One more sleep

I’ve got loads of stuff to do. Tens of thousands of emails that I should read and respond to; a multitude of holiday request forms to stamp a big fat unauthorised sticker on, all for the last two days of term; hundreds of reports to read, send back, re-read and add my words of enlightenment to; a school’s worth of final data to analyse; a final head’s report to write; a SEF to finish and a school development plan to invent. But I can’t seem to settle down and do anything.

I keep glancing at the NCA tools shortcut on my toolbar. I keep checking my password and logging in just in case it’s come early. But of course it hasn’t and I have to continue to wait. Wait for the 8th July when I will be able to unlock an Aladdin’s cave of secrets and dreams or alternatively, a Pandora’s box of locusts and P45s.

For tomorrow is the day that the SATs results will be released. Finally, the means that were meant to justify the ends will become evaluable; next year’s official line about school improvement measures will gain clarity, and, judgements about me and the school will, for a brief few moments, be pulled sharply into focus. Because self-evaluations and school improvement core visit notes and HMI monitoring letters and governor walkthroughs and teacher assessments are all well and good, but there ain’t nothing like scores on the doors to slap you about the chops and tell you how it really is – or at least, how it really looks.

The whole SATS process is like a macabre game of life and death controlled by a maniacal psychopath – I can only imagine the person in charge this year once went to see the film ‘Saw’ and has never quite been the same since. We should have been worried when we read the rule book – how anybody managed to administer the SATs without triggering a ‘maladministration beheading’ I’ll never know. Then after we’ve wrapped them in more plastic than Laura Palmer, the papers get sent to the markers. Not in one go of course – oh no. In pieces, bit by bit. How sick is that? The poor SPAG papers are all cut up, dissected and scanned before being emailed all around the country to get marked by desperate men and women all trying to save up for a summer holiday abroad – and hey, if that means not awarding a point because some poor kid, although correctly identifying two connectives, foolishly circled both when the question only asked them to circle ‘a’ connective, then so be it.

Finally, once the other papers have been forensically marked (I heard that the markers of the maths papers were given magnifying glasses to check for different shades of pencils in the ‘workings out’ sections which could be evidence of cheating, but then again @PrimaryHead1 is prone to exaggerate) they are sent back to school. And this is where you get a real glimpse of the twisted genius behind the Grand Master who got this game going in the first place. We get the scores – not the thresholds or the levels – just the raw scores. Trying to understand what these scores actually tell you is a bit like reading Chaucer or listening to a conversation in Welsh: you think you sort of know what it might mean but after a while your brain hurts and you realise none of it makes any sense. (And I can say that because I am half Welsh – Diolch yn fawr;  and I read ‘A Miller’s Tale’ at A-level – something about smelling of liquorice and hot pokers.)

I mean, if you were to find out what was the most googled thing during the week when the SATs papers came back, I guarantee it would be: ‘KS2 SATS threshold 2013’. Every Head up and down the land, after counting up all the scores, was desperately trying to remember last year’s thresholds in order to second guess their results a week early.

‘Well if the threshold is the same we’re on for about 65%, however, if it drops three marks we could be looking at 127%, so you know…we could be alright.’

Never before has such pointless maths been undertaken by so many – well apart from a few weeks earlier when a load of children were made to sit the Level 6 maths paper.

It was like trying to crack an impossible code and one by one we all collapsed, exhausted. We threw away our calculators and declared that we didn’t bloody care anymore anyway! Much to the delight of the Grand Master who knew that we didn’t mean it, knew that he had broken us, knew that we had finally become the submissive slaves he so cravenly desired. He knew that for the next two weeks, life beyond school (Glastonbury, Wimbledon, my mother’s birthday…) would hold no power over us – we would simply shut everything out and patiently wait. Wait for 8th July. And when that day loomed, like dutiful puppets we would try to stay up until midnight in the hope that we could end our misery there and then. But of course we won’t manage it – it’s like waiting for Father Christmas: you always fall asleep.

