This is a thread from Karam Bales; In a personal capacity.
Saturday 16th May: government rewriting reality, changing the narrative@annelongfield ‘stop squabbling and get back to work”
@GavinWilliamson Unions need to sit down and talk to government, I want a discussion

These create a false narrative, I’ll explain why… 

Let’s go back to the start of the crisis.
Originally the government had no intention of closing schools, when herd immunity was THE strategy one advisor on TV suggested closing schools could be counter productive as it would slow the spread.
Talking to reps around country I asked about staff absence, once 1 person went off with symptoms absence quickly escalated.
NEU were one of the first to call for closures weeks before lockdown, at the time we were made out to be over reacting, in hindsight we were spot on
A week before lockdown the government were still saying they weren’t planning on schools to close,they did no planning at all for closures. This became blindingly clear when school closures were announced.
Lockdown statement said keyworkers only, then an hour later it changed

School were to be closed except for keyworkers. The next question heads asked was, what was the definition of a keyworker?
Government didnt have a list ready, we will get it to you soon, this was Friday everything would have to be in place Dunday afternoon for Monday start
Waiting for government to publish the list, heads got to work surveying parents, what about EHCP, households with 1 keyworker etc,there were a lot of variables, Saturday came and no keyworker list,heads ended up doing it all alone.
Government finally released the list so close to Monday that if heads had waited there would have been no chance for heads to have prepared in time. It was the first of many shambles.
But it wasnt the only immediate issue the government has done no planning for. Safety.
How to manage social distancing in schools? What other safety measures should be in place? Who is liable if it goes wrong? This wasnt planned for.NEU worked with leaders losing lots of sleep to draw up joint guidance with NAHT and ASCL, this was adopted by most schools/LAs
Government did put out some basic lines, not enough, there was a meeting with the DfE where we went through the joint union guidence and it was agreed that it was sound and measured, its proven a strong document for keeping schools relatively safe during partial closures
In my area the threat of Section 44 has been used alongside the guidence to ensure safety measures in a school were improved within 24 hours, but it’s another example of the gaps in government planning being left to others to fill.
How long were we expecting schools to be closed? Well exams were cancelled and at the start many commentators were saying they expected schools probably wouldnt be open until September. Shielding letters were also sent out for 3 months.
What else hadn’t been planned for?
Exam results: unions went to government to work it out, no plans,poor original suggestions, we worked together to put together something more reasonable.
NQTs&Trainees? No planning either.
Free school meals: despite the current messaging of concern for the vulnerable and disadvantaged the government hadnt considered this group that’s particularly large due to a decade of austerity.
Heads had to press government on this (see @chrisdysonHT for a great example)
Government provided little response at first,the heada started creating their own voucher system.Finally the government pulled its fingers out picking a provider of their choice and centralising a voucher system. Heads were told to abandon the hard work they’d done
Government’s provider choice has been a disaster. Trying to order vouchers for pupils each day has been likened to trying to order tickets to a highly popular music festival, wake up early and keep hitting a button to find the webpage crashes, their own systems were better
There’s been many more issues with the vouchers besides heads just being able to get them including a limited number of shops they could first be used in, to the vouchers not working when disadvantaged families have tried to pay with them at a till (imagine the humiliation)
Remote learning: this is a big one,so with all this concern about children missing out on education youd think making sure there were standards for remote learning would be a key priority for the government? Nope nothing at first,schools left to make it up as they go along
Because schools were given no warning they had a weekend to create a new online curriculum with no support from government.
The NEUs guidence for online learning has been misinterpreted (deliberately) in the media who say we are telling teachers to not do it. This is a lie
The NEU urged caution regarding live video calls with students due to potential safeguarding issues and also protecting teachers from a range of concerns. We supported online learning creating guidence to fill the gap left by gov and created a microsite for parents.
Apologies I said Friday for lockdown declared but it was Thursday, we spent that day handing out all our laptops and tablets to disadvantaged pupils, but there wasnt enough. Had the gov planned how to support these pupils? No, nothing was in place. Heads unsupported again.
The Laptop fiasco: how long have we been in lockdown? For all that talk of the disadvantaged the gov still hasnt sorted out laptops.
Once again pressure from heads and unions got the sluggish gov to promisedlaptops and modems for student that needed it. Heads drew up lists
Government set itself a deadline and then started moving it backwards. Heads sent their lists and then recieved messages regarding what they would be getting.
One head needed around 30 laptops and modems,got told they would get 11 laptops and 7 modems, repeated across England
Heads were venting their fuery on Twitter ‘so how do I decide which disadvantaged students get access to remote learning when they are all in need’ were they supposed to start ranking students by deprivation?
Last I heard DfE said it would be sorted by June, priorities?
Having left heads and unions to fill in many gaps gov had a few jobs to do to support the disadvantaged and they havent managed to do it, could just have set money aside and let heads order what was needed then schools in poorer areas would have benefited from more resources.
The government has neglected its duty to the disadvantaged over lockdown to such an extent that the Good Law project is looking into legal action against them.
Notice the pressure on government has come from educators, unions and other groups.

Right onto Reopening Schools:first of all its not reopening schools,its increasing student numbers,im sick of seeing people online and on radio talking about educators on furlough in their hot tubs drinking prosecco.(Heard this several times,trolls arent known for creativity)
The moment schools went to partial closure we knew they would have to reopen.
What conditions would have to be met? How would it be managed? Which students? How many? How would safety in schools be managed? What was the gov thinking what evidence and modelling was it doing?
After the debacleWHERE IS THE SCIENCE ON SCHOOLS? and lack of government planning there were concerns the same could happen with increasing numbers.
The NEU was also collecting evidence from studies around the world to inform risk reduction, compilations are on my Twitter account. We wrote to the gov.
As with when we wrote to government before lockdown asking for their modelling around why they were saying schools wouldnt close we recieved no response to our evidence based questions. This was in first few weeks of lockdown and government was refusing to work with us
2 weeks into lockdown mid peak sources within government started briefing papers that schools could return after the easter holidays, 4 weeks after lockdown started. This has been a reoccurring theme, gov refuses to tell unions and head anything while briefing friendly media
I have a thread titled 8th April where I predicted schools would become a political battle,they are the key to reversing a lockdown the government never wanted to implement.I saw loose science being created, and solid studies being taken out of context to manufacture consent
While an evidence base was appearing that although more likely to be asymptomatic children were as likely to be infected as adults and shed the same viral load,certain dubious commentators like Toby Young portrayed themselves as experts filling the airwaves with pseudo facts
These alternate facts were amplified by troll and sockpuppet accounts and picked up by the governments loyal press and certain MPs.
“No child under 10 has infected an adult” which has been constantly parroted this week is proven to be false but is accepted as fact by many
Seeing this narrative establish in the press, seeping into the public and picked up by government now briefing 11th May to papers the NEU wrote evidence based questions to the gov regarding their science and modelling supplying studies and asking gov to share its plans.
For a third time the government ignored our questions and refused to respond.
Are you starting to see why Williamson’s statement that hes willing to talk to the unions and that we should engage has angered us so much?
Michael Gove said three times during a press briefing that government was talking to unions, Johnson on his first day back promised to include all stakeholders in planning, for a couple of weeks ‘talking to unions’ was a regular phrase. It really is some great double speak.
Oh there have been talks, some about exams for next year and pausing Ofsted have Ofsted productive and genuine,but when it comes to how and when student numbers will be increased and the government has been evasive and uncooperative,not sharing plans or genuine collaboration.
(Sorry for Ofsted typo above getting tired)
While the government continued to refuse to share its modelling of risk and planning, Downing street spent more time talking to and briefing their loyal papers who floated possible phase structures and 1st of June date
So while unions faced a brick wall the government continued to say it would give us warning and time to plan and told the press they were ‘talking’ to us. Increasingly worried by the June date in the papers, Kevin Courtney the NEU JGS had a conference call with Williamson.

