Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Assessment without Levels - A Practical Approach

In the third in my series about developing an approach to assessment without levels I will explain in practical terms our assessment methodology and how this informs the monitoring of standards.

In developing our approach there were two elements to consider. First, how would we find out what the children had learned, how well they had learned it and what remained for them to learn from the current year's attainment targets? Secondly, having compiled what was essentially a list of skills, how could we use this information to monitor standards and identify systemic weaknesses that required strategic intervention?

The former of the 2 was by far the easiest to solve. Prior to the new arrangements the school had invested in the 'Assertive Mentoring' suite of assessment tools. At that time one of the key challenges facing our school was that assessment was not being used to inform teaching. Pupils were taught something because it was the next item on the scheme of work and not because it was the next thing they were ready to learn. The zone of proximal development was rarely if ever found and standards were poor as a result. The school required a way of clearly identifying what had been learned and what was next and the Assertive Mentoring System delivered this. Often, buying in an assessment system leaves one with a series of test papers generally 6 per year. The children sit the papers, they receive a score and this is equated to a 'grade' or 'level'. Assertive mentoring was a suite of assessment tools that included tests but also a wide range of other assessment devices with some very useful girds where what pupils had learned was visually represented, with unachieved attainment targets highlighted very powerfully. Although the system could be used to generate a level, the focus was more on highlighting what was missing rather than identifying the point at which the pupil was.

When the new assessment arrangements were launched we felt that the assertive mentoring system fit very firmly into the 'qualitative' over 'quantitative' principal I discussed in the previous article and so we purchased the updated system for the 2014 curriculum and continued to use it as we had done before. Using the range of devices available we quickly had a large amount of reliable information about what individual children had learned.

In many ways the idealist in me wanted to leave things there. Teachers had rich information about what their pupils had learned and what they needed to learn next. All they needed to do was to feed that into their planning and deliver well pitched lessons firmly within the 'zone of proximal development' and children would achieve well. The realist in me knew that it was my responsibility to monitor and improve standards and I could not do that without some kind of summary data. I needed to be able to answer questions like who is the teaching working for and who isn't it working for? What are we doing in maths, for example, that works to well that we aren't doing in reading? What expectations should we set ourselves and how are we doing in achieving those?

In our early assessment model prototypes we were seduced into adopting the emerging language from existing assessment providers of setting achievement milestones and naming them things like 'beginning' 'working within' and 'secure'. Other words like mastery floated about but it all amounted to a rebranding of what we had before. Any summary data became about where is the pupil? At what point are they in their learning, essentially, what level are they?

Instead we returned to the beginning and asked ourselves, what are we trying to achieve here? The answer of course lies in our statutory responsibility to ensure pupils leave us in year 6 with a secure understanding of the content of the primary national curriculum. The question became therefore, given what this pupil has achieved are they likely to leave us in year 6 with a secure knowledge of the primary curriculum?

This realisation led us into an important point about assessment. Pupils will only leave us in year 6 with a secure knowledge of the primary curriculum they need to leave year 5 with a secure knowledge of the year 5 curriculum, and so on down the years right back to the start of their education. All of the assessment materials that we examined in this early stage allowed pupils to be 'graded' as secure in a year group having achieved less that 100% of the learning. Our concern was that over time this would accumulate. Even if a child only fell short by a small amount each year this would add up year on year to create a much larger gap in year 6. The pupil would not have a secure knowledge of the content of the curriculum. This has been traditionally characterised by the cramming that often happens in year 6 before the SATS as teachers to to back teach the content that was missed from previous years even in children who apparently have progressed as expected. we characterised this phenomenon as 'The Secure Gap Paradox'.

