Currently, in our school, if pupils are deemed underachieving in a subject then the HOD is challenged as to what they are doing/have done about it. The expectation is that they hassle/harass their departments into eliminating all underachievement.
Teachers are required to record all their “interventions” with “underachieving” pupils as evidence that we are doing our jobs properly. The HOD and DHOD then present this to SLT as evidence that they are doing their jobs properly.
This has several quite pernicious knock on effects.
I would argue that in KS3 this is insane for several reasons.
- The system of leveling children is rubbish. Thinking sub-levels tell you anything useful is insane.
- Levels used for these judgments are based on SATs papers taken 3 times per year. As an experiment I gave my pupils a different SATS paper every lesson for a week. The variation in results was huge.
- Teachers are likely to mark generously given the “none may underachieve” climate generated.
- Teacher assessment gives results dictated by self-preservation.
The driver for this is not preparing pupils well for GCSE, or even teaching well, but generating a number that OFSTED will be happy with for the KS3 results. I have pointed out that as we could report whatever results we want SLT can just pick a number and that is what the KS3 results will be.
We are constantly being asked how “secure” the results are. This question makes little sense to me. My honest answer is “Not secure at all”. The make up of a 4-6 SATs paper is such that a pupil can get a level 6 barely knowing any of the level 6 material. Pupils in my year 9 class got level 6 despite the fact I had only taught up to level 5 material. Someone looking in their book would barely see any level 6 work at all apart from some extension questions here and there. I could not point to any level 6 topics and say they could do it with any confidence and yet I am supposed to say their level 6 is “secure”?. Conversely if a pupil is able to cope with level 5 material in class and for homework without a problem but gets a level 4b in the test then how can I say that 4b is “secure”? Of course due to the pressure to inflate results people give them as close to their target level as they possibly can without looking ridiculous and say they are secure.
In KS4 we get a significant number of pupils with high levels that immediately start getting awful grades. On paper the drop in performance looks precipitous. I seem to be one of the few who notices or cares about this. Pupils start their GCSE with high levels they often have not worked for. They think they are good at Maths. Generally they aren’t. They also have no grasp of the notion that levels/grades and effort/revision are in any way connected.
Pupils that have been lazy and disruptive (apologies, “lacking motivation” and “disaffected”) for 3-4 years suddenly are a problem because they are now “underachieving”. This is particularly true if their underachievement takes them below the C grade. This results in all our intervention being targeted at pupils that are “lacking motivation” and “disaffected” rather than hard working low ability kids who need and deserve our support.
Someone that arrived level 3 rarely gets support unless they are at risk of getting a U grade. This is because a D grade is sufficient to get them 3 levels progress (thus making the school look good).
Any pupil that does no work in year 10 and thus gets a bad grade gets “intervention” in year 11. This takes the form of after school classes, withdrawal from lessons for small group intervention, Saturday classes, revision sessions in the holidays. All of these sessions are filled with lazy pupils for whom they would be un-necessary if they did any work in the previous 4 years. Generally the pupil who, by their work and effort, is deserving of support doesn’t get a look in.
Thank God, Buddha and the Flying Spaghetti Monster that my subject doesn’t have coursework or controlled assessments. The performance getting pupils to hand in work requires is ridiculous. Pupils that miss deadline after deadline get more and more support. Pupils that work hard generally don’t.
The impact of all this deeply concerns me.
- Pupils get the grades necessary to get onto A-Level courses without having done much in the way of work. They are not used to doing homework, revising, working independently, listening or indeed taking lessons seriously. These pupils either change or fail. More fail than change in my experience. This is partly because our school as an institution does not challenge lazyness, disruption and general fecklessness any more successfully at KS5 than it does at KS3 or 4. Pupils in my A-Level classes have clearly been very well trained to pass their GCSE exam but having done so are woefully unprepared for A-Level in terms of maturity, work ethic and basic subject knowledge.
- Conversely pupils that are hard working but not very good at subjects or not very bright get the necessary grades to do A-Level. 2 years ago pupils in my bottom set got B grades through sheer hard work and determination. If a very weak pupil gets good grades then that is to their credit and laudable but it doesn’t mean A-Level is appropriate for them and they should never have been allowed on the course.
- Giving pupils the message if they don’t do any work someone will do it for them and that they don’t need to revise because the school will put on revision classes and interventions for them if they don’t is counterproductive for the pupils and sets them up to fail further down the line.
- Pupils who do not work are rewarded with intervention. Pupils who do work are punished or ignored by being passed over for intervention. This obviously has a knock on effect on work ethic and behavior.
- If a pupil is underachieving in most subjects then simply berating a load of teachers is hardly going to solve the problem. Heads of Year, SLT, parents AND teachers should be combining to address that.
- SLT are responsible for the ethos of the school and the learning environment. If pupils do not expect to have to do what they are told or do any work then surely it is they who should be coming up with some sort of strategy for addressing that. Telling teachers their results aren’t good enough is unlikely to successfully address the situation.
- Many ex-pupils I have spoken to have been completely unable to hold down a job because of their attitudes to authority and their belief that following instructions and doing some work are entirely optional.
The idea that pupils have ownership of their results and that they should get the results their ability, work and effort deserve is not a popular one at the moment but I believe that if we wish to see genuine improvements in standards (standards meaning what pupils leave school knowing and able to do rather than OFSTED ratings and exam results) then some ownership of and accountability for results needs to be given back to pupils. Along with that the exams need to be fundamentally changed so that they actually do what they are supposed to do.
Otherwise the ridiculous situation will continue, where those who have created and maintained a system that causes grade inflation whinge on endlessly about grade inflation. Where those responsible for a system that systematically makes exams easier whinge on endlessly about the numeracy and literacy standards of those who have passed the exams.