This was after Johnson had already recorded his statement, Williamson reassures Kevin that no date had been set, papers were briefed to say government were going to be cautious a date for schools was unlikely. Then that night the DfE this statement


‘No date has been set’ ‘We will continue to work with the sector’ It even reference the NEU letter with hundreds of thousands of signatures.
NEU saw this as a sign of hope that their requests for modelling and collaborative planning would finally be met.
That Friday papers began attacking unions,but with particular focus on the NEU, advice that live calling pupils could create issues avoided by other forms of online learning already misrepresented became ‘Union prepares to sabotage return to school’
It wasnt unexpected ⬇️
Then Sunday statement came and it wasnt just setting a clear day that we had been told wouldnt happen that shocked us, union thinking had been increasing numbers by focusing on disadvantaged across year groups or older students more likely to social distance.
Not learning from closure mistakes the guidence wasnt released alongside the statement. Initially on Sunday it seemed it was reception and year 1 first, year 6 shortly afterwards with yrs 10 and 12 ‘before summer’
Monday some guidence came out, year 6 would be back 1st June
Infant schools only have reception to yr2, how is two thirds of students plus keyworker&certain vulnerable pupils a ‘cautious approach’. We had warned social distancing&staffing would be an issue so the guidence scrapped the need for social distancing and set class size to 15
Mention of other countries increasing student numbers (with lower infections than UK) do have social distancing and lower numbers per class in their guidence. Government wasnt being as cautious as these other countries further ahead on the curve for many reasons
Not following other countries and still without a test, trace and isolate system in place the approach seemed reckless. Government called the roadmap a sketch,NEU wrote to gov asking for the modelling and evidence underpinning these plans and to collaboratively redraft them
As with the other three letters sent,we recieved no response! With the international research and education comparisons we had gathered the government guidance wasnt cautious and risked turned schools into major hubs of transmission, spreading into communities and risking NHS
NEU always stated school closures are a public health measure to cut transmission rates and this is backed by the emerging science including the UEA report funded by the government via Public Health England which found school closures to be the most effective way to reduce RO
With government refusing to share science or engage in a more cautious redraft the NEU was worries about schools being bounced into a reckless unsafe increase in numbers with asymptomatic children that could create large infection clusters in communities before being noticed
Guidence was sent to NEU reps to pause local planning, this was a holding letter the government guidence placed legal liability for anything that went wrong directly onto schools and their heads, as the gov kept telling press they would work with unions we expected a redraft
Press sold this as ‘NEU refuses to engage with government’ and the headline became fact in the minds of many, its glaringly untrue, as I’ve shown we’ve been constantly asking the government to involve us in planning, they are refusing to engage with us. Talk but not listening
How are schools supposed to plan when the guidence is still changing without consultation?
Tuesday it changed without heads being informed, FE and Sixth forms must now open on 1st June and yr 10 and 12 must be going in, all primary students must also have a month in school..
Before the summer holidays, so that’s yrs 2,3,4 and 5 in by mid June. The emotional blackmail by press and government that this is about the disadvantaged seems hollow considering the laptop fiasco and free school meal issues are still ongoing. Schools started planning rotas
The guidence then changed again the other day that rotas to manage student numbers and reduce risk of transmission should not be used. Other measures that increase risk like breakfast clubs were reintroduced,the guidence becomes more reckless with everyday,time is running out
Now heads have 2 weeks to rewrite their plans again and have to constantly check the guidence incase government changes it yet again without telling us. Despite press reporting NEU and other unions continued to call for meaningful meetings. We finally got one with advisors
After initially confirming, Williamson then personally pulled out of the meeting (because his door is always opened?)before the meeting he said in parliament school openings and guidence had been approved by the scientists,later the same day DfE science advisors in a select..
said they hadn’t been consultated over dates or guidence, but once outside the select committee which has serious sanctions for telling untruths the advisor released a letter than said the exact opposite to them. Also in the select committee he used the phrase ‘some studies’
and ‘low confidence’ in regards to the science underpinning the governments plans. These same phrases were used in the union meeting with the science advisors, and in recent press briefings, the international studies the NEU has referenced have not been addressed in any way.
They promised to publish their guidence to government on schools, the discussion notes and the studies that underpinned this. So far only the guidence has been released more ‘some studies show children are less likely to carry infection’ and mention of levels of ‘confidence’.
Next day the ONS data showed that children are as likely to carry infection as adults,studies in other countries show asymptomatic children shed the same viral load as adults.These findings havent been addressed by government and they still quote ‘some studies’ in briefings
Government continued to tell public they are willing to talk, papers label unions; NEU in particular, as refusing to engage, meanwhile in reality the government refused to reconsider which year groups, pupil numbers and a chance to redraft safety guidance collaboratively.
Government has demanded confidentiality at all stages, now I need to make it clear at this point that this is my personal account and that this thread isnt an official NEU response, but I still need to be careful because I recieved a message from a whistleblower in DfE
This will be denied but the shambolic thrown together guidence and comments by DfE science advisers and choice of year groups and reopening nurses gives it credence.
The DfE were bounced into increasing student numbers, they weren’t expecting it and weren’t prepared.
The Treasury pushed them into this using its seniority, to maximise those getting back to work to save money and stimulate the economy. There had already previously been pressure for an even earlier return,(11th of May quoted in press a month ago?) There is much confusion ..
and nervousness around this policy being arrived at in a rushed manner, the supporting data of infections and deaths is said to be nowhere near the governments original criteria (another thing NEU has asked for and been refused) they are keeping their fingers crossed the data
will significantly improve. Remember the greatest concern around schools is them becoming major sites of transmission triggering a larger second wave. This would take us back to square one force another lockdown causing even more damage to the economy and students education
Which is why the unions are still calling for the full modelling and underpinning studies to show the government has taken this into account. This interview by a SAGE data analyst in Saturdays Telegraph doesnt fill me with confidence.
I’ve decided to do this now because not just is the government still refusing to reconsider collaborative redrafting the plans and guidance, there is a nasty disengenous orchestrated attack on the unions, NEU in particular.’Let them be heroes’ the Mail claimed we would force..
members to stay out of schools. NEU constitution has a conscience clause, all action is voluntary, members have the freedom to ignore advice without consequence. We have this stance because it’s what the members told us to do, surveys of 100s of thousands of members have ..
well over 90% approval ratings and educators have been joining in the thousands for weeks because they they feel we represent them. Nearly 2k additional members joined after Johnsons Sunday speech with around 500k members we do speak for the majority, although media seems ..
great at amplifying the voices of those members who do disagree or have allowed themselves to be mislead by media misrepresentations. These are ‘unprecedented’ times and we’re in constant flux, misunderstanding and disagreements are going to happen,there are no easy decisions
It also doesnt help when various dodgy doggedly pro government/vote leave social media accounts set up around election times and October to pressure around Brexit suddenly become angry union members despite no sign of an interest in education before hand, some had wiped their
timelines. As my twitter account gains more attention I have attracted more of these accounts, ultra Brexit support and increasing student numbers had no logical reason for such an overlap on a venn diagram, theres also lots of new accounts from April and a May repeating ..
fake science like children dont infect adults,there had been no infections in schools since partial closures etc
Even with limited numbers quite a few schools have had outbreaks and deaths which have been ignored due to being inconvenient for the government’s economic plans
The BMA coming out in full support of the NEUs concerns and a similar statement by Doctors in Unite on Sunday night has caused them a headache, but some press and trolls are now describing the BMA as militant! Its about ruling by dictators and crushing dissenting voices
(*dictat not dictators I’m not going that far but spell check thought otherwise)
It’s really nasty, government has been urging councils to get more keyworker children into school, they changed the guidence again without informing heads and unions. This is different to their
guidence to the rest of the workforce. It means a keyworkers household where the other parent doesnt work can still send their children into school. I believe this is so they can say theres lot of students now in school so what’s thr issue with even more?
Confidentiality and also protecting individuals means details must be limited, and it’s still a risk but some leaders have reported being threatened by some councils if they dont start increasing student numbers regardless of safety concerns. Been advised not to raise this
but frankly nows the time to lift the lid. The press have launched into personal attacks against my friends and colleagues, continuing to say it its us refusing to engage for ideological and political purposes which is twisting reality by 180.
When papers whip up hate ‘all the NEU cares about is school holidays’ ‘they are damaging our children’ these false emotive words dont just damage constructive debate they have real world consequences. At lunch time on the say the Daily Mail ran the ‘Let them be heroes’
headline, describing the NEU as unrepresentative of members and a danger to children I personally recieved an eery anonymous death threat via a withheld phone number from what sounded like an older woman. So yeah my patience is running very thin.
The NEUs stance has not been to keep schools shut indefinitely until a vaccine as media like to portray this as a binary choice between almost immediately increasing student numbers and waiting a year. Preventing a second more damaging peak is my primary concern, but we do
feel a lot more can be done to reduce risk and wonder if the current infection rate and RO in many areas means June is just too soon. We are still asking to see the actual science and modelling, and then to collaboratively redraft improved safety guidence that more resembles
the measures in other countries that those calling for the June date are constantly referencing.
We accept there will always be risks for now but we arent willing to accept unnecessary risks that could be mitigated, it’s not political it’s a public health issue about a second
peak. If the government had a solid reliable strategy of test, trace and isolate up and running, if infections are lower we would have less reservations, putting multisystem inflammatory syndrome to one side for a moment if children are low risk, majority of students and
parents do want to go back, we have to remember this is a public health measure and the impact of RO is the most important factor. If this can be shown and that schools can be safe (for a given value of safe) the NEU would love to come back to support students and families
Afteral we have spent a decade campaigning for more funding, the need to address the SEND crisis that has emerged over the past decade, our concerns for a high stakes system that has seen a surge in student and staff mental health issues, the impact of austerity on the most..
vulnerable and disadvantaged. We have a proven track record of raising these issues and when we have we were attacked as being political by same press and commentators ideological wedded to the government who are now claiming to be attacking us on behalf of the disadvantaged
while intentionally misrepresenting us, relying on alternative facts they havent checked the validity of, ignoring growing evidence to the contrary and printing plain old hatchet jobs against good honest people I’ve known for years. Its interesting in the personal attacks
against the GS and other officers they chose to miss out Robin our Vice President, I guess a well respected, incredibly measured and thoughtful head teacher of the one the countries top performing grammar schools doesnt really fit the picture of looney lefty militants that
they are trying to paint.
So finally I come to Saturdays and the start of this writing.
@annelongfield said both sides needed to stop squabbling, engage with each other and get students back into school by 1st of June. Despite seeming to sound a sensible broker in the middle
it makes the assumption that the governments decisions for 1st June are reasonable, well grounded in science no one has seen, and not reckless in any way. It also misrepresents the NEU as refusing to engage with government, ignoring out repeated press releases, statements on
air and the 19 page report of evidence based questions to the government detailing the evidence behind them that the government refused to respond to.
We are still waiting for the scientific discussions and studies behind the governments thinking that we were promised, how
can we issue advice to members of we dont even know the risks the government is willing for other people to take?
Unions are still asking for collaborative planning to redraft the guidence and the government still hasnt set up a meaningful consultation, as the headteachers
union the NAHT, not known for militancy has said, the ball is in the governments court. We desperately want to engage meaningfully to reassure worried members, parents, and to know we arent rushing into tipping the country back into a preventable devastating second peak.
So when @GavinWilliamson says his door is always open, and hes always been willing to meaningful talk that’s news to me. The government will seek to reassure us with words but it’s currently not willing to make any changes, in my opinion that isnt genuine talks it’s a handy
line for the press to use on the public that the government is trying to be cooperative while its the unions refusing to engage for political and ideological reasons. They are treating the issue of safety in schools as a PR exercise rather than the public health issue the NEU
and more sensible governments around the world know it to be.
Will the government release the science its following? Will it address the findings of international studies that schools are major hubs of transmission?
Will it sit down with all unions for real constructive talks
where they are willing to make changes?
Or will they carry on regardless?
If they do just remember that if they and their loyal press and commentators tell you it’s the unions fault for refusing to engage that they’re being massively dishonest and are playing PR and politics
We want to work with the government to protect communities, but that requires the government to level with us on the risks, and we appreciate the difficult circumstances families are in.