We identified that each years expectations were critical in their own right and that pupils needed to learn all the content before they moved on. It was not useful to view a pupil's overall journey from Y1 to Y6. What was required was teaching that secured the content for all children every year. We decided that all our summary data would relate to a child's likelihood to achieve each years' attainment targets. Children who failed to do so could be targeted for additional support and intervention quickly and specifically. Although this has long happened for the most and least able but with this mindset we were able to reclaim what is sometimes referred to as the children lost in the middle. One of our leaders characterised this new mindset as all children stepping forward together in a line. I have heard others say 'stop trying to close the gaps and focus on preventing them from appearing in the first place'. It all amounts to the same thing. Pupils can and must achieve each years objectives and they will do so if the teacher teaches them in a way that allows them to do so. This has thrown up some real challenges for us which I will examine in a future post but we adopted the principal.

In order to make this analysis we required 2 pieces of information. How much of this year's learning has the pupil secured (attainment) and at the current rate of learning, are they likely to achieve the expected standards by the end of the school year? (Progress). We assigned descriptors to describe different amounts of learning secured beginning, beginning plus, working within, working within plus, secure and secure plus. We used these principally because it allowed us to continue to use Target Tracker but the point is subtle yet critical. It is not important THAT a pupil is a W, but WHEN a pupil is a W. We set expectations that pupils would be a B+ by the end of Aut 2, W+ by the end of Spring 2 and S+ by the end of summer. To secure an S+ pupils would need to demonstrate secure understanding of 90% of that year's learning. Yes. 90%. We caved in to ourselves because 100% seemed simply too daunting. Its a decision I regret because it opens us up to the secure gap paradox and actually, sold our teachers short. As we come to the end of this year and review the last data drop, it seems that a great number of teachers have delivered 100% of the learning for many of their pupils. We may well review this next year.

The next thing we adopted was the Target Tracker progress points scale that gives 1 point progress for each 'descriptor'. Ostensibly this reeks of APS and could be used to drive a similar assessment model to what we had before. The difference is again subtle but critical. Children should achieve 6 points per year. No less and no more. Less indicates a failing in the teaching and more demonstrates moving into the next years objectives at the expense of securing and deepening learning. The importance of this tool is that we can analyse the rate of learning. If pupils only make 1 point in a term then they next term they must make not 2 but 3 points to make up for what was lost previously and continue to secure the content required by the end of the year.

This approach has been very successful for us and early indications on the end of year data look very promising. There remain significant challenges which I will examine in the next post but we are confident that the current year 5 children will be able to demonstrate a secure understanding of the primary curriculum at next year's external examinations and for those we are concerned about, we have a detailed understanding of their learning that will allow us to put the work in to ensure that they do.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Understanding Assessment without Levels

In the first of my series about developing a new assessment system in our 2 form entry primary school in suburban south London, I will try to shed light on how we arrived at the place in which we now find ourselves. I will share the information, discussions, interpretations and decisions that lay behind the assessment system that we now have in school. As I have already said in the introduction piece to this series, not for one moment do I claim that we have cracked this particular nut, that our system is correct, ideal or that it should necessarily be adopted by any other school. I share it because I hope that it will be useful to others that share the task of responding to this policy. I also hope to attract the thoughts of others in order that we can continue to refine our ideas and practices, challenge our assumptions and drive us to develop a world class approach to assessment. I deeply believe in the power of collaboration and the potential that can be fulfilled when educators seize the initiative rather than waiting for the slow death of 'policy paralysis' imposed by external organisations with their own agendas.

My school's basic philosophy and approach to assessing without levels is rooted in the conversations I had in late 2013 with Tim Oates, the chair of the expert panel that reviewed the National Curriculum and by extension the UK's approach to assessment. In a quirk of fate, Tim and I had a mutual former colleague and he kindly offered to come and speak to our staff about the thinking behind the new National Curriculum and the logic of dropping levels as a model of assessment. When Tim came in January 2014, his presentation was essentially a version of the content of this video.

We drew 6 key lessons from Tim's presentation that informed our subsequent approach to assessment.

1) Learning in the new National Curriculum is arranged such that it allows pupils to work at an appropriate pace to secure the key concepts, skills and understanding of the subjects. This key learning is made up of clear and progressive statements the build year on year though the child's education.

