Five checks to see if you’ve replaced levels with levels


This is the first post in sharing the assessment system that my department has developed for ‘life without levels’.

I’ve already written about how I think for many, the systems that have been created are essentially levels rehashed in “Assessing without levels – A case of the emperor’s new clothes?”

I’ve also written about why I think that many teachers have struggled with creating new systems in “Teaching automatons? Looking at the what and why instead of the how“.

I spent a long time reading about what other people had done via blogs, Twitter, conferences and the official DfE case studies. I learnt a lot, both good and bad.

Firstly I looked at why levels were being dropped and considered how a new system may or may not avoid the previous issues. Consider these five questions to see if your ‘new’ system falls into the traps of the old…

View original post 404 more words


What makes a good teacher?

I’ve had the opportunity this year to work in a lot of different schools and have seen a lot of different teachers teach. I’ve worked in a number of ‘outstanding’ schools during my career so far and worked with a lot of amazingly good teachers. You want to know what makes a good teacher? Good lessons.

Kids want to be learning stuff and how to do stuff that links to what they have already covered. Stuff that is part of a unique, shared and individual journey on a specific topic.

Not laminates.

Not marking.

Not spreadsheets.

Not posters or knowledge organisers.

Not technology.


I think it boils down to a pretty simple scaffold to build your lesson from.

1. Start – Have something for them to do when they come in – have a set routine where kids know where they sit, where to put their stuff and what equipment they need on the desk. Link that task to targets from the review task from the previous lesson.

2. Now – Tell the kids what they are covering in this lesson, how they will do that and then create shared, agreed success criteria.

3. Why – Explain why they are doing this lesson and how it fits into the bigger picture in terms of the unit and wider world.

4. Show – Teach them something! Give them new content. This can be via you telling them, a written text, a video, webpage, the medium is often dictated by the group. It needs to be specific and you need a clear understanding of the stuff being taught today.

5. Try – Give them an activity that lets them synthesise new content and apply new skills. Be as creative as you like in task setting – again tailor it to suit your learners. Make sure you model how to complete the task and the thinking behind your version of the end result.

6. Apply –  Model meeting the shared success criteria from step 2. Let the kids use their new knowledge or skill in an individual silent task.

7. Review – Reflect on the new skill or content – check they have met the shared success criteria from step 2 and set a target for next lesson’s step 1 … and the cycle continues…


There are lessons that cannot fit into this model and not all lessons should – the same lunch every day gets boring! However if you are planning on teaching something specific I have found this framework is a great foundation for good lessons.

Do all of the other stuff – laminate everything, create amazing diagnostic spreadsheets, organise their knowledge, mark their ThinkApply, use a class blog, attend every optional meeting, phone every parent but if your lessons don’t stand up then what is it all for?

Certain sorship

(Photo taken in a pub on Albert Road, Portsmouth)

Apologies for the title – it’s what the auto correct was certain I wanted to say when I tried to type certainly.

There are too many people that think they are right. Google’s AI is one of them…

That wonderful soaring of the soul as you realise something is right, feels like a mystical experience. We see the wonder of learning every day in our classrooms.

We however know that despite our pupil’s ardent protestations of absolutes, we understand a wider perspective on the issue than 7c and have developed our understanding beyond theirs. That’s why it is us teaching them. They are right about what they have just looked at, however when we approach further information their perspective develops and prior truths are replaced with new versions.

Is certainty our primary objective as human beings?

Should a quest to be certain about everything be our ultimate goal? I think certainty is the death of further thought. “I know that” implies we no longer question the facts. We have stopped thinking about it. “I think that” is a much better place to start.

Who provides these unquestionable facts? History is written by the winners, right? Not anymore. History is written and is being written by everyone. We write it daily. These facts are always opposed with others.

In VALIS, Phillip K Dick describes a construct of the universe where “We are not individuals. We are stations in a single Mind.”

The Internet is becoming that mind. We feed it daily with more and more. We have our own unique IP address. One day will this network become sentient?

Are we building a God?

Does that basic human compulsion for certainty mean that in the same way the Cannanites collected and then melted gold to form a calf – in the Internet we are building an all-knowing ever-present sentient-being with control over our lives. We are building a God. We can be certain then that there is reason to our existing. We existed before the Internet to build the Internet, then we live to serve the Internet.

How many people live their lives worshiping at the shrine of Internet hits, Internet search results, praying at the click of a button?

That soul souring feeling is what is leading us into the forging of further shackles. Are we building a response to that mystical urge without realising the impact it will have. We have stopped thinking about it because we are certain.

People are certain they are right. That soul souring feeling told them so.

7c thought they were right, and based on their information sources they were.

It would be wrong to prioritise that soul souring feeling of their absolute certainty over teaching them more about the subject and finding more out yourself.

There are no absolutes, other than all of them and none of them. We should be certain in our own understanding but always aware that there is more to know. Certainly not certain we are absolutely right.