This is a personal private response and not officially endorsed.
2 appendix follow

Appendix 1

Joint union response to the government, followed by virologists, public health experts etc all voicing their concerns that the current plans risk a second peak and links to lots of research

(Union) Baron Karam Bales@karamballes

People say you cant criticize the gov in hindsight for a late lockdown.
NEU were one of the first organisations to call for a lockdown, if gov, we were right then, we are right now, this is a reckless charge without proper safety consideration 

Unions: Government should ‘step back’ from June 1 reopening

Unions representing hundreds of thousands of school teachers, leaders and support staff have called on the government to “step back” from its plan to have some pupils return to schools on Ju

Appendix 2

Manufacturing consent for increasing student numbers before it’s probably wise too.
A prediction from over a month ago on how we would end up with what the press is trying to turn into a tribal political battle

(Union) Baron Karam Bales@karamballes

Within a few weeks opening UK schools will become a political battleground.

Initially the RW ignored Covid19, the propaganda machine focused on telling us it was scaremongering

When the truth dawned, they were left rudderless for a while.

Zero Tolerance but Full Inclusion

This is a guest piece from Rachel Tomlinson, headteacher of Barrowford Primary School. Rachel is passionate about inclusion, equity and kindness.

When I show prospective parents, carers and visitors around our school, I am always really clear with them that we have an unusual (for schools) approach to managing behaviour.
We don’t have a Behaviour Management Policy because the only person able to manage your behaviour is you. I believe to imply otherwise is harmful.
Rather, we have a Relationships Management Policy.

I used to get ready to launch into a full explanation, but often the wind was taken out of my sails as the parents and carers just nodded and said, ‘Well, that’s how I do it at home too!’.  For most parents, actually, the approach we take isn’t unusual, it’s common sense and blindingly obvious. It’s how most of us parent.

So that’s what I say now; we ‘just’ parent in our school– and I can enlarge upon it if they want to know more.

We are teachers. We teach. We teach children how to do ‘maths’. We teach them how to do ‘writing’. We teach them how to do art and geography and history and sport.

We also teach them how to be; How to be understanding and compassionate and empathic and kind and respectful – to themselves and others; How to be changemakers and leaders and challengers and supporters and creators; How to be themselves and by themselves and with other people.

Children are learners. It’s their job, their role, their key task.
They do it constantly. They do it because of and sometimes despite the circumstances they are in.

When children are learning to count, they often make errors and assumptions and try out their own ideas about how it happens. We guide and coach and support and acknowledge and praise. We teach the names of numbers up to about thirteen, but then, because children can see patterns and are confident to experiment, they try out the rest – ‘…fourteen, fifteen’ and so on. How many times have we heard children say ‘nineteen, tenteen!’? We intervene here, give them the right words so they can carry on and be successful until they get to twenty-nine, often they will stop and wait for us to do our bit. We give them the knowledge we teach them about the number 30. We don’t shout, we don’t get cross and we don’t punish them, instead we celebrate the courage to give it a go, to get it wrong and to keep trying and trusting the adults to help.

Why then would we do the opposite when it comes to behaviour?

Just like a child isn’t born knowing how to count, neither are they born knowing how to ‘behave’. They learn by watching people around them and by trying out patterns and experimenting with actions. It can be hard to learn appropriate behaviours for different contexts – what is ok when you are three suddenly becomes not ok when you are four and start school.
How do you know unless you get it wrong and support is there to give you the knowledge and skills to help you to put it right?

So just like learning to count, when a child gets a behaviour ‘wrong’, we teach, give them the knowledge, model and allow them to practice. We guide and coach and support and acknowledge and praise. We don’t punish.

When it goes wrong, as it does, as it should, we concentrate on the relationship and repair and what we can learn from it, what it teaches us about how to behave more appropriately. We talk about the consequences and taking responsibility for our actions. We have a relational, restorative approach.

We have lots of children – as does every school – who have an insecure sense of self and a heightened response to threat or rejection because of their individual circumstances and situations.

So we concentrate on our relationships with and between children and staff and we use the high levels of attunement we have with our children to enable us to structure learning and experiences, teach skills to prevent, and, when necessary, challenge harmful behaviours in a supportive and calm manner with a focus on the reparation of the harm caused.

We use a restorative approach and support the children to take responsibility for their own actions.
This bit is essential. We acknowledge the conditions, the emotions, the contributing factors through discussion but ultimately, our behaviour and our actions are our responsibility.

Therefore, it is our responsibility to repair the harm and restore the relationship. Children are coached and guided and supported in this, but they are made very clear about where the responsibility lies – with them, not the teacher, not the lesson plan.

There is an absolutely consistent approach to this – there is zero tolerance of harmful behaviours and attitudes but unconditional regard for all children (people) and their stage of learning and emotional maturity. Each time harm has been caused; discussion is facilitated sensitively and with understanding but without judgement. It is responsive, and all involved are given the space and time to become regulated enough for it to happen successfully.

