Trust and Teachers

Earlier this evening, I had the following twitter conversation. It was all very civilized. It began with a fellow history tweeter being asked a question by an @ANONAHT. I barged in with my size 10s shortly after. I’ve simplified the thread and anonymized the tweeters, but they are most welcome to lay claim to their identities here if they so wish. I want to be very clear I make no criticism of the chap I was exchanging tweets with. He sounded a lovely, reasonable fellow. I just felt his position was illogical, and thus am using it as an example of how even lovely, reasonable people can find themselves forced into a position in which, without pressures from Ofsted or silliness from the current Cult of the Leader, they probably wouldn’t naturally find themselves.

The purpose of showing the account below is to demonstrate (again) what to me is a fundamental problem of the “leadership” culture in education. This could be what we history teachers might call a “differentiation question”: readers are going to fall on one side of this fence or the other. Those who don’t see a problem with the current trend of SLTs demanding “evidence” of compliance with a rigid marking policy, are probably either in SLTs, or one day will be in SLTs. If you fall on my side of the fence, I suspect you wouldn’t enjoy many NCTL courses on “leadership” as it is currently promoted, and I hope you like the classroom experience, because you’ll never leave it.

Anon history blogger ‏@AnonHistoryTeacher  

I am directed to mark teachers’ marking. I expect my marking of this marking may also be marked. #marking

@ANONAHT  

just out of curiosity, have you an alternative model of quality assuring feedback given to students?

DisappointedIdealist ‏@DisIdealist  

Is it not preferable to “quality assure” by looking at outcomes, rather than individual inputs like marking ?

@ANONAHT   

                 only outcomes? I know what you mean but don’t you think it’s important to have some means of ongoing assurance?

DisappointedIdealist ‏@DisIdealist 

No. I trust my teachers.

DisappointedIdealist ‏@DisIdealist  

TBH I don’t care if they mark differently as long as the outcomes are fine. Conformity is no guarantee of quality.

@ANONAHT   

                                I wasn’t really proposing conformity. I was more thinking about making sure students get feedback to help them improve

@ANONAHT   

                            what that looks like and how often it is given will and should vary. I want teachers to be part of this process.

DisappointedIdealist ‏@DisIdealist  

but again, that’s about trust. If I trust my people to deliver their best, why would I check their work?

DisappointedIdealist ‏@DisIdealist  

maybe if they were NQTs I’d look as part of training. Or if they asked me to for own purposes. But checking that …

DisappointedIdealist ‏@DisIdealist  

…experienced teachers have conformed to my preferences is either about distrust or about me. Not them or the kids.

@ANONAHT 

                                because you have a responsibility to make sure your intuitive trust is well founded. This does not break that trust.

DisappointedIdealist ‏@DisIdealist  

I think you may be using a different definition of “trust” than me. To me, trust doesn’t mean demanding evidence.

I think the point is fairly clear here, but let me summarise.

Trust is about trusting people

If you require people to demonstrate that they are complying with your diktat (however well-meaning or flexible that diktat is), then you are not trusting them. Simple as that. If you trusted them, you’d accept that they would do it. If you need assurance of compliance, then you do not have trust. I feel for some “leaders” here, because it’s quite possible that they do trust their people, but the current leadership model promulgated by Ofsted and NCTL is that leaders should not, under any circumstances, trust their teachers. The whole purpose of “leadership” is, to quote a Harris Deputy Head I’ve mentioned before “To tell people what to do, and make sure they bloody well do it”.

Ofsted will come in and demand to see the evidence of institutionalized leadership distrust, and that is perhaps the most common reason why leadership teams demand to see evidence of teacher compliance. However, if this is the case in your school, leaders, then say so to the teachers. Tell them “I trust you, but those Ofsted monkeys don’t, and they demand that we have evidence that we’re checking up on you, so sorry about that, but if you could provide some photocopies, that’ll be fine”. I think all teachers would understand that. But if the teachers are in any way logical then they will not believe any line which couples “I trust you” with “but I want you to provide evidence you’re doing what I demand for quality assurance purposes”. Because those two can’t go together. Ever.

If you demand evidence of compliance with any policy, the message you are sending, very clearly is “I don’t trust you”. Personally I don’t have a problem with sending out that message to people I don’t trust. But I’d go a long way to try to avoid conveying that impression of distrust to people I value.

Measure the Outcomes, not the Inputs

Marking is one of the many inputs into any child’s education. Some people think it’s VERY IMPORTANT. Others think it’s less important. A few think it serves no purpose at all. But nobody – nobody – thinks it is the only input. And we can’t monitor and assess and measure and provide evidence of every input. To do that, one would have to be present at, or record, every single interaction between a teacher and every single one of their students either in classes or individually. Please, Wilshaw, don’t get any ideas.

