can you imagine that? A great war between aloof elves, socially repressed ogres, single-minded orcs, sniping goblins and smug wizards. I imagine, sat in the cinema, it will be a never-ending stream of trolling. Now, I hate to be the one to break it to Mr Jackson, but 45 minutes of watching the same boring fight over and over again is nothing compared to what Twitter’s education community is capable of. We of course only have two armies: Progressives and Traditionalists. But, even so, that doesn’t stop them from battling continuously over hallowed yet uncommon ground. Aside from being hell-bent on knocking seven shades of pedagogy out of one another…

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Teaching: notes from the front by Dr Debra Kidd



Teaching: notes from the front line by Dr Debra Kidd

‘What if education actually feeds… the refocusing of childhood from play and activity towards compliance and stillness… ‘ (p.50)

It is an important moment for education. The data collecting, level gathering, progress spotting, exam preparation focus forced upon English schools is driving creativity out, and with it goes any usefulness that children might have found in schools. The abstract world of such schools no longer serves as any type of preparation for adult life; except perhaps rote learning and information retention might help win pub quizzes.

Teachers are positive people though and have always understood that there is a difference between what you are being told to do in the classroom and what you know is right for the children in front of you. That has been the case for a long time but just at the moment it…

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DfE History Consultation

jonny walker teaching

This little post is a brief summary of my experiences as part of the panel that was consulted on the new History Curriculum. I know this seems like an odd way to start a post, but I want to make it clear that this was a fair while ago. If I asked you to tell me what you did on a given day in March 2013, you would appreciate the difficulty of recalling it. As such, I don’t want to go into much detail, partly because I can’t remember the details, and partly because I don’t want to attribute standpoints or statements to people erroneously.

I hope anyone remotely interested in this can still salvage some interest from my hazy recollections.

Last year, I attended both sessions and I found them to be interesting discussions, positive in their mood and very much what you would want from a roundtable –…

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Freeing the Angel

1. I will try to model the behaviour I want to receive. I will remember that I am a professional educator and that those I work with may read my tweets.

2. I will focus on sharing ideas, offering positive feedback, being supportive, friendly, and (hopefully) funny.

3. I will try not to swear. In extremis I will use asterixes but I will never swear directly at anyone. Mostly, I will just think it and not say it. (Alternatively, I will moonlight as @SuperWork2 or @BadTeacherTrainer.)

4. I will ask other people what they think, and try to take their viewpoints into account.

5. I will not expend valuable energy trying to get everyone to agree with me in 140 characters. I will remember that I can always write a book and then they can disagree with me in 50,000 words.

6. I will acknowledge when I make a mistake, and…

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Doing It for Themselves

Freeing the Angel

As a writer, you have to be creative. To be creative, you have to do two things: 1) Splash out lots of ideas; 2) Throw away all the ones that don’t work. To succeed at No.1 you must be willing to make a fool of yourself. Just do it. See what happens. Who cares what anyone thinks? To succeed at No.2 you must get rid of everything that doesn’t work: ideas, forms, structures, sentences, words, punctuation marks. Everything must go.

As a teacher, you have to be creative, and to share in the creativity of others. When you’re new to teaching, you do mostly No.1, but over time you get to No.2. Other people can give you advice and support, but in the end it’s you in a room with some kids. It can never be the same twice, no matter how many structures we help you impose on it…

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Observations without Grades.

This blog stems from one of those early morning twitter conversations that I keep involving myself in. This one was on Friday 25th October and was started by a tweet from @GlynYOGIPotts

‘Today I will launch our ‘no grades’ observation policy in school. Nervous about how it will be received. Puts development above judgement’.

I responded with ‘Well done you. Good luck’.

A few other tweeters joined in and the conversation was a positive one. All good, I’m happy to report. Glyn said he wanted his school to be transparent and this was incremental change rather than fear. One of his reasons for going down this road was that he felt school had hired the staff and it was their role to reflect, support and develop them. I agree wholeheartedly with this. Eventually we were joined by @rrunsworth, the founding member of @UKGovchat. Raj was curious about this from a Governance perspective and asked some searching questions. Her basic question was ‘As a Governor how do we obtain accurate assessment of quality of teaching? Glyn stated that Governors would be more intelligent and would see the improvements, not just the grades. The conversation continued with Raj playing devil’s advocate to attempt to get to the nitty gritty for Governors. I replied that I would answer later as I was off to work. I was confident I’d blogged about this previously. It seems not! This is an attempt to rectify that.

Just in case there is anyone who is unaware Ofsted ran a pilot in June and July 2014 to see if the quality of lesson observations could be effectively judged without grades being assigned to individual lessons and teachers. In September 2014 Ofsted published a leaflet ‘Information for Teachers about Inspection: Lesson Observations’. This leaflet explained that Inspectors will not grade the quality of teaching or enter such a grade on the form for individual lesson observations. They will only feedback any evidence they have seen from teaching, books, talking to children and observing.

Prior to this my school, like most schools graded teachers during observations. I have long felt that lesson grading was unreasonable. It is far too subjective, one person’s Outstanding might be another person’s RI due to a dislike of the teaching style. My personal view is that grading should have been consigned to the scrap heap many years ago. The problem was that Ofsted used to ask for the HTs judgements on lesson observations. There really was not much choice. It had to be done. It was also a safeguard against a teacher having a bad day during an inspection. So maybe there was something positive to be gained from it.

So, the original question, how will we show evidence of the quality of teaching. For me the best way to assess the quality of teaching is to talk to the children while observing. Children are brutally honest! It will be apparent in an instant if they have got it. It is also possible to tell if the lesson was not challenging enough or too challenging by talking to children at either end of the ability spectrum.

Second is the books, look in the books. I’m not suggesting excessive marking, or triple marking, or different coloured pens or any other gimmicky type of marking. Just a clear showing of the work and if it is right or wrong with suggested improvements as feedback. From the marking you can also tell if the work was pitched at the right level. I don’t even think children should be slavishly copying out the lesson objective. The idea is to show knowledge and understanding rather than the copying skills of the child.

My third indicator is the data. As data leader I’m big on data. This is your strongest indicator of progress over time. You can see how each child in the class is doing in the subject you are observing. Any problems with the quality of teaching will be apparent with a glance at the data.

So that’s my answer to showing the quality of teaching for governors. Talk to the children, look in the books, check the data and triangulate this evidence on the lesson observation form. If any areas for further development are thrown up these can be shared with the teacher during feedback. This is a far more supportive, far less threatening model than grading lessons. I for one applaud Ofsted for driving the change on this.

Of course it is up to individual Head teachers how they run their schools. I told @mcladingbowl in August at the meeting that I thought that many Headteachers would continue to grade lessons as they are in fear of Ofsted. Just because Ofsted no longer require a whole file full of graded observations there is no guarantee that Heads will not do it. I can only hope that HTs listen and take their lead from Ofsted on this one. This culture of fear is not healthy and is not conducive to school improvement.

I am pleased to say that my Headteacher doesn’t grade lessons and as a result our teachers have no fear of observations. Well maybe a little!