2) Levels are dysfunctional. They mean different things at different times to different people. They create in the mind of both pupil and teacher the idea that success is based on the reaching of a particular point rather than a sense of a strong, qualitative, evidence based judgement of whether a pupil properly and securely understands the key concepts required by the National Curriculum.

3) The new policy approaches are now predicated on what is often described as a 'growth mindset' model of attainment. That is to say that the assumption is that all pupils are capable of all things where it is presented to them in the right way and they apply an appropriate amount of effort.

4) Assessment should focus on whether a child has understood a particular thing, an idea, skill or body of knowledge rather on whether or not they have reached a particular point, i.e level.

5) In order to ascertain that a pupil has really understood a particular thing, teachers need to become experts in probing a pupil's understanding and providing opportunities for children to express their understanding.  Classroom activity needs to generate a volume of evidence to support judgements of understanding. This will come from better and better questioning and an increase in the amount of useful assessment that takes place in the classroom. 

6) Undue emphasis on progress promotes the practice of moving a child on with insecure understanding and this prejudices their future education.

Our interpretation of this was made up of 2 principles that would go on to inform the model of assessment that we adopted. First was that any assessment system that we developed should first and foremost be qualitative rather than quantitative . We have become used to, in recent years, all manner of statistical metrics to look at school performance. Chief among them was 'average points score', which was used to look both at average attainment and progress for all manner of groups in the school. We see no place for these types of metrics in the kind of assessment environment that Tim describes. What becomes so important is the rich and voluminous evidence that informs the robust assertions that a pupil has or has not yet learned a particular thing to a secure enough standard for that point in their learning. We wanted a system that could answer questions that APS never could. What have the pupils learned? What have they not learned? Why haven't they learned it? How sure are we that they have learned it?

The second principle was that whatever system we developed would place emphasis on depth and security of understanding and that progress needed to be thought about in a different way. The requirements in primary school was to secure the 2b in year 2 and then 2 levels progress before the end of KS2. Schools were judged on their ability to achieve the 2 levels progress and praised if they could deliver 3 or even more. The environment that Tim describes is fundamentally one of attainment. The pupils need to acquire a certain set of skills, understandings and knowledge. The measure of progress should be thought of as a way of keeping an eye on the overall trajectory of the pupil or group. That is to say, at their current rate of learning are they likely to achieve the required body of knowledge or not and if not why not and what can be done about it? Rather than an ever increasing demand for more and more content to be taught in order to meet the higher levels required to achieve 3 levels progress. A cursory conversation with any secondary colleague soon revealed that the learning that had been drilled into pupils in advance of the SATs was fragile to say the least. Very few secondary schools have much regard for the levels that came up from KS2 because they rarely reflected what the pupils really could or could not yet do. The learning was not secured.

Our aim therefore was to develop a qualitative assessment system that could provide us with reliable information about what a pupil could do and what remained to be addressed. It was to be predicated on the idea that depth and security, i.e attainment was the key measure of success and that progress be a tool for mapping trajectory over time. In my next post I will attempt to show what we adopted and developed and discuss the challenges we faced in doing so.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Developing A New Assessment System


It was no surprise to me, in October 2014, when my head teacher placed at the top of my new performance management form the requirement to develop and implement a way of assessing pupils attainment and progress without levels. Since then, it feels like I have worked on little else. I have attended dozens of local authority meetings, meetings with cluster schools, conferences and briefings. I have read hundreds of pages and watched many youtube clips. I was even persuaded, against my better judgement, to speak at a conference myself. Working closely with our amazing assistant head teacher we have wrestled with the minimal guidance from the DFE, the tit bits and rumours from Inspectors speaking at events, hearsay and our own idea of what assessment should and could be.

