Just wanted to say a huge than you to people who attended my talk on life after levels today. I am posting the PowerPoint and links to other useful resources on this blog post. Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss further.
I'm afraid today's blog, a bit like yesterday's is a bit of a rant. More to the point, it is a response to yet another partially researched claim, namely that Grammar Schools (Schools for Everyone TM?) are more effective than their comprehensive counterparts. Indeed, the Telegraph ran an article a few days ago stating that this was a ringing endorsement for May's flagship education policy. Here I wanted to unpick some of the claims being made about Grammar Schools, and ask that we take a moment to be cautious before endorsing a systemic change based on limited evidence. I am fairly sure I have my calculations right here, however please let me know if you think I have made a mistake.
The Progress 8 Issue
The claim that Grammar Schools outperform state Comprehensives does have some basis in evidence. This can be seen in the latest GCSE statistics published by the DfE. The Telegraph explains that...
here's been a lot going around on Twitter recently about reducing the marking load of teachers. Much of this is to be applauded. I have seen some really nice ideas for dealing with feedback more effectively from Ben Newmark, Toby French, Tom Bennett, even the Michaela bods. However, I have a major worry: school marking policies won't actually change!
In the current educational climate, school approaches, and especially those relating to marking and feedback, are driven by a few key factors:
So here's the rub. If schools want to achieve the first aim, the following drivers are often counter productive.
* I am not going to discuss the reductive nature of the first educational goal, though that in itself plays a major part here too. Nor will I be dealing with the impact of a narrowly target driven system which means that some schools are in the habit of changing their policies more frequently than I change my socks. Indeed, some schools I have worked in have been so malleable in their policy approaches to teaching that they have become almost invertebrate. In the course of five years in one school we shifted from a focus on Kagan groups and peer marking, to flipped classroom, to next-step marking, to triple marking, to digital marking, to purple pens of progress, without ever stopping to think about the impact of any of these approaches.
** I could write a whole blog on the rise of the purple pen as a gateway pass to Deputy Head status, but I think I might leave that for another day
Bad Advice and Poor Models
As people have been pointing out all week - good feedback does not mean detailed written marking on every child's work. Yet, if we look at some of the "Outstanding" schools and "Teaching Schools" which have been set up as beacons of excellence, we see such policies being advocated. This "Outstanding" Teaching School for instance says:
This school has not been formally inspected since 2007 so it seems somewhat remiss of the DfE to allow it to advise other schools to follow such policies. (see http://www.harrogategrammar.co.uk/content/uploads/2015/04/Learning-21.01.15.pdf and http://www.harrogategrammar.co.uk/content/uploads/2014/02/Policy_AssessmentRecordingReporting23.01.13.pdf)
Another "Outstanding" school has a marking policy which demands extended written feedback in a rainbow of colours: http://www.rossettschool.co.uk/parents/policies/marking/ (last inspected in 2010)
These two examples are far from the only ones, nor are they the worst cases. Countless others come out of the wordwork in conversations with teachers up and down the country - sadly not all put their marking policies online. The big worry is that these "Outstanding" schools (many of whom have not be inspected in nearly a decade) shape the approaches taken by "Good", "RI" and "Inadequate" schools in significant ways as they strive to model the "excellent practice" of their "betters".
The Ofsted Factor
But the problem doesn't stop there. In every school I have been to, there has always been someone with the job to read Ofsted inspection reports and pull out and apply key approaches deemed necessary to attain the elusive "Outstanding" grade. Yesterday I suggested that Ofsted, through their reports, has been key in encouraging schools to implement poor marking practices. When I mentioned this, I was promptly slapped down by Ofsted's Sean Harford.
There has been something naggingly familiar about the grammar school debate which has been raging on Twitter recently. True I have heard many of the arguments before in educational discussions, but this was something more. It only struck me when I began editing a chapter of my upcoming book on C19th America.
I have copied a page of the book for you below. In many ways I feel it encapsulates exactly the same lines of argument that we see currently, simply replace "slavery" for "educational inequality" and "slaves" for "low SES children" and you are away. I think this reveals not only the lines of debate, but also, with hindsight, some of the main faults in each.
Worryingly I look ahead to how this debate was resolved and the long term failure of such a solution...