I saw yesterday as a fabulous opportunity for a group of teachers to visit the DfE and voice the opinion of many Primary based teachers. I have no idea why I was invited but I was honoured and thrilled to be included in the group thank you Caitlin Mellow for my invitation.
Around the table were @debrakidd @heymisssmith (who was very poorly) @educationbear @emmaannhardy @imagineenquiry @theprimaryhead @thoughtweavers and myself. There was also Vince Jubb, Jim McGee, Caroline Barker and sometimes Elizabeth Truss MP, all from the DfE.
The purpose of the meeting as far as I know was to discuss the new curriculum, assessment and accountability. I won’t go in to details of everything that was discussed as there are now several posts in circulation. I will just speak of the things which stuck in my mind.
Firstly there was a large debate about the new National Curriculum and the fact that it isn’t actually national because not everyone follows it. My primary colleagues and I all agreed that the new curriculum isn’t really that different to the old one. The main difficulty with it is the lack of guidance and expertise to design and implement it before September. One of the group pointed out that LA expertise had now disappeared and we are largely on our own. One of the DfE people, I apologise for not remembering which one then explained to us that the Teaching Schools are helping us. As part of a Teaching School Alliance myself I was able to tell them that while our TSA is working hard to pull together the new curriculum time is against us. We would not be able to disseminate the information to schools before September. The DfE seemed a little taken aback by this information. As we all know a quality curriculum is jolly hard work to design though.
Following on from this discussion came much talk about primary children being secondary ready. It was agreed that being secondary ready is so much more than being able to read, write and do maths up to level 5 or 6. We want well rounded children. One teacher mentioned the introduction of interventions for children who may not make the required level. She pointed out that these children in some schools are sometimes withdrawn from the so called ‘soft options’, the very subjects that will make them well rounded children. They are then sent off to work on catch up PC programmes without their teacher. Another teacher also pointed out that phonics was the big thing that removed children from her class. Whatever the intervention, the result is the same, the children are not being taught by a teacher and are not becoming secondary ready.
Differentiation sticks in my mind next. I thought One of my colleagues was very calm and controlled about this one. I declined to comment on differentiation because in special we differentiate for every child in class. Things are different in mainstream as this wouldn’t be possible with 30 children. Now I’ve read some posts from this teacher and I thought to myself that someone is going to be treated to some of her finest sarcastic comments. I feared the air around me might turn blue. She was very calm actually. She carefully explained why she couldn’t teach to the middle 10 children in her class and ignore the 10 at either side. Liz Truss seemed genuinely surprised by this talk of differentiation. This really did make me wonder how much she knows about schools considering the important role she has. She later redeemed herself by proving her extensive knowledge of the EYFS profile. I’m happy she did that. I don’t want to think the people in charge of us know nothing of what we do or why we do it.
At one point the conversation turned to the number of hours teachers work. I’m not sure if Liz believed us but we all agreed that it’s more than 55 hours a week for the vast majority of teachers. She wanted to know what consumed our time. One teacher told her about the ridiculous marking she has to do. It seems ridiculous to me anyway. Triple marking I think it was called. Teacher marks, child comments and then teacher comments on the comment. Wow! How much learning could be happening while all that marking is going on?! Maybe I misheard this. I hope so! We all agreed that teachers have always worked many hours but now it is on far less enjoyable activities.
The next part worthy of a mention was assessment. There was clear and obvious concern from everyone about the disappearance of levels and the lack of replacement for them. How will we show progress over time? How will we justify ourselves to Ofsted? Will Ofsted understand all the different assessment criteria? We received some explanation that parents don’t understand levels and teachers don’t use them properly so they have to go. What transpired next was a little confusing. Caroline began to talk of a system that used met, expected and exceeded (or something similar). That sounds like a, b and c that we currently use to me. She seemed to be talking about a system that would carry children from Reception through to the end of Key Stage 2 using standardised scores and this met, expected and exceeded. So if they have a system they prefer I can’t help feeling that maybe they should just take us in to their confidence and let us use it. I might be wrong about this though as it was very confusing.
Then came the biggie, Ofsted. As you can imagine we all wanted to say something about Ofsted. Around the table there were comments about horror stories of Ofsted, Mocksteds, observations, SLT over reacting to Ofsted etc. I felt the most qualified to comment as my school has recently been visited by Ofsted. I reported that it was a fair and supportive process but I know this isn’t the case for all schools. The Ofsted discussion could have continued all night if time had allowed. Another meeting is required for that one.
Last but not least was SEN. It wasn’t the fault of the group but we largely ran out of time. Our meeting was scheduled to last for 90 mins but actually ran for 2 and a half hours. There was just so much to say! I managed to get reassurance that P scales will continue to be used. Previously this was a rumour. I also managed to ascertain that there will be no guidance for the special sector for the new curriculum or for assessment. No surprise there, we always have to go it alone. There was also an agreement from the DfE that the NC might not be appropriate for some of our more complex medical children who attain at P2 or P3 but this wasn’t the platform for that discussion. Fair enough!
All in all it was a very worthwhile day. I felt we put our views across in a calm and rational manner and I hope the DfE listened to us. It was a very long day for me but so enjoyable.
Lovely to meet some of the people I regularly tweet and lovely to munch a biscuit inside the DfE.
If you have any questions re SEN please let myself or @educationbear know and we will email the DfE. They have promised to reply.