By no means have we finished this work. There are still so many unknowns, so many problems to solve. I have decided to write a series of posts that will share what we are doing and why we are doing it. What this won't be is an analysis of the virtues, or otherwise, of this approach. It won't be a moan or a critique. That is not to say those discussions don't have a place but this will be for those of us charged with delivering what will soon be a statutory change. I would warmly welcome contributions from anyone involved in this process who wants to contribute to this discussion in this spirit.

I anticipate this series of posts being made up of 4 parts;

1) Our interpretation of assessment without levels
2) Our approach to assessment without levels
3) Sharing information with stakeholders
4) Ongoing challenges

I will aim to post once a week for the next 3 weeks, with the first post to come this bank holiday weekend!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Certified Google Educator

This summer I set myself the challenge of becoming a Google Educator in preparation for applying to the Google Teacher Academy next year. I am pleased to say that after about 3 days of hard work and 5 exams I was successful and can now call myself a Google Educator.

What is a Google Educator?

A Google Educator is someone who has successfully passed the 4 compulsory courses in using Google Apps for Education (Gmail, Docs and Drive, Calendar, and Sites) and at least one other optional course, in my case, Chrome. There are other units available such as Chromebooks, Google Play for Education and Tablet with Google Play for Education.

The courses, which are all free to study, build your knowledge and skills in the Google Apps suite. There is a significant emphasis on how the tools can be used in the classroom and school environment and it is for this reason that I highly recommend the course. In itself, there was a danger that this was just a learn to use Google scheme, but by demonstrating how the tools can be used to support education, the training supports you in learning how technology can change the way you teach and manage your workload. It is a fantastic tool that can transport you in a relatively short amount of time to become a competent user of new technology in your professional practice.

Was it worth it?

I considered myself to be a confident user of Google Apps, having used it daily in my teaching for several years, however I found the course quite challenging, especially the Sites exam as I had not really made use of this tool before now. Even the tools I use every day are more capable and function rich than I had realised and I learned a lot that will continue to support my practice. There is of course, no need to take the exams, this is a decision for each individual, but there is a lot to learn for anyone who uses the suite in their working environment.

Monetarily, the exams cost me a total of $75, $60 for the core bundle and $15 for the additional unit This amounts to about £45, a not insignificant amount of money. Personally, I felt that this was well worth the expenditure for the benefit to my professional practice and the right to call myself a Google Educator on my CV. You might disagree, obviously it is a choice for individuals but as I have already mentioned, you can study the course for free, and you might feel this is enough. Either way, I felt that it was a beneficial use of my summer holidays!

Be thorough. There is a lot of material and it takes time. You really need to know it well as the exams certainly feature the spirit of Google's infamous interview questions in terms of the attention and precision expected of the respondent.

Do it as you go. I found that if I read a section or watched a clip, then actually carried out the function in my school Apps, then it really sank in more effectively. I actually built a new site while studying as I found this section particularly difficult but in doing so, passed the course first time.

Google say that the 4 words learn, share, inspire and empower, sum up the essence of the Google Teacher program. In the spirit of this, having learned the material I am keen to share, inspire and empower. I would be happy to support colleagues who are interested in the Google Apps for Education suite or indeed, more broadly about new technology in education generally. You can contact me through the comments section below or on twitter @MrTwyman5 and Google+  Adam Twyman (look for the avatar)

An Image Probelm

Does teaching suffer from an image problem? This is a thought that I find myself pondering from time to time but one that I hardly, if ever, raise for discussion. I recently retweeted a controversial article by @theprimaryhead which challenged the use of the word stress in teaching, postulating that it is incorrectly used as a synonym for "confused, naïve, unhappy, incapable and, in extreme cases, incompetent." As a recently appointed deputy head, I tangibly shared the author's nervous and tentative tone but admired his bravery and willingness to raise this issue to the fore. His sentiments are ones that a deeply share and have privately held for some time. Having had the privilege and good fortune of working with many outstanding and passionate educators, those who are, to borrow @theprimaryhead's terms, confused, naïve, unhappy, incapable and, in extreme cases, incompetent, stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Having retweeted the article, it faded from my thoughts until I received and email from a family friend a few days ago. This family friend has nothing at all to do with education, apart from the fact that his brother was a successful head teacher in the north west of England, yet it was full of exactly the sort of cliches that I find myself faced with by a significant minority of educators and sadly, a very large proportion of the non teaching public that I have ever discussed my work with. These cliches reminded me of the article by @theprimaryhead and refreshed my feeling that education, especially in the UK, suffers from an image problem that it does not necessarily deserve. The full text of the email that I received was as follows:

SCHOOL-1945 vs. 2013

Johnny and Mark get into a fight after school.

