Review by Mary Hind-Portley

Assistant subject leader (English), Hillside High School, Bootle

19 Mar 2022, 5:00


Mary Hind-Portley’s blogs of the Week, 14 March 2022

What makes effective assessment?


The first of my blogs for review this week is about assessment in English but it’s useful to consider whether extended responses are effective assessments in other subjects too. Here, Didau presents his thinking about the use in key stage 3 of extended responses drawn from GCSE. Are they really assessing our taught curriculum?

Didau categorically states that “making KS3 assessments similar to GCSE assessments is not only unnecessary, it’s actively harmful.” That may seem a little dramatic, but it did make me question whether our assessments tell us what pupils have learned or whether the information generated from assessments tells us something else entirely.

His focus on the precision of the curriculum and the use of ‘curriculum-related expectations’ is one that I will be discussing with our English team – and other subject leads.

No more teaching tips and tricks


Last year, a tweet I put out to the effect that CPD shouldn’t be about tips and tricks was roundly condemned. So I was heartened to discover Sarah Cottingham’s blog on that theme this week. In it, she explores the culture of tips and tricks and why they seem attractive, backed by her own experience of being swayed by them.

Attractive by virtue of being bite-sized and easy to use immediately, these pedagogical shortcuts, Cottingham warns, end up being like education’s equivalent of ‘disposable fashion’. “We don’t put a lot of thought into picking them up, we try them on for a bit, then we ditch them when something newer comes along.”

I agree with Cottingham that we do ourselves and our pupils a disservice if we rely on this as our improvement approach, and I am taken with her alternative too. Cottingham suggests we focus on techniques instead, defining these as “skilful or efficient ways of achieving something” that require us to know our end goal and how we will go about achieving it. Her sequence of steps to do that makes for a very helpful blog for anyone planning lessons, but also for CPD leaders to ensure participating colleagues benefit on a deeper and more sustainable level.

Why is teaching torturous?


In this older post, Mark Enser explores how teaching can become an exhausting grind “when you remove teacher agency from the process” and leave teachers feeling that change is out of their control. He explores what teachers find draining and frustrating, while recognising that, in the main, few are the professionals who complain about workload when they are engaged in something they find meaningful.

Enser points out that while some decisions may be made with workload in mind, such as a centralised curriculum, such reductions may not result in an engaged and fulfilled staff. The core principle here is our human need for agency, and it’s an evergreen reminder to leaders to keep that at the heart of any drive to make teaching less of a ‘Sisyphean task’. There’s only so far that a focus on consistency in our policies can take us.

On cultural capital


My final blog this week is from the always-inspirational Claire Stoneman. In it, she responds to the recent Guardian article about the value (or lack thereof) of museum visits. Robustly repudiating the piece’s reductive view of cultural capital as measurable by impact on GCSEs, Stoneman pens an evocative and celebratory description of her culture-infused childhood.

This blog resonates with me because my childhood was similar: our parents found ways to enrich our lives using our home towns’ (free) delights. But more than that, this deserves a close read for its lyrical evocation of her childhood which should inspire us all to provide a rich diet of curricular and extra-curricular experiences for those children who don’t have access to the opportunities we had.

So let’s think again about cultural capital and lift it from “the fog of fads and tick lists and school improvement”. With Stoneman, let’s instead give “careful, considered thought about what we want for all our children.”

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