Off-rolling – is this just the tip of the ethical iceberg?

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At university, if we want to initiate some kind of intervention in schools as part of a research project we would be expected to review the British Educational Research Association’s (BERA) guidelines. This guideline is full of sensible advice such as:

Researchers should immediately reconsider any actions occurring during the research process that appear to cause emotional or other harm, in order to minimise such harm. The more vulnerable the participants, the greater the responsibilities of the researcher for their protection.  (BERA, 2018, p.19)

So the first thing we have to consider is the likelihood of the intervention causing harm to the pupil. And the second thing we need to consider is that a pupil’s ‘vulnerability’ amplifies our need to protect the child from harm.

Now let’s turn to schools. If a member of staff in a school or group of schools wishes to initiate some kind of intervention as part of an evidence informed project to increase outcomes for the pupils or schools what guidelines do they have to follow? Well, the answer is, quite simply, none. Yet, if they did the same project in their school as part of undertaking a PGCE or Master’s then it would have to go through the exact same ethical approval process as described above.

It is important and worthwhile at this stage to set out that I am not talking about low level interventions of the sort that schools and teachers do all of the time. I’m talking about practice which could cause harm. And to vulnerable pupils in particular.

Let’s take off-rolling as an example. Here we see that staff in a school or group of schools have decided to create an intervention. The intervention could possibly benefit the pupils in the school cohort through redistribution of resources. It could even hypothetically benefit those who leave the school through the process of off-rolling. As part of an ethical approval process you would evaluate the likelihood of harm falling to those who are being off-rolled and look at the outcomes for them after they leave mainstream schooling.  Well, it turns out the outcomes for those who leave mainstream schooling are poor: 1-6% get their 5 good GCSEs. That’s considerable harm. Then you evaluate who is being off-rolled. Well, it turns out it is SEND pupils amongst others. I think we can safely say that they meet the term ‘more vulnerable’. This intervention would have died at the proposal stage at the table of the ethics committee. Even internal off-rolling such as a grammar school preventing Year 12s from moving to Year 13 if they did not attain specific grades would most certainly fail the ethical test.

But here is the rub. These schools that are off-rolling pupils are ‘compliant’. They meet the requirements that are set out by the accountability framework. The DfE doesn’t approve, OFSTED doesn’t approve, the children’s commissioner for England doesn’t approve, parents struggle to get provision for the SEND children or a second year of A level education for their children and yet despite this, schools are ‘compliant’.

So is that the requirement? That schools have to be ‘compliant’ and that this does not take into account ethics? Should not all major decisions of this type have to go through an internal ethical panel which in itself is reviewed and checked by an external ethical body? If schools are to be more evidence informed does it not also follow they should be ethically sound? Should governors and trustees also be part of this ethical process and receive training?

Before you say this is unworkable, consider how it is done at university. If a student proposes an intervention they have to write a section on ethics setting out how it meets the ethical requirements. It is reviewed by a qualified tutor. There is an ethics board for more contentious interventions. At each stage, if there is any doubt about the intervention, it is passed up further through more senior boards, staffed by more experienced and qualified senior professionals. The bigger the proposal, the more scrutiny for ethics it attracts.

The government could legislate against off-rolling easily and the affected schools would all change their actions and become ‘compliant’ again. Until the next ethically challenging idea thought up to affect outcomes within the accountability framework. Wouldn’t it be better to also have a headteacher’s body draw up a code of ethics similar to that from BERA and for all teachers and schools to use this when considering evidence informed interventions for their pupils?

Should you be hothousing your child for the new baseline entry test for 4-year olds?

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I know the controversial base line testing is not due to start until 2020, but believe me, parents of children aged 0-4 years old and parents whose children will be in child care before the age of 4 will be thinking about this test already. The test will come in after the education secretary has said that parents are not preparing children for school properly. And I want to talk about some of the issues around teaching after and preparing for this test.

I love teaching.  At this late stage of the academic year I may be looking at the world through a rose-tinted prosecco glass, but I love the kids in my Key Stage 1 class. I love working with them, their enthusiasm and watching their progress.

I even like some of the parents and I don’t tend to grumble about pay or workload. However, some of the testing I do have issues with.

Phonics Screening check:

What has this test achieved?  It’s shown me that a 6-year-old child, with an assessed reading age of almost 10, can get five words wrong because they are desperate to make sense of nonsense words with strange alien pictures beside them.

nonsense

It has also shown me that an education system seemingly starved of money, has enough spare cash to finance a visit from an inspector to check your phonics materials are appropriately stored just in case you or the children in your class see the test prior to the launch date and memorize all 40 words.  Oddly, we are trusted to teach the nation’s youth but not to have enough integrity to store a test.

At the end of the day, this is a test that doesn’t tell me anything about a child’s reading ability that can’t be gleaned from hearing them read a book to me as a professionally qualified teacher.

KS1 SATS:

Those teachers lucky enough to teach a combined year 1 and 2 class get hit by the double whammy of phonics testing and the joy of SATS – another thing that parents pay attention to.  Not to mention another year of a narrowed curriculum (something OFSTED acknowledges), which focuses on maths and reading comprehension.

Should a child’s performance even hint at not reaching an expected standard then, in our school, TAs, HLTAs and even the Head Teacher are taking small groups right, left and centre to work on partitioning or reading inference.  Art, music, design and technology?  What year 2 child would want to do those when they can be trapped in a small, sweaty office with someone sequencing the events in a story about foxes and fishermen from 1 – 5?