1945 Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up best friends.

2013 Police called, and they arrest Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it. Both children go to anger management programmes for 3 months. School governors hold meeting to implement bullying prevention programmes.

Scenario :

Robbie won't be still in class, disrupts other students.

1945 Robbie sent to the office and given six of the best by the Principal. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.

2013 Robbie given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADHD - result deemed to be positive. Robbie's parents get fortnightly disability payments and school gets extra funding from government because Robbie has a disability.

Scenario :

Billy breaks a
window in his neighbour's car and his Dad gives him a whopping with his belt.

1945 Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.

2013 Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care; joins a gang; ends up in jail.

Scenario :
Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.

1945 Mark gets glass of water from Principal to take aspirin with. Passes exams, becomes a solicitor.

2013 Police called, car searched for drugs and weapons. Mark expelled from school for drug taking. Ends up as a drop out.
Scenario :

Johnny takes apart leftover fireworks from Cracker night, puts them in a paint tin & blows up a wasps’

1945 Wasps die.

2013 Police & Anti-Terrorism Squad called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, investigate parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated. Johnny's Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly in an aeroplane again.

Scenario :

Johnny falls over while running during morning break and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his
teacher, Mary. She hugs him to comfort him.

1945 In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing footie. No damage done.

2013 Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy and ends up gay.

This should be sent to every e-mail address you know to remind us how stupid we have become!

It would be fair to say that this email infuriated me. Somehow several of the cliches that dog our profession had arrived in my inbox via a non teaching family friend, presented as facts having already been widely circulated and with the plea to further circulate it. What was clear was that who ever had written it (and I would dearly love to know who did) had not stepped inside a school in a very long time. They had not bothered to find out what education is really like, to speak to inspirational or even, frankly, mediocre, modern educators, to read a blog, search the web, or do any kind of research at all. Despite this, they felt entirely qualified to describe the state of British education, deriding it and ridiculing it with that bluntest of comedic tools 'reductio ad absurdum' and sending it out into the world to subliminally undermine our profession. 

I felt compelled to act. Not just because of the pride I hold in my profession, my work and myself, but to stand up for the amazing teachers that I have worked with and lead every day. Teaching doesn't need to be glamorous or sexy but it doesn't deserve to be seen like this. Teachers are passionate, dedicated innovative and creative people. The best ones are relentless, uncompromising and change the world. So I wrote a reply and sent it back. Now I am publishing it on my blog in the hope that it will be circulated as widely as the one I received. So widely that it ends up dropping into my inbox sometime in the future from a non teaching family friend who read it, and felt compelled to pass it on.


Jonny is required to sit an exam that arbitrarily tests a narrow form of intellegence deemed most valuable by society's elite, the result of which maps the entire course of his life, future career earnings accomplishments and social standing. 

1945 the class system is reenforced, society continues to be controlled by those without entitlement. Jonny never fulfils his potential to cure cancer, invent scalable green energy sources, solve the conflict between Palestine and Isreal, advance the cause of the marginalised, find a way to successfully distribute wealth more evenly between the world's population or unify the theory of gravity with quantum mechanics. Society eventually collapses as future generations fail to solve problems that blight the world. 

2014 teachers relentlessly try to understand how Jonny learns and innovate teaching approaches to ensure he succeeds. Jonny fulfils his potential along with countless millions of others and the world gets better and better as our children solve the problems our own generation failed to. 