So how do we judge/assess ? Well, we judge by looking at outcomes. There are always outcomes, in terms of either academic outcomes (Levels, grades etc), or pastoral outcomes (behaviour in class). And the only sensible approach to this is:

  1. Are the outcomes ok (based on contextualised discussion, not random number/target voodoo)?
  2. If “Yes” then pat on back and say “carry on”, and “do you need anything to help make them even better?”
  3. If “No” then say “what went wrong?”, “I’m going to come and have a look at what’s going on to see if I can offer some suggestions”, or “what can I do to help you improve on that?”

If I may be cynical for a moment, I’d suggest that the reason why this nuanced, professional and bespoke approach to school management is currently out of fashion is because it’s hard, as it requires engagement with teachers, students, real life situations, and the possibility of discovering – gulp – that the leaders themselves are not doing enough to support and enable their staff. Meanwhile, the model of simply dictating any policy regarding inputs and then demanding evidence of compliance, means a “leader” can avoid all that messy, hard stuff, in favour of simply pointing to a completed spreadsheet and saying “look, I made sure they were all bloody well doing what I told them to. I am a leader!”

Why are you marking the marks of the markers anyway ?

So why are we obsessing about marking ? Do students get grades which are directly related to just marking ? Do all teachers who mark in an approved double-marking fashion get higher value-added stats than those who don’t ? Has anyone actually identified the percentage difference which the new DIRT marking model will add to students’ grades ? No. Thought not. It’s just one of many inputs, the impact of none of which can be measured in any meaningful way. As Jack Marwood never tires of pointing out, schools have only a very small overall impact on outcomes, and the impact of marking in a particular way on that very small impact is itself a very small impact (if, indeed, it has an impact at all). So we’re looking at an input into the learning process which has an unquantifiably small impact on a very small impact on overall outcomes.

So why, in the last eighteen months, have SLTs all over the country become obsessive about marking, and then marking the marks of the markers ? It’s a ridiculously disproportionate use of time and resource. The answer, as ever, is not the students. Nor is it incontrovertible evidence of the demonstrable impact of double-marking. No, and sadly inevitably, like all fads which sweep the education world, this starts with Ofsted inspectors, flashes round the SLT national networks like a bad dose of the winter vomiting virus, and ends up wasting the time of half a million teachers and millions of kids.

The current double-marking rhubarb is just the latest incarnation of “progress in every lesson” (remember that?) and “learning styles” (remember them ?). I know this is hard, but SLTs have a duty to resist such fads whenever they have such a significant impact on teacher workload that they will significantly reduce teacher time and energy to do the actual business they’re there for : teaching. Otherwise one risks becoming a no-value-added Ofsted enforcer of junk policy.

Don’t claim it’s “moderation”

It’s not moderation. Moderation is a process where everyone sits down together to see if they’re awarding similar marks to similar outcomes. It is not a process where a manager demands that staff show evidence that they have delivered similar inputs in the form of how marking is done. So if you were already thinking that was a comment you’d write underneath this, then don’t. Ok ?

That trust thing again

Look, it comes down to these questions :

Q1 : Do you trust your teachers to be trying to provide the best possible education for their students ?

If not, then by all means sit on their shoulders, but if you don’t think they’re trying, then you should probably be putting them on capability and shipping them out. If you do trust them to try, then go to 2.

Q2 : Do you trust that they are professionally capable ?

If you don’t then why did you recruit them ? Either work with them to improve, or capability again. I’m assuming that for the vast majority of your teachers, you trust their professional capability.

Now, having established that trust exists consider this argument. There are only four possible situations :

1a – You have evidence (by which I mean actual evidence, not “well, Ofsted say…” or “I read on Twitter that…”) that marking in just this way has a clear, proven and demonstrable impact on all students which outweighs any negative impact incurred as a result of increased teacher workload/decreased teacher time. This is great. You tell your teachers. You trust their motives, and you trust their ability (otherwise you’d be putting them on capability), and so you know that, faced with the evidence, they will go ahead and implement that method as best they can. Great. No need to check up, because you trust your teachers.

1b – You have all the evidence mentioned above, and so you insist on the implementation of a rigid and onerous marking policy – it’s worth it. But you also demand, on top of that, the production of evidence of compliance. This is because you don’t trust your teachers. In which case, you should probably be doing something about your recruitment and retention policy.

2a – You have no evidence. Some people assert that it’s important. Someone claims to have seen a number somewhere connected to an alleged impact. Some Ofsted inspectors moonlighting as expensive “trainers” mentioned that they like to look for it in inspections. But there’s no evidence. So why in the name of all that is holy would you be demanding that everyone does it in the first bloody place ? Of course you wouldn’t. You’re not a fool. So clearly there is no way you’d be checking teachers were all doing something which everyone acknowledges is very time-consuming, for no apparent benefit. That would be mad. Laughable. Risible. Ha ! Nobody would do that. So you tell teachers that this kind of marking is an option they could use – a weapon in their armoury, as it were – but as there’s no hard evidence behind it, you’re not going to insist on conformity for conformity’s sake. You trust your teachers.