Pinter on Beckett

The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him. He’s not fucking me about, he’s not leading me up any garden path, he’s not slipping me a wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I don’t want to buy – he doesn’t give a bollock whether I buy or not – he hasn’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty. His work is beautiful.

(Posted to commemorate the unveiling of Beckett’s blue plaque in Chelsea)

Don’t hate the player…

Hate the game!

Gamification seems to be the buzzword of the moment. Gamification of exercise as shown here, gamification of advertising as explained here and increasingly gamification of education as described here.

The rationale seems to be that people love games and using conventions of gaming like levelling up and gaining achievements motivates people to learn/shop/exercise better.

I don’t know if I agree – I am a gamer – I love getting a new game on my xbox and in fact prefer playing a game to watching a film. This is a generational thing – my dad is the opposite preferring more passive mediums like TV and the radio.

Now here’s the thing – if we are teaching stuff and how to do stuff – is gamification really a good idea?

What happens when you get stuck in a game?

You cheat.

Cheat codes are built into the system and although sometimes this stops certain achievements it is still a perfectly valid way to get through and ‘win’ the game.

Is this the attitude we want within schools? If it gets hard then cheat?

I worry that this gamification ideology is already showing the damage it can have on our system.

Groups like Pixl have been reported as trying to encourage schools to essentially gamify their exam entries – the number of nonsensical level two qualifications the kids get chucked through is obscene in some schools. What on earth is a “computer driving license”?

School leaders are already gamifying  (cheating) the system. What next? Do we applaud pupils for getting hold of exam papers in advance? Do we encourage them to perform tick box activities purely to level up? (Oh… wait…)

In gaming – particularly open world mass multiplayer games like World of Warcraft – “grinding” is a common  practice. It involves playing the same level over and over again for the purpose of gaining experience points or special “loot”. You do not progress in the narrative – it is the same everytime- yet eventually let’s you level up. Why try a hard new level and risk your equipment/ supplies when you can just do the easy stuff over and over again with the same end result?

Schools today are making the pupils do just this. “Grinding” the same exam questions over and over again at the preclusion of other content or skills purely in order to progress to the next level so they can begin the Grinding process all over again.

I don’t want to play. I want to teach.

The Bottom

You know they put me
At the bottom
Cause I didn’t have the shills
The little bits of paper
To validate my skills

They gave me colours
Just a few
To help me get ahead
Vermillions just for them they said
You can stick with red.

You see in all them lessons
You’ve gotta know some stuff
I told teacher bout my colours
and they said fair enough.

You know they put me
At the bottum
And now I does as I likes
Smoking by the libree
and nicking people’s bikes

Reveries of a Solitary Teacher – Spring Cleaning

A change is not as good as a rest! This year so far has been filled with change and I am absolutely shattered but still smiling. Time to take stock!

I have changed school, subject and working pattern! I’ve changed from secondary to primary and back again – I’m now sort of straddling the two. I’ve been on supply, in contract and out of contract. I’ve launched a new business and dealt with a whole world of business requirements and paperwork! I’ve been dating schools and jobs – confirming for myself what is important to me and what is not.

I suppose I have had a teaching gap year?

Something just broke. I felt that the demands being placed on me were so far removed from my own ethical and personal values that I couldn’t continue in my previous job so I resigned.

I sat and added up the amount of work expected per week in terms of hours and realised that to do my job I had to stop sleeping.

You can’t mark every book every day and plan proper purposeful lessons and attend multiple meetings a week – and respond to 30 emails a day – and complete an onerous performance management ritual only to be told that because of budget changes you are getting less than another teacher doing the same job in a different school even though you have gone above and beyond to meet all of your targets.

My parents beat the power of education as a vehicle for social change into me from an early age (bloody communists). They were both teachers and still are champions of the importance of the best state education system possible.

My issue is that at the minute the system is not working as well as it should. We are not providing the best education just the most easily measured.

European Computer Driving License – The Learn Machine – IGCSE – multi spec exam entries from each subject – qualifications flung at kids with little to no prep so we can fill imaginary buckets???

What are we doing?

Are we doing everything we can for them? Are we allowing them to develop as individuals or trying to stamp them all through the same mould to fit the current government measures for school performance?

Things I have learnt from this year so far –

1. Teaching is a great job
2. Schools are not great workplaces – people forget that teachers are adults.
3. All kids are gifted and talented
4. There are too many middle managers in education.
5. Life after levels has failed due to lack of clear government directives and middle management hunger for job justifying spreadsheet data.
6. Kids writing is better in Year 6 than in Year 8
7. I don’t like grown ups shouting at kids.
8. Some schools are allowed to photocopy
9. Primary schools can print resources in colour
10. There are some bad teachers out there
11. There are some worse supply teachers
12. Behaviour management is about choice – if you choose not to tolerate any poor behaviour then they choose to behave – when they slip – offer choice.