Since becoming an Assistant Head last year and critically looking at our current ways of assessing and tracking student progress I have constantly been asking myself the questions: ‘Why are we doing this?’ and ‘Who are we doing it for?’ If the answer isn’t ‘the students’, then we have gone wrong somewhere.
There have been many big changes in education in recent years and as teachers we are currently trying to navigate our way through life without levels and huge new specification at GCSE and A level. All this change is making even the most experienced and most effective teachers question their practice. As leaders, it is our responsibility to support our staff through this and help to focus our efforts on what really counts: the students in our care. Assessment and data capture should be quick and useful for staff not onerous. Marking, or feedback as I much prefer to call it, should be focussed on providing the student with information about how to improve not showing parents or inspectors that we’ve looked through the books. Department meetings should be productive and focus on improving our effectiveness in the classroom and sharing ideas not an admin task followed by the writing up of lengthy minutes.
So why is it as teachers so many of us feel we need to have a pink tick on every page of every child’s book? Why do we spend hours writing copious comments on essays that never get read by students? Why do we spend hours writing up word for word a meeting for the document to be sent to the same people who were sat in the meeting? Who does this all benefit? Not the students.
We need to look at what really matters and what really has an impact on student outcomes. Feedback can happen in a variety of ways: verbal, instant feedback is much more powerful and effective for a student than writing a comment on a piece of work a week after it was written. If there is a common mistake being made in a piece of homework why write the same comment in each book when you could just give whole class feedback followed by a further task to consolidate their understanding. Why write up who said what after a department meeting when you can just summarise the key points discussed, and most importantly, the agreed actions going forward.
School policies must support teachers and leaders must trust that what teachers are doing is in the best interest of the students. We must educate parents on things like what effective feedback is so they don’t expect every piece of work to be marked. We should encourage teachers to be transparent with parents so that if a parents queries something like a grade the teacher has the confidence to explain why that is the case, again supported by the schools’ policies.
We are all teachers because we love being in the classroom. Let’s support teachers and enable them to focus as much of their time as possible on this, for the benefit on our students. Not because it looks good, not for parents or inspectors for the students.