Hopefully, the new shift in OFSTED’s focus will at least result in the rejuvenation of foundation subjects even if this does mean further change for teachers and an even shorter summer break while we work on the extra planning demands.

Reception Baseline Assessments:

For those of us in Key Stage 1 prepared to stick it out, 2022 – 2023 could see some light at the end of the long dark assessment tunnel.

Key Stage 1 SATS are (probably) being made non-statutory when those four-year olds unfortunate enough to have been subjected to the Reception baseline assessment start to filter through the system.  No matter how this initiative is dressed up, I haven’t spoken to one EYFS teacher yet who agrees with such a thing or even thinks it is necessary.

Surely it will result in those at the competitive end of the parental scale hothousing their toddlers and testing them on their knowledge of number recognition, shape and letters of the alphabet.  No playing in the garden making mud pies for you until you can repeat your alphabet three times! I can see why. Parents want their children to score highly in any assessment and are prepared to do whatever it takes to make that happen. However, just as in education, you can begin to see how an assessment could narrow the curriculum at home as everyone tries to prioritise learning the knowledge of the assessment.

If you think hothousing them is a good thing and can only help us teachers, you’re probably misguided.  For, in my experience, parents do not always approach education in a joined up way with the school. For example, they often tend to teach letter names not sounds. The result: many a Reception teacher will spend a year trying to get them out of this habit and learn their Letters and Sounds phases 1 – 3 instead.

Unfortunately, while primary and lower schools are fielding criticism for narrowing the curriculum to focus on statutory tests the very real danger is home could follow suit for pre-schoolers with this new baseline assessment. We have seen the impact of national assessment on curriculum at all stages of school – what will happen to the curriculum at home with this new national assessment? And if parents are thinking about this assessment that will happen in 2020 – perhaps right now they are also thinking about how they might hothouse their child to do well in this assessment.

I’m looking forward to September already, but in the meantime, I’ll refill my rose-tinted glass of prosecco and enjoy the sunshine …

10 things they hate about your subject

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Does it worry you when a pupil says they hate your subject? It should. That’s a strong word hate. And then applied to your subject like a knife in the heart. Nobody should be hating a subject. They especially should not be hating your subject.

Well actually, they hate performing in your subject.

They hate performing in P.E.

They hate writing for the view of others.

They hate reading aloud.

They hate doing maths and showing their working out publicly.

They hate taking exams in your subject.

In all of these, they hate performing in your subject. They hate publicly displaying: their body, their misconceptions in maths, their ineptitude in speaking modern languages, their poor reading aloud in front of others and their difficulty writing out their ideas; for public ridicule as they see it.

So who are ‘they’? They are pupils and adults who have had a negative experience of performance in your subject and have developed an aversion to it. This can be especially cemented when they do the final performance – the examination or assessment. And all of this fits into the contemporary agenda of mental health, but don’t think it is a new problem. It’s just modern life involves more performance these days.

Pupils who dislike performance based aspects of a subject can be found in any room of people. I’ve met so many people who tell me a variation along the lines of: ‘I had a negative experience performing in an area of a subject and this has affected me in all walks of life.’ These people make life choices, career choices, struggle in specific relevant situations and employ avoidance of activities & circumstances: a life time of different experiences all rooted in a negative experience of performing in a subject at school, e.g. ‘I didn’t like speaking in front of the class and now I avoid all public speaking wherever possible.’ I meet TEACHERS who don’t like public speaking. It’s a real thing this is. Teachers!

This must not be confused with the stretch and challenge agenda.  This agenda is focused on removing differentiated learning outcomes. A good teacher knows exactly where a pupil’s comfort zones and barriers to learning are. They engage with the pupil using a high quality relationship to create trust. Once established, they then use that trust to take the pupil beyond their comfort zone in such a way that the pupil feels supported and stretched at the same time.

One question I find helpful to ask myself is this: do I want them to read 3 books or 1000 books? If I want to achieve the latter, then I need to find a way to ensure a pupil enjoys the performance of reading. Does a P.E. teacher want the pupil to play the sport in school and never again or do they want them to enjoy sport itself for life? We have to think about the long term outcomes even when we are thinking about assessment outcomes. It is important – we need to achieve both the outcomes (performing in assessment) and the inspiration (performing in life) together. There is no good in having one without the other.

Don’t forget there is a good side to performance – I am not saying performance is a bad thing. I read an interesting article on science experiments which said the reasons for doing experiments are a mix of learning and of generating curiosity, motivation and an interest in chemistry. It suggests that when children meet challenge, if they have enjoyed challenge before in the subject they are more likely to persevere and to have better self-efficacy. It is a bit like doing a five kilometre run and then going home and doing some quite difficult mathematics made much more interesting by the fact that your five kilometre running performance has provided the data. Successful performance is brilliant. Life changing. Inspiring. Alas, so is a negative experience of performance and not in a good way.

The next time you meet a child or adult who dislikes your subject, ask some questions. What is it they don’t like? Is it a performance aspect? Is there a single incident which has taken root and created this aversion? Install a new updated experience of performance. One in which they are taught properly this time. Don’t let them move forward still hating your subject: for the rest of their lives.

Be like #GarethSouthgatewould – teach them to own the process.