It is not an easy or a soft option; it is difficult, time-consuming, emotionally challenging and exhausting but it is worthwhile, creates trusting relationships, makes for a safe affirming and kind space for children and adults, supports positive mental health and ensures that every person feels of value. And it works – our community is empathic, self-aware and celebrates each individual.

And each time, everyone involved grows. Because ultimately, we all learn from our experiences.

GCSE and A-Level Grades 2020

OfQual has just released guidance on the centre assessment. Predicted grades are to be submitted as a ranking system based on teacher assessment. The only coursework/NEA/RA required by exam boards will be in Science and English.

There are issues with teacher assessment and predicted grades being biased against certain groups. The process of bias is not because teachers are racist, classist, etc. All of us are prone to creating a stereotype and prototype models. I will not go into the literature or the data in this piece, but here is an article that I wrote previously, which succinctly shows the evidence and its impact.

Let me reiterate that:

This is not about teachers and leaders deliberately under-assessing pupils.

What can we do? As schools are required to submit teacher ranking and predicted grades without further assessment; Both measures are problematic in themselves and will be detrimental to some of the following groups of pupils.

Black pupils of all categories

What to do?

As a former Curriculum and Standard Assistant Principal and data geek I’m interested in the processes involved the intricacies of getting this right. First, use a system which allows you to see all of your data together, that is module tests, mock exams, etc. in one place with a grade boundary analysis (from exam boards).

Leaders and teachers should look across the sheet and make a judgement based on the data you have in front of you.

Then the next step in the process is to apply (initially) a systematic process of adjustment, i.e. the same amount of improvement in all pupils – in the three months till the exams all pupils would’ve made two grades progress.

And we are done.

No, we are not.

All exams and the teacher assessments are prone to bias – we have all had that annoying pupil who pulls ‘it’ out of the bag on results day.

Here are some of the factors we need to consider to ameliorate the impact of underassessment.

Socio-economic background.
as well as other others

We are lucky that today’s schools are data-rich havens. I would advocate looking at the data you have on predicted grades with actual grades from previous years and complete a forensic analysis the accuracy of prediction against the factors.

At the department level, this could inform legacies of under predicting, i.e. History always underpredict but deliver on the day. After all, we don’t have the benefit of the ‘day’. On the teacher level, it may highlight a stereotype model for over prediction, i.e. Chinese girls are regularly over predicted in science.

There are still issues with teacher assessment, but we must at least try and get this right for the pupils we serve. Now, it is up to school leaders to make decisions of whether you adjust individual pupils grades predicted grades or consider this in the ranking process. If you require support as always, please do get in touch.

If you are still confused about the idea of teacher bias click here for the research on the topic.

Legal Action – Children Without the Tools to Succeed

Schools remain closed to the vast number of pupils and curricula have been suspended as a result. With all crises, it is the most vulnerable of our pupils who are at risk of having their education impacted the most. Home learning is a monumental task being undertaken by schools currently, but what happens if you are from a lower-income family who don’t have access to a computer and reliable broadband access?

This report (from the EEF 2019) shows an attainment penalty associated with the lack of these resources and this is while all pupils were in schools. This attainment penalty is compounded by the intersectional nature of the results which suggest a linear penalty. Anyway, a fuller analysis can be found here.



The Good Law Project has launched a legal campaign to tackle this issue. They’ve written to Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, to ask him (1) what advice he plans to give to local authorities about educational provision for the estimated 1 million children unable to access online education during the lockdown (see IPPR report here) and (2) what funds he proposes to make available to local authorities to support their provision of tablets or computers and internet access to those children. In the absence of an adequate response (which was due yesterday), they have said they plan to issue urgent judicial review proceedings.At the same time, the Good Law Project is supporting families who are struggling to access these resources to launch legal action against their local authority. Section 19 of the Education Act 1996 requires local authorities to provide a suitable education for children whether inside or outside of schools. Please note this responsibility is regardless of whether the school they attend is an academy or not – the local authority is responsible. As I understand it, this is not an attack on local authorities – as a former senior leader we all know that local authorities have been operating on slashed budgets – but instead the aim of this work is to further pressure the Government to provide the funding required to support children across the country. A coherent and consistent policy response is essential to avoid a postcode lottery. Given the deadline for the SoS to respond was yesterday, I am expecting further clarification on the legal actions soon, and of course, I’ll update you when I can.

UPDATE: DfE have Responded

The has just announced (here) that the Department for Education has announced that

“Disadvantaged children across England are set to receive laptops and tablets as part of a push to make remote education accessible for pupils staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak.

Devices will be ordered for children in the most vital stages of their education, those who receive support from a social worker and care leavers.

The government will also provide 4G routers to make sure disadvantaged secondary school pupils and care leavers can access the internet – where those families do not already have mobile or broadband internet in the household.”

“There is no current definition of the term disadvantaged, However in this article,

“The Tes understands that the scheme will target children on free school meals, but there will be a degree of flexibility in who is eligible.”

Until further details about who specifically will benefit from the scheme, I suspect the fight is not over. Our most disadvantaged pupils deserve the same life opportunities as out most affluent; Yes, this may seem like I am asking for more and more; We must remember but this is the law and it is in place for a reason. 

Where to now? This thread is from J Maugham.


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2020 Exams Result and Bias.

The Department for Education released this press release on 20th March 2020 (click here).


2020’s summer exam series, including A levels, GCSEs and other qualifications, and all primary assessments, have been cancelled as we fight to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The exam regulator, Ofqual, and exam boards will work with teachers to provide grades to students whose exams have been cancelled this summer, following our actions to slow the spread of coronavirus.

What is the plan? GCSE, A and AS level examinations will be awarded based on the work that pupils and students have already put in; this will done through a process of teacher assessment and evidence gathering, as the DfE state:

“The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.”

"The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead." Click To Tweet

Teachers will be taking into account the range of evidence they have at their disposal including,

  • Coursework submitted
  • Teachers Assessment (judgement/prediction)
  • Mock Examinations/Other internal Assessments

Then exam boards will look at this data along with the prior attainment (Key stage 2 SATS) and calculate a grade for each student. The calculated grades are due out before the end of July. These grades and certificates will be indistinguishable from other years so that this year’s students do not face a systemic disadvantage as a consequence of these extraordinary circumstances.

Students that feel they have been treated unfairly as a result of the procedures may appeal through a set procedure, and if they wish sit examination early when schools return in September 2021. From a school’s point of view, the Government will not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020.

What are Stereotypes?

Stereotyping is the tendency to draw on overly simple beliefs about groups to make judgments about individuals. Confirmation bias is the tendency to perceive and seek out information that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs, and avoid information that conflicts with those beliefs (Nelson, 2014).

Sterotyping is described by Kahnemann as ‘Anchoring’; This occurs when value is determined for an ‘unknown quantity’ before estimating that quantity. Anchoring is a ubitquitous and a perfectly natural human response; unfortunately this is an implicit process and as a result when it emerges through assessment it can be extremely problematic (Kahneman, 2013). I would reiterate here that anchoring and bias on the whole are completely natural processes.

Flow chart


A stereotype is introduced. Black and poorer people are less intelligent, aggressive and lazy when compared to the majority white population or richer people – these types of stereotypes appear during the first five years of life. This introduces two cognitive biases, the focalism (also know as the anchoring bias) and this is where the confirmation bias starts.

Focalism or the anchoring bias occurs when people are wedded to the constructs they encounter first. If I were to offer to sell you a board marker for £10 today, tomorrow I attempt to sell you the same product for £15. You would think that I am ripping you off. If I offer you the same board marker at £20 today, and then tomorrow I offer it to you for £15, you would think that you were receiving an enhanced price.

The only difference here is the order in which you hear the information. The price you received has not changed. Hence you anchor yourself depending on the first bit of information. In this case it is regardless of any other information i.e. is the board marker good value for money? What is the quality of the board marker?

In confirmation bias, once a bias is introduced people actively seek to confirm this bias. For example: Black people are more aggressive so toxic associations between black people and aggression, weapons, etc are formed. As you can see from the flow chart, the whole process is cyclical and concentric.

Everyone can be prone to these biases including academics. Both confirmation bias and stereotyping leads to over simplification such as ‘women are more risk adverse’. These assumptions are not well-informed in an empirical sense, but have been described repeatedly in economic literature as robust (Nelson, 2014).