2b – You have no evidence. But you demand that all teachers use it, and then require evidence of their compliance. You clearly do not trust your teachers. Which is probably wise, as they are still taking the foolish view that a massively oversimplistic reductionist approach to something as complex as education, in which passing fads with little evidence base are seized upon as the educational equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone, and imposed regardless of impact on workload or other activities, is A Bad Thing ™. This only goes to show that they are subversive enemies of promise, and should immediately be sold to Harris for compulsory re-education on a “Leading From The Bottom” course.

Clue : there’s only one option which is both rational, and involves trusting your staff

Neither of the 1a or 1b positions can exist in the real world, because the evidence simply isn’t there. Which leaves us with 2a and 2b.

2a is a sensible and rational position in which the method of marking in a certain way can be deployed by your trusted staff as and when they see appropriate in their professional judgement. They will self-regulate workload, and continue to provide a fine education for your students. Well done!

2b is clearly mad. The imposition of an unproven policy on reluctant staff you don’t trust. Nobody works in schools like that. Do they ?

So why am I hearing from colleagues in schools up and down the length of the country of SLTs who are demanding to see “evidence” that teachers are complying with onerous, unproven, marking practices ? The only logical conclusion is that those SLTs both (a) do not care about (or understand) what evidence is, and (b) those SLTs do not trust their teachers.

Or, of course, the unmentioned option (c) – the SLTs know this is rubbish, and they do trust their staff, but are doing it anyway because they are convinced that it’s What Ofsted Want. In which case – be honest about it ! Tell your teachers this is why you’re doing it, so at least the teachers don’t think you distrust them. You can bond over a mutual contempt for Ofsted! Lovely.

This isn’t really enough, though. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, “leading” is not just blindly implementing whatever order has been passed down from elsewhere. Our school leaders need to lead, and one way of leading is facing down unreasonable demands from Ofsted or the DFE. The problem is that if the profession’s leaders don’t stand up and call this out as unjustified, then it will happen again, and again, and again. Ofsted will move off marking onto their next fad, and then those same unresisting SLTs will be imposing that next unevidenced piece of guff on their long-suffering staff. Burke wrote that “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. If I might paraphrase : all it takes to demoralize and deprofessionalise the entire teaching workforce is for school leaders to unquestioningly impose Ofsted diktat. Don’t tell us you trust us and then demand evidence of our compliance. Tell Ofsted you trust us and tell Wilshaw to pull his neck in and stop trying to dictate marking practise in 25,000 schools.

There is something rotten in the state of education

I bang on about marking a bit here and elsewhere, and clearly I’m exaggerating for effect. I don’t actually think that most SLTs distrust their teachers. However, the current approach to marking demonstrates an awful lot that is wrong with the education system, from an overemphasis on random inputs rather than outcomes, through a culture of “leadership” which is based on an institutionalized distrust of teachers rather than a supportive/enabling relationship, to the cancerous impact on millions of children and teachers of whatever is flavour of the month at Ofsted.

Now, I’d better get back to my marking.

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8 thoughts on “Trust and Teachers

  1. This is a splendid post … can I make 2 observations / musings: 1) An obsession on “Marking” and the requirement of evidence allows SLT to sit in an office … if they were doing their jobs properly they would be spending much more time in classroom and on corridors looking at the other “inputs” that affect how kids get on? 2) Is it the case that too often promotion into SLT is governed by ambition not talent? As people progress up the teaching ranks their time in the classroom shrinks so is it any wonder that they grasp at any new novelty? That their point of reference becomes “theoretical” and not practical?

    As I frequently say to staff and SLT when they tell me what they are doing “What’s the point” …. far too often in education we follow fad without thinking about the impact on our kids sat in front of us day in day out.

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  2. When I went to I trusted most of my teachers. There was a paraprofessional that I didn’t like too well because she was no more than the typical bully and verball abusive which makes me resent her today. Her name was Mrs. Crawford, and the teacher Ms. Alrich could be unpleasant at times, too. Of course this happened when I was in the third to fifth grade special education resource room years ago. Although that my teacher Ms. Alrich passed away some years ago I try to be forgiving so that there will be remorse, not always the best of experience with some educators who are unpleasant or incompetent themselves. She indeed received this teacher of year reward later on and long past that I was in middle/high school when I was a honor roll student that past years when I was no longer in the elementary classroom anyone. If there was much more a pleasant experience those two years instead being treated wrongly it would’ve been different especially if I was on Ritalin treatment for ADD/ADHD Symptoms. Today in schools systems I might not want to trust any teachers because the way things have changed. There might be some that can’t be trustworthy, not worthy of earning respect nor treated with kindness. One principle that some forget themselves: Treat everyone the way you want to be treated! Disrespect someone will disrespect you. Being unfair to someone they will be unfair to you. Unkind someone might cause them to disapprove or be unkind to you. What is the positive outcome when you’re fair, kind, and respectful? All outlines to the opposite side of negative outcomes. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated either there is positive/negative or good/bad outcomes:. Coming from all directions: teachers to teachers, students to teachers, teachers to students, principals to teachers and students or faculty, and so on. However I might not even trust school authorities either there days, too. It all depends on what the circumstances are.

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