It is probably not a good idea to blog while still seething with anger, but this morning I am encouraged to do so by many others who are simply too exhausted and distressed.
Over the last dreadful few months we have heard much rhetoric and concern about disadvantaged students and communities, and those of us who have served in these areas all our lives have tried not be cynical about this; we have tried hard not to think these are ‘crocodile tears’ from those who have perpetuated disadvantage with their policies and actions. Last night with the publication of the OFQUAL ‘Exceptional arrangements for exam grading and assessment in 2020’ exhausted leaders serving our toughest communities simply despaired.
Genuine school improvement takes time: recruiting and embedding teams of teachers; developing rich curriculum; raising aspirations and morale, and building hope in communities who have suffered disproportionately under austerity measures – this is a not something that happens quickly. School leaders who choose to do this, do so within a punitive accountability regime – as Stephen (@leadinglearner) so memorably described it “playing Russian Roulette with your career”. For many, many schools the initiatives begun in 2017 and 2018 were about to bear fruit this summer in GCSE results which would reflect the improvement journey; students had received mock exam results way above those of their elder siblings, and consequently aspirations were rising and hope for a better future was becoming tangible among them. And now we are told:
“The statistical standardisation model should place more weight on historical
evidence of centre performance (given the prior attainment of students) than the submitted centre assessment grades”
One distraught headteacher said to me “Failures of the past tattooed on current students and staff. A lot of very hard work discarded.”
We’ve been told not to worry as league tables this year won’t be used. Well excuse me for pointing this out, but our primary concern is actually the young people themselves (if our concern was our league table position we would have chosen to work in other contexts). The students who have worked hard with their teachers, have begun to believe that they will achieve and who have an emerging and vulnerable confidence in themselves as learners are going to be absolutely shafted. The knock-on effect of this into their families and community will be deeply, deeply damaging. Trust will be broken.
But there is more: we know that the disadvantaged communities have found online learning harder for all the obvious reasons; we know that Covid19 has disproportionately affected disadvantaged communities, and we know that the challenges of return to school for these students is going to be much harder for social, economic, cultural and mental health reasons. So….. GCSE outputs for 2021 are likely to be badly affected. We are now facing a situation where our most improved schools with our most passionate and talented leaders may be judged to be seriously under-performing on a 3-year-average. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were no headteachers left!
Make no mistake about this – there has been a very powerful lobby to place more weight on historical centre performance. The operative word here being ‘powerful’. I call them ‘the big boys’ and they have much to gain by preserving the status quo. On explaining how this will work to a friend she said “Oh, that’ll be OK for us then.” Quite.
The idea that ‘we understand this seems unfair to improving schools, but there is no other way’ is simply lazy thinking. There are plenty of other ways. Firstly it is entirely possibly to say that for this year statistical models can give way to doing the right thing by students and change the mindset with which the problem is considered. If, however, the statistical modelling has to stay, it is entirely possible to ask schools to provide predicted grades for this cohort, together with predicted grades v actual for last year. Last year’s predictions must be accurately dated through electronic evidence. This will enable a model which is able to use an objective assessment of the school’s accuracy in predicting.
They don’t want to work on this because they are quite happy to sacrifice the children we serve in favour of their own. (I knew I shouldn’t blog while still mad)
I want to speak up for the heads who are in despair over this. These are our leaders who have chosen to work in the most challenging circumstances; these are the ones happy to put children before personal glory; they have spent the last three months with more safeguarding worries and work than it is possible to imagine; they have had no Easter break; they have worked long hours feeding, cleaning, teaching, reassuring and have not sat at home behind laptops exercising power and influence.
I’m going to finish with some comments from hero headteachers:
“It’s time to look for jobs outside of education, before I get very ill.”
“My middle leaders will be broken that past incompetence limits their classes success. At the end of this infinite half-term this has broken my heart.”
“How can I explain this disappointment to my parents and students? I’m basically asked to say – choosing this school was always going to mean your kids would do badly, because all the improvement you have worked on with me on is ignored. You shouldn’t have chosen us. That’s what they’ll hear if I try and explain! And if I don’t explain they’ll think we’ve lied to them!”
“The whole inspection process is based on improvement so how can an assessment process eradicate improvement?”
“It is another example of the disincentive to lead in challenging schools. I can’t do this to myself and my family anymore.”