“Many are grounded in the premises that stereotypes comprise invariant, homogenous, evaluative judgements of a given group (e.g. income, gender or ethnic group), and that stereotypes enable judgements of group members to be made quickly and with cognitive ease” (Hilton and von Hipple, 1996; McGarty et al., 2002. In Campbell 2015, p1).

Bias is commonly refered to as a habit of the mind; your brain is designed to skip information and rely on information and subsequently associations are quickly made. Therefore it is important to recognise that stereotypes are not an individual process rather they are systemic in nature and the consequences are systematic. Stereotyping processes respond to systematic principles that generalize across different specific instances of stereotypes, these processes are consistent over time, place and out group. (Fiske et al 2002) This is not about you as an individual, this is about how you have appropriated stereotypes through associations.

Bias is commonly refered to as a habit of the mind; your brain is designed to skip information and rely on information and subsequently associations are quickly made. Therefore it is important to recognise that stereotypes are not an… Click To Tweet

Like all dimensions of human psychology and the social sciences, none of this should be reduced to anecdotes or simple rules. Yes, people of colour are disadvantaged through our society however the intersections of complexity should not be ignored. This brings in inter-group dynamics which are often observed through people holding positive and negative stereotypes – pity targets the warm but not competent subordinates (rich to poor); envy targets the competent but not warm competitors (White to American Asian); contempt is reserved for out-groups deemed neither warm nor competent. (Fiske et al 2002).

Teaching and Stereotypes

By stereotyping, teachers can make judgements of pupils quickly and with cognitive efficiency through preconceived associations about the ability/attainment of lower socio-economic background, SEN, Black Caribbean pupils, and so on.

“The possibility, therefore, is that among the English teaching profession there exist normalised notional templates of pupil attainment, which are premised on pupil characteristics, inform judgements of each child, and skew assessments in line with these characteristics.” (Campbell, 2014. p519).

Teacher assessment, on the whole, is not reliable. Let’s start with some examples. This piece will concentrate mainly on race, however, the same pattern exists for disadvantaged pupils and the intersections between identities (for another day). Educators will be familiar with the terms disadvantaged, BAME, gender groups, FSM and multitude of other labels; the rhetoric in last decade has been about closing the attainment gap between these. However, through all of the key stages and phases, have educators been looking at the gap from a false angle?

Educators will be familiar with the terms disadvantaged, BAME, gender groups, FSM and multitude of other labels; the rhetoric in last decade has been about closing the attainment gap between these. Click To Tweet

That attainment indicators depend so heavily on teacher assessment invites the question of whether these apparent achievement gaps may to some extent be an artefact of the measurement method used. There is an enduring body of evidence which indicates that teacher assessments are subject consistently to a large and significant level of error (Brookhart, 2013; Eckert et al., 2006; Harlen, 2005) … and, more importantly, research also indicates that some of this error may be systematic (Harlen, 2005; Robinson and Lubienski, 2011) (Campbell, 2015, p518).

Burgess and Greaves (2009) look at the teacher assessment versus actual attainment of external exams of 11-year old across 16557 schools, 3 subjects and 4 years. This showed that the past performance of a specific ethnic group directly impacted on the current teacher assessment.

It is worth stating before we go on that key stage 1 SATs are completely based on teacher assessment and are marked in school. Key stage 2 and 3 SATs are, and were marked externally through a process formally known as quasi-blind i.e. with the names of the pupils known to the assessor.

Key stage 2 and 3 SATs are, and were marked externally through a process formally known as quasi-blind i.e. with the names of the pupils known to the assessor. Click To Tweet

The way society is structured you would expect external markers’ implicit bias to lower the marks and outcomes of pupils of colour. This may skew results positively towards white pupils and those with euro-centric names as they do not have the benefit of an intimate daily knowledge of the pupils themselves.  

However, precisely the opposite was found; pupils of certain groups were found to be assessed lower than others by their own teachers rather than external examiners.

English Key Stage 2

Ethnic groupTA < External ExamDifference compared to White pupilsPercentage discrepancy compared to White pupils
Black Caribbean17.2%4.80%38.7%
Black African18.3%5.90%47.6%

In English, all pupils who do not ascribe to the white label have a higher percentage of teachers assessing them lower than via the external test. The rate at which Pakistani pupils are under-assessed (vs their external SATS grade) when compared relatively with white pupils is at a rate of 62.9%. That means you are 62.9% more likely for your teacher to think you are working at a level below which you are actually are.

Campbell (2015) found that pupils had a lower probability of their teachers rating them ‘above average’ for reading for lower income pupils, boys, pupils with SEN, pupils of all Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Black Other, Black African and Black Caribbean, male and EAL pupils.

Campbell (2015) found that pupils had a lower probability of their teachers rating them ‘above average’ for reading for lower income pupils, boys, pupils with SEN, pupils of all Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Black Other, Black African and… Click To Tweet

This has obvious implications for pupils of colour, the impact of the Golem effect being pertinent; day to day their teachers have lower expectations of them. Similar patterns (but exactly the same ethnic grouping) with Maths and Science were also found (please do head to this previous piece for further analysis).

What is the impact of Key Stage 2 predictions on the pupils?

Wilson et al (2006) show the difference in Key Stage 2 teacher assessment extrapolated to GCSE, versus actual grades at GCSE using white pupils as the comparison. This is impact is significant as the figures for most group are vastly different and with Black Caribbean British and Black Other British pupils bucking the trend. Which is interesting in itself.

This leads us to the secondary schools setting.

“Research not only shows some persistent patterns of poor educational outcomes for pupils from low socio-economic groups, minority ethnic groups and boys, studies also indicate differentiated experiences of schooling and the over-representation of these groups in low attainment sets” (Gillborn and Mirza 2000; Demie 2001; Singh Ghuman 2002; Mamon 2004; Connolly 2006) (in Muiji and Dunne, 2010, p393).

Muijs and Dunne (2010) analysed setting in Maths and English across 12 local authorities in England and randomly sampled 100 schools and completed a quantitative analysis of the composition of their sets.

Muijs and Dunne (2010) analysed setting in Maths and English across 12 local authorities in England and randomly sampled 100 schools and completed a quantitative analysis of the composition of their sets. This is what they found? Click To Tweet

They found that white students are statistically significantly over-represented in high sets and conversely that Black student are statistically under-represented in higher sets. Across the Asian subset the only significant result is Bangladeshi pupils being under represented in the high sets.

 SampleLow setsMiddle setsHigh sets
Black Caribbean6.

Wilson et al (2006) presented work from the CLASS thinktank. There are various reasons that black boys spike at 16 years and some of them are covered later – I would be remiss if I were not to point out that the GCSE exams are the first time that pupils are assessed completely anonymously.

Answers on a postcard. Why is there a spike at the 16 for Black pupils? Click To Tweet

University Predictions

16% of A Level pupils achieve their predicated grades and 75% of pupils are over-predicted, with the average student being over-predicted by 1.7 grades. When we look at socio-economic status, pupils from the lowest group who achieve the same grades are under-predicted in comparison, as are higher achieving pupils from state schools in comparison with private school pupils. (Murphy and Wyness 2020).

After describing the impact of the Pygmalion effect earlier, being under-assessed has a day to day impact on pupils with a low socio-economic status (Campbell, 2015; Murphy and Wyness, 2020; Burgess and Greaves, 2005).

After describing the impact of the Pygmalion effect earlier, being under-assessed has a day to day impact on pupils with a low socio-economic status (Campbell, 2015; Murphy and Wyness, 2020; Burgess and Greaves, 2005). Click To Tweet

High achieving, but under-predicted candidates are 10 percentage points less likely to apply to the most selective universities, and 6.9 percentage points more likely to enrol in a university in which they are over-qualified (have grades higher than their fellow peers). It should be noted that the nature of the university attended has been shown to be linked to a students’ eventual earnings (Belfield et al, 2018, in Murphy and Wyness, 2020).

Overall, Black pupils had the lowest percentage accuracy with only 39.1% of grades accurately predicted. This group also had the highest over- and under-prediction rates (53.8% and 7.1% respectively). This under-predicted statistic may seem interesting and to a certain extent seem to cancel out the effects of under prediction, we have to remember you cannot over predict a pupil who achieves an A grade (and now an A*).