A trusted adult abuses Jonny in his office, crushing his self esteem and undermining every thing that will and could ever have happened to him. 

1945 As a person in a position of authority the abuser intimidates others around him, who consequently turn a blind eye or fail to report and take the appropriate action. Thousands of children's lives are ruined and many decades later, when the truth comes out into a better educated and more fearless world, dozens of celebrities, priests and school masters stand trial, are convicted and serve long prison sentences as though, somehow, that un-ruins the lives of their victims. 

High profile child protection procedures and a culture of safeguarding pervade all institutions responsible for the care of young people. Robust recruitment procedures discourage abusers from work with children and any abuse that is identified is immediately investigated.  Action to protect the child is swift and uncompromising. Jonny is cared for and supported by trained professionals and his suffering is minimised if not entirely prevented. 

Jonny is a restless boy, good with his hands and brilliantly creative. As a result he finds it difficult to sit still, listen and work on written tasks. 

Jonny sent to the Principal's office for '6 of the best', dismissed as being 'badly behaved' looses interest in school, drops out and lives a life on the edge of existence, scraping from one menial  job to the next or living on the dole. Jonny feels unfulfilled, miserable, depressed, costs society dearly in criminal behaviour, mental health intervention and social security. Jonny produces offspring that have no role model and whom, by influence of their failed and disaffected father, do not value education and who begin a vicious generational cycle of disengagement from and failure in education. 

Jonny's talents are spotted and nurtured. The curriculum is modified in order that he can access it and be successful. Jonny goes on to develop astonishing new ideas/products/concepts, lives successful and fulfilling life. Goes on to earn millions, donates extensively to charities that further the cause of the education he values so highly, enters politics later in life and continues to champion reform and improvements for the benefit of future generations. Jonny produces offspring who, by virtue of their father's success, deeply value education. They begin a generational cycle of improvement and success. 

People with no understanding of modern education read and proliferate damaging popularist waffle produced by publications such as the Daily Mail or individuals like Nigel Farrage who pedal it to uncritical minds in order to further their own interests of profit or power rather than to stimulate important or valuable debate about the real challenges facing educators and in doing so, detract from the work at hand. 

Poorly educated and uncritical minds accept and absorb groundless popularist waffle as they do not have the skills to question, analyse, challenge or seek verification of the mindless waffle that is peddled to them by those with an entirely selfish agenda. Mindless waffle becomes accepted as fact, people grumble and yearn for the past, inhibiting innovation and creativity in those who relentlessly seek to make the world a better place through education. Society eventually collapses as the reality of this path's fragility becomes increasingly apparent. 

Witty and successful young Deputy Head Teacher writes thought provoking and challenging reply to mindless waffle and circulates it widely on social media. The parody attracts attention and playfully reminds people to be critical of things placed in front of them by those seeking to further their own interests by checking facts, challenging generalisations, disregarding hearsay and ignoring blatant inaccuracies. In doing so, he undermines those who proliferate the waffle and gives heart to those who commit their lives to education in the hope an expectation of leaving a better world for our children than the one that was left to us by the previous generation. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

Glimpsing The Future : What is Modern Education For?

I have written and spoken many times recently about the concept of preparing students for a future about which we know nothing. It can be a difficult idea to explore because, by its very nature, we know nothing about it. It is a theme that emerges regularly at education conferences in a variety of guises. Sir Ken Robinson emphasises the importance of teaching creativity to allow students to be able to become, and to remain innovative. Sugata Mitra and Ann Knock tell of the importance of developing personal attributes like resilience, determination, collaboration, problem solving and communication, telling us that what ever the future may bring, these will be the keys to success. Some, such as Joel Klein talk of economic changes, saying at the recent London Mayor's Education Conference that we are 'loosing the race between education and technology'

While browsing articles on twitter today, I came across an article published on that presented the vision of a Japanese power company to one day build an ambitious solar power station on the moon and return the electricity to earth for the ultimate clean energy source.

