Not good is sometimes good

I was reading Beth Budden’s blog on the cult of performativity in education and thinking of the many times when I’ve thanked the gods no-one was watching a particular lesson. It’s gratifying that there is a growing perception that a single performance in a 40 minute session is no kind of measure of effectiveness – I’ve railed against that for many years. During observations, I’ve sometimes managed to carry off the performance (and it’s always a hollow victory) and sometimes I haven’t (it always leads to pointless personal post-mortems). Lately I’ve managed to introduce the idea that I will give a full briefing of the lesson, the background, my rationale, the NC, the focus, the situation etc. etc. before any member of the leadership team sets foot in my classroom to make a formal observation. It’s been a long time coming and it goes some way to mitigating the performance effects. Not everyone in my school does it.

But what about the lessons that I really didn’t want anyone to watch? If they had, would I be recognised as a bad teacher?  If I think about lessons that seem to have been pretty poor by my own judgement, they almost always lead on to a better understanding overall. A recent example is a lesson I taught (nay crammed) on the basics of electricity. It was a rush. The pupils needed to glean a fair amount of information in a short time from a number of sources. The resultant writing showed that it was poorly understood by everyone. Of course, it was my fault and I’d have definitely failed that lesson if I were grading myself. Fortunately I wasn’t being graded and nobody was watching. Fortunately, also,  I could speak to the pupils the day after looking at their confused writing on the subject, tell them that I took responsibility for it being below par and say that we needed to address the myriad of misconceptions that has arisen. We did. The subsequent work was excellent and suggested a far higher degree of understanding from all; I assumed that something had been learned. Nowhere in here was a ‘good lesson’ but somewhere in here was some actual education – and not just about electricity.




On Friday I went to Reading to attend the ASE (Association for Science Education) conference and one of the sessions was run by an OFSTED HMI. I took some notes and these are as below for your interest (!).
Looking at books to monitor progress
Apparently, since they rarely see any actual science going on, they tend to look in pupil books to see what science is happening. Hopefully we can point them in some more directions than that, e.g. pictures and videos etc. Talking to teachers and pupils would be nice.
Levels or not – so what?
They don’t care what we call the levels/degrees/grades/points etc. They want to know how we use assessment to identify whether or not individuals are making progress, how we identify those falling behind and what we do about it.
Evidence of feedback making a difference
It’s crucial to allow time to feed back to pupils and for them to respond in a way that shows that they have overcome misconceptions or improved understanding. This really needs to be built into the time we give to lessons. I know I have to do this, but I still tend to start ‘new’ lessons sometimes without thinking about whether I have finished the previous one and done all the follow up properly. My junior school teachers were brilliant at this. Why do we still need to be told?
General statements to parents will be fine.
Just like the ones we gave out after parents’ evening last time. We wrote a descriptive summary on each of the core subjects, instead of just giving them the level. They actually preferred it.
Heads up on schools paying lip service to evolution.
They’ve been given instructions to look out for schools teaching evolution but only because they ‘have to’ and giving any kind of weight to ‘alternative theories’ – these are not scientific theories – they are religious indoctrination by the back door.
Detailed formative and summative information
Show high expectations
Be careful in any ‘differentiation by task’, since this frequently consigns the lower attaining pupils to lower expectations. Pupils should have access to the curriculum relevant to their age. Good – because I’ve been saying this for years. Differentiation by preplanned task is counter-productive.
We need to have local cluster moderation
Or we’ll deceive ourselves about our assessments (?).
Make sure pupils finish what they start
Unfinished work is a dead giveaway that we’re not allowing for follow up time. Make sure we allow for pupils to finish in subsequent sessions.
Make sure the work is by and from the children
There should not be work by the teacher in the pupils’ books. Think about it – how much of the content of the books (backgrounds, printouts, learning intention decorations, worksheets, proformas etc.) is currently produced by you?
It should not look all the same
Avoid ‘production line’ outcomes. Pupils’ work should demonstrate individuality.
Writing up science is literacy
I think we knew that.
Use past papers to assess units
Interestingly – the use of ‘test’ papers in a constructive way and to give good feedback etc. is recommended.
He also said that OFSTED inspectors were not allowed to say how any teacher ‘should have’ done anything. That’s considered giving advice. He said that they should only say what happened, what was successful and what was missing or not successful. Hmm…

Science and the ‘S’ word

Science and spirituality?

All schools in England are required to show how well their pupils develop in SMSC – Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural aspects. I can easily see how moral, social and cultural aspects are an integral part of science education, but ‘spiritual’?

I recently had my science action plan returned to me, annotated by the head with the suggestion that I mention how it will encompass SMSC requirements.

In OFSTED’s terms the spiritual aspect is defined as follows:

Pupils’ spiritual development is shown by their:

  • ability to be reflective about their own beliefs, religious or otherwise, that inform their perspective on life and their interest in and respect for different people’s faiths, feelings and values
  • sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them
  • use of imagination and creativity in their learning
  • willingness to reflect on their experiences.

I have two problems with this. Firstly, only the first of those seems to relate to what would normally be considered ‘spiritual’, and secondly, I’m at odds already with the idea of anything ‘spiritual’ in science, as science is about critical thinking and evidenced-based practice. ‘Spiritual’ refers to a ‘spirit’, I presume. Something which is not based on evidence of any kind. What role has the spiritual to play in science education? Are we not undermining the nature of science even by including it as an aspect, however woolly the definitions above?