Black British pupils of all three categories, Caribbean, African or Other (within the 2009 chort) are predicted A grades a minimum 12% percentage less than white students (this trend is similar for Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils). This is also mirrored in achievement, with Black British Caribbean and Black African students gaining the lowest rates of A grade (in 2009) at 15.2% and 17.9% with similar rates for Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils. (Everett and Papageorgiou, 2011).

This is also mirrored in achievement, with Black British Caribbean and Black African students gaining the lowest rates of A grade (in 2009) at 15.2% and 17.9% with similar rates for Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils. (Everett and… Click To Tweet

Looking at socio economic background, Everett and Papageoriou (p. 20) found that:

‘The Higher managerial group had the highest percentage of accurate predictions of grade A at 69.5% while the Routine group had the lowest percentage at 53.4%. Grade C was the least accurately predicted for all social classes, apart from the Routine group which saw B grade prediction to be the most inaccurate (35.8%).’

This level of inaccuracy seems to pervade age as shown in Muijs and Dunne (2010) study of Year 7 pupils. When looking at attainment via setting, they found that pupils from higher socio-economic status (analysed through the use of ACORN and free school meals measures) are more likely to be assigned to higher sets and less likely to be assigned to lower sets.

The model of pupil self efficacy, pygamalion and teacher bias through stereotype seems to be an unending cycle. Pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to attend a high tariff university than their richer counterparts, even when they have similar prior academic attainment (Wyness 2017). After accounting for degree class, graduates from richer socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to become a professional and consequently higher earnings growth. (Crawford et al, 2016).

What are the possible reasons for this, other than the stereotype model (Behaviour and perception, confirmation and anchoring bias) suggested by Burgess and Greaves 2009? Well, within the same study Burgess and Greaves note that when teachers who assess pupils are the same teachers that teach them,  this will cause issues such as teaching to the test. This leads to teachers focusing on certain pupils, as they know that teacher-pupil day to day interactions can improve the external grade with the greater transmission of knowledge (T Campbell, 2015).

Sievertsen (2019) in Murphy and Wyness (2020) studied a reform which led to some students’ grades being recoded and ultimately their GPA (Grade Point Average) being downgraded. They found that students who were downgraded by the recoding performed better on subsequent assessments, indicating the importance of incentives. The only reason to keep the current system is that these students react more positively to predicted grades, although this incentivising could be problematic on a number of levels. (Murphy and Wyness 2020). This does not fit stereotype model but heralds questions around high stakes accountability around exams for teachers and leaders alike.

Wilson et al (2006) investigate non-stereotype factors on two national cohorts after delivering and analysis across four key stages:

  1. Ethnic minority pupils go to worse schools than their white counterparts.
  2. Language acquisition of EAL pupils, meaning pupils catch up as their language does.
  3. Does the disadvantage start in the early years so school has little impact on the result?

Ethnic Minorities go to Worse schools

Wilson et al’s analyses of their results were found to be pervasive (across the whole school cohort). Ethnic minorities do not segregate into any schools nationally.

‘Over the country as a whole, attendance at substantially mono-ethnic schools is not the norm for members of the non-white groups (though it is for whites in many areas). Half of all non-white secondary students in England attended schools where more than 75 per cent of the total enrolment comprised whites’ (Burgess et al, 2004, p1)

As pupils of colour go to wide range of schools in the main this not a huge factor in the phenomenon.

Language Acquisition

This may be a factor, due to the fact that as pupils who speak English as an additional language become more and more proficient, their attainment in school assessment increases. Demie and Strand (2006) found in their paper which looked at 10 secondary schools in the inner London borough of Lambeth that bilingual pupils who are proficient in English performed better than their than solely English speaking peers on average (although their finding was not statistically significant).

Both Demie and Strand (2006) and Wilson et al (2006) both found that pupils make better than expected progress during key stage 3 and 4. Wilson et al interestingly found that pupils of colour with English as an additional language were found to have on average around 0.9 extra GCSE points; both EAL and non EAL pupils of colour gain 3 GCSE points when compared to the white population. Wilson et al (2006) suggest that the impact of language acquisition accounts for up to a third of ethnic minority rise at Key Stage 4. There are still 2 thirds unaccounted for.

Ethnocentric Testing

Yes, there are arguments around ethnocentric testing typically against Black students and poor students (Gipps, 1992; Murphy & Pardaffy, 1989 in Burgess 2009). I wholly agree there are issues with the content of external assessment, however, this would lead to teachers inflating pupils over the external examination. This is not the case as the converse is true.

Behaviour and the Perception of Behaviour

Muijs and Dunne (2010) completed a quantitative analysis of the composition of classes. Leaders were presented with a qualitative survey about the rationale behind their setting choices.


Words in Rationale Percentage of Surveyed
Attainment or Test Results72.8%
Attitude and Behaviour (+Other)4.5%


Words in Rationale Percentage of Surveyed
Attainment or Test Results88.7%
Attitude and Behaviour (+Other)2.3%

Even within schools there are inter-department variations on the basis of setting. This raises questions about bias being introduced through an ideological basis. Bearing in mind that ability (through teacher assessment), Test results and attitude and behaviour (teacher perception) are all prone to bias. Attitude and behaviour are critical in the day to day experiences of pupils and teachers in the classroom.

Can the behaviour of pupils impact on teacher assessment? We know that a disproportionate amount of British Black Afro Caribbean pupils are diagnosed with SEMH (Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs); a social construct which judges pupils’ behaviour against a standard set of expectations.

“A frequently proposed explanation for the over-representation of Black pupils with SEMH/MLD is an inappropriate interpretation of ethnic and cultural differences including teacher racism, low expectations and a failure of schools to provide quality instruction or effective classroom management” (e.g. Artiles et al, 2010; Waitoller et al, 2010 in Strand and Lindorf 2018).

Even when controlling for socioeconomic difference (this only explained 50% of the disparency) Strand and Lindorff (2018) found that Black Caribbean students have an odds ratio of 2.29 and mixed White and Black British Caribbean student have a slightly lower ratio of 1.94; this means that if you are a Black Britsh Caribbean student you are 2.29 times more likely to be diagnosed with a SEMH than a white British student. 

“Is it that these young people from this [Black British Caribbean] ethnic group are more confrontational with their teachers because of gang culture or is it a perception of their behaviour?”

(Professor Strand, BBC, 2019.)

"Is it that these young people from this [Black British Caribbean] ethnic group are more confrontational with their teachers because of gang culture or is it a perception of their behaviour?" (Professor Strand, BBC, 2019.) Click To Tweet

Behaviour (well, perception of behaviour) is impacted along racial lines and this is likely through the process of toxic association and positive prototypes (more here). Is there evidence that this impacts on the teacher assessment?

‘We divide the 61 neighbourhood types into the poorest third, middle (omitted category) and least poor thirds, and introduce indicators for these in the analysis. The results suggest the same factors at work’. (Burgess and Lindoff, 2009, p. 16).

This is reinforced when pupil bodies groups in schools are in smaller numbers, as this means that the association has not been built from numerous interactions but from wider society. These stereotypes are standalone and intersectional; hardly surprising considering the nature of toxic stereotypes.

What behavioural factors are involved in under-assessment looking at self reporting from pupils?

  1. Reporting praise from your teachers is significantly negatively correlated with the probability of under assessment in all subjects.
  2. Pupils who report working hard and like school also less likely to be underassessed (but there is not a statistical significance here)
  3. Causing trouble in more than half of their classes leaves you 3.5% more likely to be underassessed.

Suggested from non-age specific analysis (Burgess, 2009).

The survey data suggest that non-academic factors impact teacher assessment and adverse behaviours have a greater impact on teacher assessment.

“In summary, whilst the survey data shows that student behaviours and attitudes do have an influence on the likelihood of under-assessment, such adverse behaviours are if anything more common among white pupils”.(Burgess 2009, p.23).

“In summary, whilst the survey data shows that student behaviours and attitudes do have an influence on the likelihood of under-assessment, such adverse behaviours are if anything more common among white pupils”.(Burgess 2009, p.23). Click To Tweet

There is no open and shut answer. But is there a systematic underassessment of pupils of colour and those of lower socio-economic background? Yes. Is there a bias when assessing pupil behaviour? Yes; of course the factors involved here are complicated, and Burgess describes the conclusions as having a two fold impact:

1. Pupils disengaging from school as a result of teacher interactions as they feel under valued

2. This undervalue reciprocating by under valuing education and qualifications (as per the earlier flow chart).

Critics of setting, point to the possibility of harming a student’s self-concept when that student is put into a lower set, to the fact that it is extremely difficult for teachers to have high expectations of low set classes, and to the loss of opportunities for lower-achieving peers to be peer-taught by higher achievers in the subject (Muijs and Reynolds, 2005. in Muij and Dunne 2010). 