It seemed particularly topical as I had spent the morning listening to reports on BBC Radio 4 about the current motions in parliament to try and control energy prices. As we face up to the reality that the planet is running out of resources our children's generation will need to embark upon an industrious new era of ambitious, innovative and bold projects such as this. What struck me as an educator as I read this was how the children in today's classrooms, will be the adults of tomorrow that are faced with challenges such as this.

As the article points out, the difficulties and obstacles to such a project would be daunting. Firstly, and most obviously would be the tremendous engineering challenges that would surely require the sustained and collaborative efforts of the finest engineers int the world. But more than this, the article points out that 'space law' is notoriously difficult to apply in practice. Skilled legal professionals, politicians, civil servants and business people would have to have highly developed academic knowledge as well as refined skills of collaboration, negotiation, resilience and problem solving to have any hope of ever over coming such a challenge.

It is the education system that we build today that will be the determining factor in whether projects like this could ever become a reality. If we teach our children to be consumers to knowledge then they will go into the world as consumers of knowledge. If we teach our children to be resiliently innovative and skilled problem solvers they will go in to the world with the skills to overcome the great challenges that lay ahead of mankind. It is glimpses of the future, such as this, that must been seen as an urgent mandate for building a new kind of education.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Live Blogging from Mayor of London's Education Conference 2013


Final Session - Professor David Hogan University of Queensland Brisbane Australia.

What features of the Singapore pedagogical approach are significant in high achievement?

1) There is a very tight coupling between the textbooks and the curriculum. In Singapore, textbooks are created in house by the educational ministry. This is a key feature of the system. Textbooks are the basis of instruction. Workbooks and worksheets are a basis of instruction.

2) There is a much higher percentage of teachers who give test questions every 2 weeks or more. 39% in Singapore and only 9% in the UK. Assessments require application of knowledge.

In comparison, London's strengths are in 'knowledge building pedagogical structures' as well as assessments that require students to explain, justify and search for patterns and relationships.

However this data does not adequately capture the picture of the Singapore pedagogical structure.

Teachers in Singapore are not choosing between pedagogical structures. They have a hybridity in instructional techniques, and it is within this unique feature that its strength lies.

In addition to this Singapore dedicates an overwhelming majority of time and learning support to procedural learning. Singapore does well because it focuses on factual and procedural knowledge, rather than conceptual understanding and this has to be reconciled to the PIZA success. The conclusion we draw is the importance of rigorous, domain specific knowledge acquisition.

The modal interaction in classroom talk in Singapore is IRE exchanges. Initiate, respond, evaluate answers to closed questions. Only 7% of talk in Singapore classrooms is conceptual and 1% is explanatory.

The focus is on exam preparation and teaching to the test, there is a strong focus on procedural learning and a sense of mastery.

Key features of the Singapore Pedagogy:

1) Curriculum coverage - teachers have to cover the curriculum
2) Teaching to the test, bureaucratic accountability
3) Meritocratic advancement
4) Highly prescriptive national curriculum
5) National high stakes assessment system
6) Extensive curriculum support from ministry of education
7) Pervasive folk pedagogy (beliefs, teaching scripts, interactional genres)
8) An integrated, tightly controlled, coupled systems of popular education that preserves sufficient autonomy at the school level ti ensure responsiveness to local circumstances and the professional judgement of teachers.

Singapore teachers overwhelmingly believe that their responsibility to ensure that pupils score well on the high stakes national assessment. The system is orientated to performance.

Limits of the pedagogy

1) Aversion to risk and innovation
2) Depth of curriculum
3) Perverse instructional incentives

The results of this is restricted attention to knowledge building and 21st century skills. Limited development between ICT mediated tasks and the integration of technology into instruction. A focus on task infidelity, task implementation rather than task design and finally, limited us of high leverage instructional strategies.

In the UK the debate is about how broad should the curriculum be, in Singapore the debate is over depth. Recently the Singapore curriculum content was cut by 20% to facilitate greater depth.