Chapter 3: Is the vision working? If not, why not and how can we get it to work?
1. Meaningful Assessment
1.1 Assessment, tests and exams should never be abolished. In our jobs, we are tested every day of our lives and we need to know where we are and what we need to do to improve. Others also need to know what we can do. If we are going to produce world leading doctors, engineers, lawyers, journalists and so forth our young people need to know what excellence looks like, what they need to be able to do, and what they can do.
1.2 These tests, assessments and exams should reflect the interleaved curriculum and prepare pupils for what they need to know in their final external exams. It is important therefore that the external exams - GCSEs, A Levels and BTECs - test the knowledge and skills that higher education and employers want to know in the way they want to know it.
1.3 Importantly, pupils should be able to talk confidently about what they have learnt and explain the work in their books.
2. Robust and Rigorous
2.1 Schools’ assessments need to be robust and rigorous. In each department in every school, there should be assessment experts who take a lead in developing and adapting effective assessment in their area so that our schools are always at the forefront of developments in national assessment strategy.
2.2 The benefit of being part of a MAT is that schools can more readily moderate work, check each other’s standards and pupil progress. And if the Trust includes both primary and secondary schools - which is a big part of our plans - there is a real opportunity to ensure a slick transition for pupils, avoiding the Year 6/7 dip. Education needs to be viewed as continuous, not starting again at aged 11.
3.1 As well as academic qualifications, the challenge is to provide more practical qualifications for pupils. These must be on a par with, and subject to, the same rigour as academic qualifications. These qualifications, whilst different, should in no way be less stringent and demanding and should be developed closely with businesses and industry, national and global. We need plumbers and mechanics just as much as doctors and lawyers.
4.1 As well as assessing pupils, informing them of their progress and attainment and what they need to do to improve, schools need to lead by example, continually self-evaluating and challenging themselves. We need to stop being defensive and insular and share the good we do with others, within our schools and across the MAT.
4.2 To that end, schools should have a robust review and development programme embedded which includes learning walks, book looks, pupil feedback, data analysis and curriculum maps.
4.3 All Heads of Departments should have a comprehensive understanding of the development needs of their department. They need to be thoroughly involved in review opportunities throughout the year and use these to plan effective development for their teams which is accurately reflected in their Department Development/ Action Plans. These plans should be up to date and departments should be RAG rated every half term to identify strengths and priority areas.
4.4 There should be a real open door culture where every department and teacher is open to feedback, actively seeks it out and is regularly engaged in high level pedagogical discussion. We all need to accept that we cannot be good at everything. If we know where the strengths and weaknesses are, we can match them up so teachers and departments can give and receive the help they need. This help can be shared within schools and across schools in the MAT.
4.5 This will only work if it is done well and in the right way. Coaching should be in place and used consistently to develop senior leaders, department heads and teachers at all stages on how to follow constructive feedback principles.
5. Working together
5.1 For effective self-evaluation and improvement to take place, everyone in the sector needs to work together. The government listening to the teaching profession, the teaching profession co-operating, and constructive crossparty collaboration. Most importantly, all remembering that schools are about children and young people; the driver at all times should be what is best for them. Government ministers, teachers, union leaders, governors and advisors, who are parents, would do well to take a step back and ask themselves: “Is this proposal - or my position on this proposal - good enough for my child?” If it is not, then it is not good enough for anyone’s child.
5.2 For this to happen, teaching unions cannot always take the position that whatever new suggestion is proposed, they have to oppose it. If we moan and complain about everything, then people stop listening. As a member of a teaching union, I do not want those representing me to see their raison d’etre as obstructing and blocking every change, apparently in my interest.
5.3 We have to have the same ‘can do’ attitude we try to cultivate in our pupils. Listen to proposals. See the benefits. Point out the weaknesses. Suggest ways of overcoming those weaknesses. Outline the time and resources that are needed. Come up with better solutions and proposals if necessary. Just moaning is draining and in no one’s best interest.
5.4 For the government’s part, they have to consult and listen. Properly listen. And show they have listened. Find outstanding practitioners at every level of the profession to run ideas and suggestions past and ask for ideas to make things better. Not just heads or union leaders or CEOs or think tanks, but outstanding teachers on the ground.
5.5 Let’s think outside the box, brainstorm ideas, plan, disagree, rip each other’s ideas apart, come up with proposals and have an unswerving commitment to getting it right for the next generation; to be world leaders in education again. Let’s stop being defensive, scoring points against each other, blocking, being dismissive and suspicious of change. Instead, let’s work together and remember that we are all on the same side and ultimately want the same thing.
6. What excellence looks like
6.1 We would change the way we judge and measure schools. Of course academic success is important. But we should also acknowledge the huge importance of attendance. If a school is a great place to be, students will want to go. Attendance is a key indicator of our provision.
6.2 As for measuring how successful schools are academically, instead of looking just at the grades their students leave with, why not look at university retention rates? How many pupils from each school stay on at university or drop out? This will prevent schools from spoon feeding students and encourage them to develop independent learners.
6.3 Schools should also be measured on their school music and drama productions, sporting triumphs, participation rates in sport and music, how healthy their young people are. All of these results should be published to give a full picture of every school.
6.4 The behaviour, attitude and manners of our young people should also be a huge factor in how we measure schools. This again could be assessed through the Enterprise Award, evidencing how students interact with other pupils and people from different social, economic and cultural backgrounds. This would encourage schools to be more ‘comprehensive’, sending out their pupils into the ‘real world’ more well-rounded and less socially ignorant and awkward.