The stereotype model is based on a wider view of the factors and as you can see both of these factors are cyclical. I would as a practitioner like to add that teacher expectations can contribute hugely to pupil achievement and so can the converse, as per the Rosenthal and Golem effect again; all feeding into a cycle where certain pupils do not feel valued, teacher don’t expect as much, the pupils disengage and the teacher is vindicated in their original stereotype through an anchoring and confirmation bias.

That is hard data, research and literature on teacher assessment being biased heavily, and this is maybe caused by the perception of behaviour. This already has an impact on the self efficacy of pupils leading to disproportiante exclusions.

Intersectionality – Multiple Disadvantages

  1. Special Educational Needs
  2. Eligibility for Free School Meals within the past 6 years
  3. Maternal qualifications
  4. Parental engagement in the young person’s education (based on whether they discussed school reports, attended parents’ evenings and talked about the young person’s plans for future studies).
  5. A measure of the relationship between the main parent and child based on the frequency of arguments between them.
  6. Whether the young person had access to an internet connected computer.
  7. Ofsted rating of the young person’s school

These were defined as the linear factors by the EEF in their report into multiple disadvantages. The impact of each factor is shown below.

There is a linear relationship between the factors, so having more means you have a greater attainment penalty as a result. Although race is not disaggregated into the report, it does state that,

‘Young people whose ethnic group is Pakistani were more likely than White students to have three or more disadvantages and two or more disadvantages. Young people from the Bangladeshi, Black African and Black Caribbean ethnic minority groups were also more likely than White students to have two or more disadvantages.’

It could be argued that every factor could be exacerbated by a teacher stereotype model.

What is in Current Legislation?

The broad range of elements include teacher assessment and prior attainment. These are both biased against pupils of colour and disadvantaged students. What does the law actually say about discrimination? Well, the Equalities Act 2010 states that race is a protected characteristic, and any public sector body is bound by the public sector equalities duty. This means that any public sector body should not discriminate directly, indirectly, harassment or victimisation against groups which hold the protected characteristics. Indirect discrimination is normally enacted through the medium of policy, criterion or procedure (PCP).

Socio-economic status is not a protected characteristic, however, section 1.1 of the Equalities Act 2010 clearly states that.

“An authority to which this section applies must, when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions, have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.”

Unfortunately, consecutive governments have failed to bring the section into commencement.

I know I may be jumping the gun here and being overly cynical as the DfE guidance suggests that a fair and robust process will be developed. The fact this guidance was released late afternoon on Friday, when the Secretary of State said:

‘We have a preferred method for examinations but that will be released tomorrow on Radio 4 on Thursday 19th March 2020.’

Was that delay to stem out roar? To stop a coordinated counter protest? Is the guidance deliberately vague for a reason? One thing is for sure, this conversation needs to start.

The Government Guidance and what can School leaders do?

“How will you address the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have their grades under-predicted?”

We are not awarding students their predicted grades. Ofqual, the independent qualifications regulator, will develop a fair and robust process that takes into account a broad range of evidence, including teacher assessment and prior attainment. Ofqual will make every effort to ensure that the process agreed does not disadvantage any particular group of students.

Pupils who do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance will have the opportunity to sit an exam, as soon as is reasonably possible after schools and colleges open again.”

The immediate concern is the grading for cohorts in year 11 and 13 and this is an urgent concern. The only controllable factor is teacher assessments, as predicted grades, schools and pupils’ prior data is out of the locus of control.

I am currently in discussion around assessment models and universities admissions around an equitable approach. I’ll keep you updated.

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School segregation in multi-ethnic England Burgess et al 2004 Published in Ethnicities 4 (2) 237-265 (2004)

Demie and Strand 2006

Daniel Muijs & Mairead Dunne (2010) Setting by ability – or is it? A quantitative study of determinants of set placement in English secondary schools, Educational Research, 52:4, 391-407, DOI: 10.1080/00131881.2010.524750

Campbell, T. (2015) Stereotyped at Seven? Biases in Teacher Judgement of Pupils’ Ability and Attainment. Journal of Social Policy, 44:3, pp 517-547.

Richard Murphy and Gill Wyness Working Paper No. 20-07 March 2020

Minority Report: the impact of predicted grades on university admissions of disadvantaged groups, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO)

Department for Business, innovation and skills. BIS, RESEARCH PAPER NUMBER 37Investigating the Accuracy of Predicted A Level Grades as part of 2009 UCAS Admission Procese JUNE 2011

Everett & Papageorgiou (2011), ‘Investigating the Accuracy of Predicted A Level Grades as part of 2009 UCAS Admission Process’

Claire Crawford, Paul Gregg, Lindsey Macmillan, Anna Vignoles, Gill Wyness, Higher education, career opportunities, and intergenerational inequality, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Volume 32, Issue 4, WINTER 2016, Pages 553–575,

Julie A. Nelson (2014) The power of stereotyping and confirmation bias to overwhelm accurate assessment: the case of economics, gender, and risk aversion, Journal of Economic Methodology, 21:3,211-231, DOI: 10.1080/1350178X.2014.939691

Kahneman, D. (2013), Thinking Fast and Slow.

Lessof et al (2019), Multiple disadvantage and KS4 attainment: evidence from LSYPE2, accessed 29th March 2020

Wyness (2017), ‘Disadvantaged students and the university admissions process’ accessed 29th March 2020

How to Home School.

This blog also appears here. This piece is from Prof. Colin Diamond of the University of Birmingham.

As the schools close for all but the most vulnerable children or those with parents and carers in key jobs suddenly you are the teacher. And your new job could last for many months. My guess would be that in England, we won’t see schools re-opening before September.

So, this situation raises lots of anxieties for adults who are staying at home and teaching. What’s the best approach? How can I be mum or dad and switch to being teacher? How can I become the best teacher I can be? Will I be good enough for my kids at perhaps a crucial stage of their education with tests and exams in the year ahead?

At the same time, our children are confused, frightened, disappointed and angry by what’s happening and you are likely the people they will look to both vent their frustrations and be supported and loved at the same time. Teaching in one-to-one or small group situations is intense. When pupils and students are in a normal class there is space for them to self-regulate their learning just as we do as adults. So they will have lots of mini downtimes, go for a walk in-class, talk with friends etc. And the class teacher is constantly scanning to make sure that everyone is on task for most of the time – that’s key, ‘for most of the time’.

Classes aren’t (or shouldn’t be) production lines. The best learning comes when the children are relaxed and they don’t learn in a linear, mechanical fashion.

For those with teenagers, there are a whole extra set of issues as they ‘individuate’ from parents and become young people in their own right whilst still needing enormous dollops of unconditional love. Their mood swings are likely to be intensified by feelings of confinement at a stage in their lives when they want to stretch their wings and leave the nest.

And those teenagers will probably know a lot more about the subjects they are studying than you do. There will be specialist areas that you won’t be able to help them with – don’t try! They have subject teachers whose professional lives are all about that distillation of knowledge.

Plus, things may have changed since you were at school. It’s not just about Google being the default to answering any question. Teaching and learning have become more sophisticated with the kind of performance metrics that you might associate with athletes and football players. It is all much more scientific.

Your children’s school will most likely be offering on-line learning activities and be guided by them in the first instance. They know your children best and will offer a balanced range of things to do based on the syllabus they are accustomed to in class. There’s lots of ‘celebrity’ content out there with some real quality but best use it as a back-up or reward after the school’s work is done.

Be wary of commercial on-line activities that may claim to turbocharge learning. In most cases, they won’t. There are snake oil peddlers in education just like every other walk of life. The commercial companies are seeing this as a huge business opportunity and social media is already awash with the ‘best ever’ products.

Finally, teaching is bloody hard work and it’s most stressful when you are learning your craft as a newly qualified teacher. Expect to feel tired, with highs and lows every day. Give yourself ‘me time’ and reward yourself if possible as you have taken on a professional job with 3 days notice.

Good luck – we might be signing you up for training at the end of this if you get an appetite for teaching. And you will certainly appreciate what your children’s teachers do day-in-and-day-out in school.

