The start of a shift? Grades don’t matter… but grades matter

Some experiences over the last couple of months have led to me having some thoughts on accountability. I may disagree with myself next month, but for now, here it is.

To start with, please don’t get me wrong, education in the UK is still a progressive’s plaything.

I don’t think Performance Related Pay is a great idea.

I do agree with accountability for pupils’ life chances.

I think there are a far higher proportion of bad SMT than proportion of ineffective teachers.

And I have to be honest, one of the things that prompted this post was the resignation of a teacher who used to always get grade 1s in OFSTED observations, but has never got good results with “pupils like these”.

However, this is the first time in my career that it feels like we are moving towards a situation where teachers can’t get away with turning on an OFSTED observation lesson whenever SMT arrange to observe them but not do it at other times.

Such practice is no longer good enough. A school with crap grades is likely to get a 3 or a 4 during OFSTED (far moreso than in the past despite the continued problems), so academy chains and LAs are doing something about poor leadership quicker. A 4 will regularly mean the Head is removed – something that is now a policy in Kent if the Head has been in post 24 months or more.

I know this means that SMTs put more pressure on teachers. You can see elsewhere in my blog about my observations of the ridiculous and stupid stuff that happens in education as a result of that pressure.

However, there is now a bottom line. Heads can’t accept teachers who perform but achieve badly. Schools can’t run for years with results hovering at 10% or 20% as a few years ago with Contextual Value Added to create the excuses for them.

Bluntly, those teachers who have always got mediocre or worse grades, but could jump through hoops, are being exposed by schools being accountable for its pupil grades and less accountable for individual observation grades.

At the very least, schools are asking for teachers to jump through hoops AND get the results. This is the majority of schools. This is what results in the stupid practice much of my blog is about.

At the very best, schools are forgetting the hoops and focussing on the outcomes. They’re ditching lesson observation grades and getting much better at understanding their data. They’re realising that levels are palpable nonsense and coming up with assessment systems that aren’t as easy to cheat – and that are actually useful for teaching kids to know things.

The best measure of pupils’ life chances is the outcomes they take with them at school. There are exceptions – some pupils do badly at school and have brilliant careers, and some vice versa. But that’s why it’s life chances. So pupils’ grades matter.

There is all the other stuff that progressives point to – socialisation, relationships, creativity, and bollocks that they say you “can’t measure through exams”. That’s fine, but there’s no evidence that focussing on outcomes does damage to these things. Kids who are well taught to know lots still develop healthy relationships despite knowing lots. Kids who know lots are actually more capable of being creative, and so on… because schools can’t be measured on all these things, progressives like to pretend that schools that are crap at exams are good at these things that are not measurable.

Anyway, I’m detecting the start of a change, and it’s supported by another shift – it is becoming harder (but not hard enough) to game the system. We can’t shove kids through BTECs, pretending they count for 54 GCSE grades and get away with it, we can’t multi-enter, and the 2016 accountability measures are dominated by proper subjects so we can’t just give students 96 periods of Maths in a month. We won’t be able to get away with withdrawing kids from most subjects because less than 8 will mean negative effects, and less than 5 proper ones means negative effects on the school’s results. There is a shift towards us just having to teach proper subjects properly.

A teacher who doesn’t jump through hoops (ie used to get a 3 or a 4, and still does where lessons are graded) but gets great grades is like gold dust.  A teacher who can engage and entertain and jump through hoops (gets graded a 1 under OFSTED criteria when they graded lessons) but gets poor grades (often SMT will find this lack of correlation inexplicable) – well a school can’t afford passengers like this.

Loads of teachers don’t fit either mould, but it’s useful to look at the extremes to draw conclusions.

We’re not close to any of this being universal, but I detect there’s a shift towards it, and I’m in favour.

The former type of teacher is now preferable – something that never used to be the case. I hope the latter might find it permissable and tempting to be more like the former.

OFSTED grades don’t matter, but pupils’ grades matter.

I think that’s a good thing.

3 thoughts on “The start of a shift? Grades don’t matter… but grades matter

  1. John…most teachers know how to get results and teach without paying more than lips service to fads…you give the impression that schools either have show offs or grafters…my experience is different and that most teachers work hard, know their stuff and get results if backed up by school systems. It seems to be positive that more of what teachers do informs any evaluation of their work…it should mean we can just get on with it and stand by our results. In the future perhaps the better teachers will be the ones who get get results and demonstrate the progression of the ‘soft’ skills as well…

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