Moderation – one size fits no one

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What do you get when a particular process is one person’s main job? A highly skilled professional with a wealth of knowledge and understanding? An individual who is blinkered by their preferred systems? I know which one I’d prefer but then again sometimes life is like a box of chocolates from Lidl: what you see ain’t always what you get.

I recently experienced a moderation morning. I was genuinely surprised at how archaic this system seemed in the light of all the changes coming in next year. I would have thought the moderators would have been interested in how schools were making their judgements rather than dictate the use of rather stale and soon to be outdated ways of assessing. I don’t mind a system and rigour – that is very much welcomed, but to mask an individual’s preference through artificial officialdom is a bit weak.

There were some frustrating suggestions about what we should be using in order to make judgements with no acknowledgement of our systems. Well, no that’s unfair. They did acknowledge our systems but they pretty much wanted us to use theirs.

Before that discussion got too heated however, there was the ongoing battle about when should you judge a child to be at a certain level? Consistency over time is key, we all know that, but if a child is capable and has demonstrated it, how long must we wait before we nail our colours to the mast?

Whilst I appreciate that a child using a full stop for the first time in their entire life does not mean they are suddenly writing at Level 2B but the ‘we must see at least one hundred pieces of writing including twenty examples of cross-curricular writing before we commit to a level’ theory really gets my Gove. Why? Simple: I trust my teachers; I have faith in my senior leaders who moderate with my teachers; I am not an idiot.

Let me explain:

I hate it when I flick through children’s books and see that a child is working ‘pretty much’ consistently at a particular level and yet when I look at data they are assessed at a level behind. When I ask the teacher why this is so, the response I normally get is based around the child’s failure to consistently do one teeny-tiny element of a level descriptor. The handwriting isn’t always joined; they missed a full stop last week; they haven’t used an exclamation mark in a month. I believe that this single-minded obsession with fulfilling every single descriptor stunts progress. If you committed to assessing at the ‘higher’ level then when you plan for that child not only will you still be getting them to use an exclamation mark in every sentence but you will also be focussing on more appropriate next steps. By not doing this, by keeping that child down, you’re showing low expectations that will only result in low standards. Be brave…challenge the child and challenge yourself. Don’t be irresponsible but if you ‘think’ a child is a 2A pretty much most of the time just crack on and say it: I won’t mind, the child won’t mind and, after your performance management, you won’t mind either.

This is what I encourage my teachers to do because I believe it gives a more accurate picture of a child’s ability. I also have a leadership team who moderate children’s work and I trust them to know that a teacher isn’t going insane and up-levelling everyone. We therefore create an accurate and consistent picture of progress and achievement across the school.

Oh and as I said earlier: I am not an idiot! I don’t want every Year 2 child achieving 2A and level 3 plus…because I know that will be impossible to replicate with Level 4s and 5s when they’re in Year 6 and I gots to show progress don’t I! No, I don’t want assessments too high to make us look good now or too low to make us look good later; I just want accurate data.

But on the day of moderation, if we don’t have multiple sources of evidence, including the use of test resources from 2007, evidence of ‘current level’ work in at least 5 pieces of writing and if we haven’t used their assessment descriptors we get penalised. Never mind that our systems have been checked and approved by my local schools cluster, my governors, the local authority and HMI. Apparently the lone moderator who has not changed their ways since 1998 outranks all these people; who knew?

So ok, we’ll play ball. Not enough evidence. Fine. I’ll put that lad down to a 2C. Not a problem. Why is this not a problem? Because I know that within three weeks I’ll have the evidence to say he’s a 2B.

Oh, apparently that is a problem. I can’t do that because the moderator would be very surprised if the boy had made any further progress in that time. (This boy, if you remember, had written at a 2b level but not enough times to please the moderator so he was lowered to a 2c.) So even though the moderator understands that he has written at 2b meaning technically, by my understanding, he doesn’t have to ‘make’ any more progress they still wouldn’t expect me to say he’s a 2B in a month’s time when I’ll have the evidence to prove it. I genuinely don’t get this argument. I mean, what do they think we’re going to be doing from now until the summer? Of course he’s going to do more writing and of course my teachers are going to assess it and, when they do, I’ll make sure they use your ancient system and of course when he comes out as a 2B (again) I will be sending that level off to the local authority. To suggest otherwise is a nonsense as it stems from bureaucracy rather than allowing educators to do their job.

Then came the comment that the moderator would also be surprised if any other pupils moved up a sub-level before the data deadline – in about a month’s time. Again, what do they think schools are doing in the last term? I have no idea but apparently, working really hard up to the last minute to get as many children as possible writing at age related expectations isn’t one of them. It was only a few months ago that Ofsted were expecting every child to make progress in every lesson – but now I’m being challenged over the assumption my children will make any form of progress in three and a half weeks!

What irritates me here is that I don’t think I’m being challenged educationally. I’m being challenged because the reality of the situation doesn’t fit in with the contrived nature of how moderations are carried out. It’s akin to trying to fit a strait-jacket onto an octopus. Progress is messy and awkward and relies on teachers’ professionalism to get it right. If the moderators want to come in and assess 10% of pupils in every school using their own antiquated system to get a picture of achievement across the city that is fine, but they cannot demand schools use their systems instead of or as well as their own. This will be no truer next year when the poor moderators will be unable to rely on their beloved level descriptors. What will they do? What system will they use? How will we know schools’ differing systems are being judged relatively?

There’s only one solution…moderation.

 

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