Twelve Top Tips
Here are some tips that should help your job induction: congratulations – you are now the teacher!

1. Routines are really important and your children will need them as the structure of their lives has suddenly been altered in a way they won’t have experienced before. Work hard to establish and stick to routines. Without turning your home into a military-style regime, start times, breaks and end times will help everyone. And they will become important boundaries for the months at home together. This will be a long haul.

2. Be clear when you are in your job as teacher – this will help. You can play the role with young children in lots of fun ways and negotiate with the teenagers, just like you do on normal boundary setting.

3. Set up a weekly timetable to get going. If you have printing facilities get it up on the wall so everyone can see it and you can take your children through what’s planned. Give it a week and review what’s worked and what didn’t. Build in a balance of the core subjects of English and Maths with other subjects, if you are confident. The school should provide the basic guidance here but you can find lots of model lessons online for free – many teachers are busy right now recording activities you will find on the school’s website.

4. Make sure your children have some physical movement during your lessons and when you change activities. It’s so important to keep the kinaesthetic movement going, even in the smallest of spaces. This means some level of physical activity to complement table-based learning. Dancing along to YouTube videos will work for both of you.

5. If your children are doing GCSE courses or similar, for most of the time they will receive detailed guidance from schools. Your role in most subjects, unless you are a physicist or geologist, will be limited. But you may be able to help with the quality of written tasks, testing out ideas and opening up to learning from them. You are a captive audience!

6. Praise, rewards and sanctions – we know that the golden rule is lots of praise and little criticism to motivate children in most circumstances. You can incentivise your children by praising their efforts and perseverance as well as the work they produce. Invent rewards that will work according to your children’s ages – from simple things like star charts you can print or draw to whatever works best with your teenagers. They will need to feel a bit grown up and definitely part of the solution when it comes to deciding what constitutes a fair reward and isn’t perceived to be childish.

7. Space – give your children space to learn within your flat or house. This means literally if you are able to set up class in one part of a bedroom or the kitchen, and also psychologically. Teachers will be working their way around the class like a honey bee seeking pollen, with a stop here and a stop there. So your children will not be accustomed to high levels of individual attention.

8. Rites of passage – your children may feel cheated because they missed out on that Year 6 trip in June or the school prom. There will be lots of emotional pain because they didn’t expect to say goodbye to their teachers and classmates so quickly. This is not an area for the timetable you set up, but one to be aware of as it will surface, sometimes at unexpected times. You can plan for the future with your children when there will be opportunities to pick up some of these incomplete threads in their lives.

9. Learn together – you will do this instinctively with your children as they grow and it’s one of the best things about being a parent. Now you have the opportunity to build it into your teacher routines when you have set a project that will last a few days or weeks. Choose a topic that interests both of you and go for it!

10. Screen time – keep it under control exactly as they do in school. The internet is a tool for knowledge and learning, but not the end product. It’s technology that we teach children to navigate at school to learn what is safe and what is dangerous, also what information can be trusted and how to use it. Your children may be more sophisticated users of PowerPoint than you but they won’t necessarily have the skills to filter out the information they need.

11. Homework? This might sound like a bad joke in the circumstances but it’s a serious point! Your older children will be accustomed to long spells of working alone, particularly in the run up to exams. For those who have examinations in 2021, maintaining this habit will be important to build up more knowledge and deep analysis that modern GCSEs and A levels require.

12. And don’t forget fun. I always found that cooking easy dishes like pizzas and fairy cakes worked a treat with small groups. They enjoy the physical contact with the raw materials, can see it cook and there’s instant gratification when they eat the end product. Definitely something to have on your timetable, Miss or Sir.

Honestly, Honesty or being Honest with Yourself

Let me be honest; leadership is hard, I’m not referring the work, the hours or even the pressure. It’s the emotional burden it takes, rarely do school leaders talk openly about this element of the game.

Leadership is about direction, change and a relentless drive for something bigger than ourselves and more significant than the sum of the team. Change is hard, even if the environment is in disarray organisation will resist change because change brings uncertainty – and who knows it may get worse. No one said any of this is rational. 

Organisations will follow the path of least resistance (Fullan 2004) when any change process causes resistance; this risks leading to a stagnant static collective mindset. However, inaction is an action in itself, creating capacity and the act of change management are covered elsewhere on this site. 

I want to focus on the unease caused by leaders on their followers. Yes, this is sometimes necessary; however, leaders use the experience to foster a feeling of safety through an environment of trust. After numerous conversations with peers (including Kathryn Morgan who has a wealth of knowledge on this subject) about professional discourse (I’ll write about this later), I’ve come to the salient conclusion that trust is built solely through dialogue and communication.

As a leader, you steer and point the organisation toward its destination, the decisions you make are based on the information and experiences we have. This week has been hard for every level of school life, including our pupils. Uncertainty breeds anxiety, and when you don’t know, you create your own reasons in your head. To ameliorate this, leaders keep people in the loop, and you tell them the direction persistently, you let them know where you are on the journey, you build a common language, you create a familiar sense of safety.

Here is the question I want to really ask though:

Are leaders ever honest with themselves?

In the US and indeed, the UK, the idea of transformative leadership is a dominant feature; a leader presents a vision and manipulates the culture and builds sustainable change in schools (Grint 2008). Grint goes on to describe systemic level issues with this apparent model leader are often entirely out of the remit of the leaders’ control (more here).

How many times have you recognised that unease and pressure, that buzzing behind your eyes is not the coffee, it is not just the high powered job, but that it is anxiety? This week I have seen some incredibly brave decision in the absence of vision from above. Arrangements have been made through a necessity for followers; this is bravery; this is leadership. This is leadership at its best; making decisions based on your purpose, your experience and the information you have is all done to put your followers and vision right.

Back to another version of the question.

What do leaders do to put themselves right?

I will come back to this at some point. 

Have an awesome weekend everyone. I think we all need it.

Courage and Covid-19

Today’s piece is a collaboration between T’Challa Greaves and myself.

Courage is often misconstrued as the ability to walk into a burning building and rescue people, but often courage can be much more than that.

It can be a child’s ability to confront something new.
It can be an adults ability to leave the house when suffering.
It can be anyone rising to the expectation, the burden placed upon them.
A headteacher (sick, underlying health conditions) putting the needs of the staff and the children, ahead of their own and their own families.
A doctor, putting themselves at risk, daily.

Courage comes from being authentic, honest and open, continuing this daily, regardless of the obstacles. In education, this is the career that we have chosen. Do we class ourselves as courageous? No. Do we class ourselves as heroic? No?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what courage is. There are various definitions but let us look at a pragmatic approach to the term. In the current week, the education world is in turmoil.

Rewind to pre-crisis and to our adolescents, to our formative years, well, yes, informed our minds and choices for the future. At which point that you decide that education was for you? What was it that made you think that teaching was for you? Think back and try and visualise that moment, now actualise how you felt at that moment. What was the reasoning behind the decision to step into the classroom?

My personal ‘why’ would be focussed around ‘giving the next generation the knowledge and skills to resist and to promote the systems and structures that form their societies’. This purpose is who I am.

The pupils (and your vision for them) whether that means difficult conversation with colleagues or dealing with sensitive human resources issues. This courage comes from belief, never thoughtless obedience. Your vision gives me the impetus to make decisions, sometimes difficult one because if it fits in with the mission and if it is right by the pupils in my care, it’s the right decision.

In these times, school leaders and teachers are living their values. Colleagues are risking their health and that of their families in an effort to stem the flow of Covid-19, this courage doesn’t come from wartime rhetoric it flows from directly from that very same core purpose.

With the news that teachers are expected to go in and support children of keyworkers, courage with vision, integrity, accountability, learning, sharing, resilience is classed as one of the seven pillars of leadership (Brian Solis). It’s an attribute that we all should have. Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.

It’s at times where we are all afraid, where society is afraid, that we’re forced to draw on the courage that we never knew, or thought was there.

I want to take the time to congratulate leaders in this time of turmoil, with shoutouts to Dan Morrow, Chris Dyson, Vic Goddard and Nikki Beniams (who I have seen do a lot of the heavy lifting in our community). At every layer of any organisation, anxiety arises through uncertainty; We all know, not knowing is often worse than the actual event. In the absence of information (this not a slight at any civil servant or government, all leadership is trying) it is hard to lead, and this week I have seen nothing but grit, determination from those entrusted with the care of our young people.