4th September 2018
Today my elder grand daughter , Alice, will experience her first day in Reception. She was born in March 2014, the year that the “new” National Curriculum came into being in September. When she was three months old I was asked to speak alongside Tim Oates at a conference in the Midlands. I called my presentation “A Curriculum for Alice”. This is what I said, and it is as true today as it was then.
In Reception at baseline Alice will be placed somewhere on a normal distribution curve as she begins her learning journey through Primary Education
I hope that she manages to keep smiling along the way.
I hope her teachers and head teachers understand that where she is positioned within this data set is not an indication of her ability, but of her current aptitude for learning; that this is not fixed nor is it an indicator of her life chances or how much she is capable of learning. It’s a first marker, a starting place from which all things should be possible. There must be no limited expectation of what she can achieve, but they must provide the right conditions.
By the end of Y2 Alice will feature somewhere in another data set where the distribution will be expected to be very different. She will be positioned somewhere within the very high % expected to have met or exceeded the standard set for the end of KS1. I hope her teachers will understand how different the mastery model is from the days when levels reigned. I hope they are well equipped to teach and assess in this brave new world of mastery. For it IS different and they will need considerable professional development that reflects this.
I hope that Alice’s teachers will be spending their working time wisely . I hope they make sure Alice gets quality instruction in a carefully orchestrated learning environment that gives her enough time to learn the things she needs to. I hope they realise she will learn many things that they teach her quickly, but that her aptitude for learning other things may mean she needs more time. I hope they tell her that’s OK and make the time and effort present it to her the second time in a way that closely matches her specific need.
I hope Alice’s teachers know how to convince her she CAN rather than she CAN’T or never will and that they behave in ways that help her understand that when learning is difficult it is simply a case of not having MASTERED it YET. I also hope they plan many opportunities for her to demonstrate her new learning before rushing on, because she will need the chance to deepen her understanding and to be creative in her use of her new found skills. This is a true MASTERY model and teachers need support and training to help them change/adapt their current practice. I think that when they do, it can only be an improvement on the current one that is so often characterised by a headlong dash for coverage.
I hope the time Alice’s teachers spend recording and reporting her journey for monitoring and accountability purposes does not overly reduce the time they spend planning exciting lessons in which they have time to observe her responses, to listen to her thinking and to interact with her so they can collect and use the evidence there of progress she is making as a result of what they have provided , and the efforts she herself has made. It is only THESE planned for assessments of her mastery that will validate the summative assessments reported to others , and it is only THIS that will make them as accurate as they can be.
Alice’s teacher will need simple tools, that together with their planning documents, help them keep useful records to inform their teaching and support the summative judgements that will be used for accountability and monitoring purposes.
Of course we know Alice WILL be tested weighed and measured at key points in her journey, and that the outcomes of these will be used by others for a range of purposes, some of which will have no direct impact on Alice’s learning.
I hope that required recording and reporting does not become a barrier to the teachers’ ability to teach Alice or to her own motivation to learn. Devising simple meaningful methods of tracking Alice’s journey is a key activity for school leaders and they need help so that whatever they use resembles a modern, user friendly Sat. Nav. than a clunky electronic spreadsheet based itinerary that requires boxes to be ticked and midnight oil to be burned.
I hope Alice’s teachers will understand that she will be well prepared for the tests she has to take, not because of the number of test papers she has practised, but as a result of the rich and interesting journey they have shared with her up to that point in time.
Alice’s teachers will also need to be equipped with a new language that helps them clearly articulate to other professionals the stages of mastery reached, describing the extent to which individuals and groups have developed, demonstrated and exceeded the appropriate expectations and if they are on track to meet the age related standards by the end of a year or key stage. But the language used with Alice and with her parents must be clear. I hope the new language has no labels attached- Alice needs no labels and no glass ceilings!
Alice’s learning right now is VERY visible. We saw the first smile and now , we see the effort she puts in as she struggles to mimic the sounds she hears, strives to get her tongue and lips and voice box to do what her Mum’s does. Of course she can’t talk YET but my goodness the efforts she is making to master the small steps towards the goal are there for all to see who care to look. We note and celebrate every new squeak and different squeal. We respond positively, and encourage continued effort. I hope her teachers always do the same on her mastery expedition.
I hope that they are really skilled in their use of assessment so that they concentrate on the things that will have the most impact on Alice’s learning. I hope that by then all schools will have abandoned the mind numbing things that clearly do not.
I want AFAL not AFP. Assessment for Alice’s Learning has to be more important than Assessments for Politicians purposes! Alice’s teacher need to weave assessments into the magical cloth of the curriculum they provide daily. They will need to be skilled in the art of questioning so that they understand her thinking and pick up on her misconceptions. I wonder about the quality of the feedback she will receive as she responds to the series of tasks they provide, because I know it will HAVE A PROFOUND EFFECT not only what she does next in moving towards mastery, but also whether she continues to engage, to persevere and to what extent she will learn to do so independently.
Alice should provide her teachers with a range of quality finished products (extended writing, problem solving) that demonstrate and help her articulate her mastery. I hope her teachers also observe her performing in debates, in drama and dance, in sports and the arts, because otherwise assessment of Alice will be incomplete. Assessing mastery requires a focus on these opportunities daily, and teachers will need CPD that supports and enhances their understanding of how best to tackle this. Alice’s teachers will need CPD focused on the skills they need to ensure that assessing Alice’s attainment and progress is carried out in highly principled and professional ways that fully support her learning.
Born in 2014 Alice and her peers are living in an ever changing world. She needs to learn the things that will help her shape the future, to combat the ever present threats to the environment and to world peace. She needs a curriculum that personally equips her for this and for life and she needs assessment that supports and motivates her and makes her want to keep learning and never stop smiling. I want to finish where I started ….with Alice. Her future is in your hands and where the curriculum she follows and any assessments you make of her are concerned I want you to heed this slight misquote from WB Yeats “Tread softly lest you trample on her dreams” Jenny Short (2014.)
Today I continue to live in hope.