One more sleep.

One more sleep before we can go to NCA tools, enter our passwords, and click upon our fates.

Good luck everybody.

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.

 

SATS: welcome to the circus; don‘t invite Tinker!

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SATS is for dummies, administering SATS however…well that’s a task that would tax the finest minds of MI6. Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to correctly use every single plastic bag, fold-out cardboard box, elastic band, sticky address label and registration sheet in your pack before Karla the postman comes to pick them up.

Opening the pack (not the paper-watch it Tinker) you are presented with your diagrammatical instructions. Not at first you understand, no first you have to hold the blank piece of paper under a candle and wait for the lemon juice to colour. Then, you have your instructions.

It’s simple really.

Exactly 7 ½ minutes before starting the test you and another administrator recover your skeleton keys that are hanging on a chain around your neck, insert said keys in the duplicate holes of your undercover SATS bunker and on the count of three turn your keys anti-clockwise until you hear a click. You now have access to the vault. Take out the sealed papers and like ninjas creep up to the testing room.

Upon entering make sure you mentally record the precise seating location of every child within the room – if any of them even think of moving chairs you have permission from the secretary of state to terminate their education with extreme prejudice. Then whip out your serrated jungle blade and open up that bag of papers like a cheap suit in summer. Distribute the papers in silence recording the time each paper hit the table.

Once the papers have been handed out give the children the fifteen digit code that they must copy down in mirrored handwriting before starting the clock. As you were the person who delivered, opened and distributed the papers it is obviously inappropriate for you to continue breathing the same air as the examinees so remove yourself, recording the precise time you left the room.

Using your watch, or through very precise counting, return to the exam room, again mentally recording the location of each child, and demand they put down their pencils through the medium of mime because remember, the walls have ears. Collect each paper in alphabetical order and before the top and bottom papers reach the same temperature as your palms lay them on the table in your office.

Now here comes the tricky bit. Cross reference each paper with the registration sheet provided by your government contact. Tick off each name using the code poor boy, beggar boy, naughty boy and free school meal boy. Once all the papers are accounted for, retrieve from the vault, your clear plastic bag. Insert papers in the bag and seal – unless there is a second part to the test in which case use the other clear plastic bag and seal that one instead. If using the first clear plastic bag peel off and stick on the coded label with the address of the government agent who will mark bits and pieces of your test papers. If using the second type of clear plastic do not peel off and stick on the sticker. Instead, just seal the bag and wait until more papers to arrive and then unseal the bag and put those papers and the new papers into a newer and even clearer plastic bag and seal that one and then attach the coded address label. Don’t forget that at any time you can make the flat pack cardboard box and put all the papers in any of the clear bags in the box but don’t close the box until all the papers are in all the correct clear plastic bags. Then seal the box and put this sealed box containing sealed and coded labelled bags full of papers into another plastic bag which you should then seal but not before making a note of the precise time that you sealed the bagged and boxed and bagged again papers into their final bag (or box). There may be more coded address labels to use at this point or you may find that they have all been used up. At this stage find your red telephone and ring the emergency number at control, use the phrase ‘The Gove has laid a dirty egg’ and you will be sent an encrypted email containing new sticky labels and your letter of resignation. (Be warned that control will be experiencing a high volume of calls at this time and you may experience long delays, your call is important to them).

Finally place all bags and boxes into the vault and double lock the door. You must then check the vault on an hourly basis to make sure that no tinkering or spying has been going on. The whole SATS operation will be over when you open the vault and the papers have just disappeared. At this point send a telegram to control saying:

‘SATS COMPLETE AND SENT AWAY FOR MARKING stop ALL PAPERS ACCOUNTED FOR stop RIDICULOUSLY CONVOLUTED AND COMPLICATED SYSTEM OF ADMINISTRATION COMPLETE stop PLEASE CAN WE stop’