Rigour (funny title isn’t it?)

The questionnaire

I was at a Heads’ meeting the other day and we were discussing last year’s moderation process. There were several schools that had been moderated in writing and they shared their experiences. The over-arching theme was that the moderators had been rigorous in their use of the writing framework’s tick list. The DfE would be proud. Best fits were out. Triple evidenced tick boxes were in.

We began to talk about the rigour of the new curriculum. It’s really rigorous. Teachers need to rigorously teach it. The rigorousness of the children’s ability to write proper depends on it. Teachers being unable to talk to children without commenting that the last child who answered a question did so whilst using a cracking modal verb followed by a coordinating conjunction is the current educational de rigueur.

Primary English education is very, VERY rigorous.

Except it isn’t.

It’s tedious.

Churning out lessons like they’re literary shopping lists is not the way to create a literate society. Parroting the exemplification framework, rather than talking like a human, is neither good nor rigorous teaching.

Rigorous English teaching is a holistic art. It requires you to blend the technicalities of the English language with the much harder job of capturing imaginations. You have to ignite passions, acknowledge tentative attempts, unpick glorious failures and celebrate style.

You can’t do this if you are an assessment framework slave. Sometimes you have to feel success, not identify it. That’s the magic of teaching. Reading a child’s work and not quite being able to put your finger on why it’s astounding. How often has a slightly misplaced word, or even an incorrectly spelt one, actually got across an idea or a feeling better than anything else you’ve ever read? I’ve lost count of the number of times the ‘teacher’ in me thought he hasn’t quite used that right while the ‘human’ in me has countered that with but my word, he’s nailed it; I know exactly what he means. Being able to appreciate when wrongs make a right and then sharing that with the child is how you evolve writers.

Of course you need to teach punctuation, grammar and spelling. You can’t be a consciously good writer if you don’t have an understanding of the basic rudiments of how the written word works. Teachers’ subject knowledge has to be exceptional. But not at the expense of their instincts.

I know there will be many teachers who read this and think: alright mate, we’re not stupid; we get it. There will also be many people who may think that this is something that should have been published when the interim assessment framework was first released.

But I think it is more pertinent now that last year is over. Because we’ve survived the first year. We’ve got the hindsight of what happened as well as the foresight of what’s coming. We know what the moderators are after. We know that children were not allowed to be judged ‘expected’ because a tick list, not a professional teacher who knows their class inside out, deemed it so. Professional teachers will now be in danger of being reduced to teach to the tick-list more than ever because, at the end of the year, we’ve all got to show progress. And that progress will be linked to how many more children ticked more boxes than last year.

The potential for dry evidence creating is greater than ever. Children could spend more time copying out final drafts of old (and corrected) writing in order to show that now, and in this book, they can use the progressive form appropriately. Teachers may be told to abandon creative ideas in order to churn out standards baiting paragraph openers – or whatever openers are called nowadays. Literary sparks, that fly off the page, could be snuffed out as teachers shine a light on a mixed tense malfunction. This could be the landscape of teaching English this year.


Because the framework is rigorous and the moderators use it rigorously.

Told you the title was a joke.

One thought on “Rigour (funny title isn’t it?)

  1. TU September 22, 2016 / 8:59 pm

    This post reminds me of that scene in Dead Poets Society. “What will your verse be?”

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