Authenticity in teaching


It seems that many teachers only trust teachers. Whether it be online or within your own school, I’ve observed an unwritten (or written in some cases) rule that if you don’t currently teach, you and what you have to say about teaching, somehow ‘doesn’t count’ or at least lacks authenticity. 

 Within this category are included:



 Ofsted inspectors 


ITE lecturers 

 Of course in the last two cases there is an argument that they do ‘teach’ but it’s either adults or don’t teach very much. 

 Jokingly (?)my RE colleague suggested we refine it further; a teacher is someone that has marked a student book in the last three months. 

 So what’s the issue? Why don’t people think that current non-full time colleagues can contribute? Is it the full timetable part that matters? Or working full time in a school? Or the duties a teacher faces on a daily basis such as marking and report writing? Or dealing with large numbers of children on a daily basis?

 I think the main issue that these teachers suggest is that if you’re not currently experiencing it you cannot fully understand it, no matter how hard you try. The moment you leave the classroom you’ve lost the ability to fully sympathise and therefore most of what you have to say about teaching lacks authenticity. 

Sadly I think some people have clocked onto this phenomenon. On twitter a ‘non-teacher’ may be ambiguous in their bio. A consultant may say ‘I’m a science specialist’. Whilst this may be true they’re not a fully practicing science teacher. An Ofsted inspector may say they ‘spend hours in the classroom’. Playing the authenticity ‘game’ may mean the difference between a day’s work for some.

 So, are these teachers right? Does it matter? Is this distrust unique to teaching?
Is there a set of criteria as to what makes you an authentic teacher? 


To line them up or not to line them up?


Whilst this may seem completely pointless to you I have a real issue with lining up students before they go into an exam.

My first school was a challenging one. We had to set high expectations and behaviours to ensure chaos didn’t ensue. Before an exam students had to line up, in silence in alphabetical order. It promoted the seriousness of the coming event and got the students to start as we meant them to go on, into the exam hall. There was a member of SLT present for every exam. Also, the Head of dept was always there at the start of their exam to calm nerves, answer last minute questions and generally check things were OK?

So when I at my third school they didn’t really bother with this, I was shocked. Students roughly lined up but weren’t told to stand in silence. In fact, often there was no SLT there. Heads of dept didn’t go down to see the students. It was very laissez-faire. I didn’t like it. I tried to query it but others didn’t seem to think it was important. Whilst the studnets were different in their behaviours from my first school, I still thought that this occasion needed a formalised structure. It was generally their only chance at the exam. 

As part of the SSAT Outstanding schools programme I visited a school that lined up students in silence before every lesson. Students walked in silence to their classroom. It was regimented, almost robotic. But it set the standard. You knew if a student wasn’t going to line up they probably weren’t going to do as they’re told in class. It’s almost a test of whether they were going to comply further. SLT were there to pick out any that decided not to do as told.

Some may call it traditional but I see more benefits of lining up students, in silence beyond tradition. It creates an atmosphere of expectation, you can see who’s not going to comply so you can deal with them before they embark on the activity and it makes the event a special and unique one.

So, now I’m at a new school I wonder what will happen.

Do you think that lining studnets up is imporatnt or just traditional nonsense? Does the ethos of the school impact this? Is there any sort of correlation between this and other things such as success, behaviour etc?

What if we didn’t ever use grades with students?


I have already blogged on how I think data should be more about the learner and what’s happening in their learning, the current mindset on grades and also how we could report without any grades or levels. Students are focused on grades and in some cases they mean more to them than formative feedback. My own small research shows this:


Students value a grade/level more than formative comments.

This makes me consider,

What if we never give, refer to or report any numbers?

From a secondary point of view, key stage 3 is the simplest so I will consider key stage 4/5.

Most schools use key stage 2 data to look at progress through to key stage 4 using this from the DfE to decide if it is less/as/more than expected progress.

Screen Shot 2011-07-22 at 11.04.39

Teachers and consequently students are under pressure to move their grade towards at least expected. This method relies on teachers knowing what a student needs to do in their work to move on a grade, two grades etc  There is pressure on teachers to ensure the student is ‘on track’ and sometimes the pressure means that teachers add inflated predictions to the data collection system.

Grades seem to have a power to change attitudes and behaviour but not necessarily for the good. Lots of research has been done on the impact of summative feedback over grades.

Kohn sums up the key issues with grading:

  1. Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself
  2. Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks.
  3.  Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking
  4. Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective.
  5. Grades distort the curriculum.
  6. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning
  7. Grades encourage cheating.
  8. Grades spoil teachers’ relationships with students.
  9. Grades spoil students’ relationships with each other

So I propose we consider dropping how grades are used by most schools at the moment and consider the impact of a different model.

What are the alternatives?

  1. Give feedback first, then grades once students have responded to feedback
  2. Give feedback first and the grade a week later
  3. Never give students grades on individual pieces of work but an overall grade at a given time i.e once a term
  4. Never give students grades but teachers record these in a mark-book which isn’t shared with students/parents
  5. Never give students grades until a grade is needed i.e a reference for further study

Phil Race also suggests this process for feedback:


Featured in Phil’s book – Making Learning happen

Potential issues with these

  • The grade is still the important factor
  • Some teachers choose give students grades
  • Students don’t know how they are relatively progressing across their subjects.
  • Parents & students might not ‘like’ it. Current mindset is grades matter.
  • Progression can’t be mapped so neatly in an excel spreadsheet or graph.
  • Teachers will have to use exam board criteria carefully and knowledgeably. (an issue?)
  • A current trend in assessment is using diagnostic questioning using multiple choice. How can you ‘not’ report a %?
  • Will it move back to the old APP grid style marking? (Is this a problem?)

Potential benefits

  • Students don’t compare so much
  • They’re always focused on what they need to do to improve
  • Teachers may focus more carefully on what students need to do to improve
  • The converse of Kohn’s list

Possible resolutions

  • Start this process in year 7 so they know no different
  • Diagnostic/Multiple choice
    • Don’t give % at all. Analyse question by question with them for understanding. ( but they will then add up their correct/incorrect answers!)
    •  or use these at intervals during the learning. Only report to students the improvement % not the actual % For example at the start of the course a student gets 2/15 and in the middle 7/15 and by the en 12/15. You would tell them their increase not how many they got right.
  • Use KS2 data to tell students/parents their expected KS4 grade and then use ‘on track’ and ‘not on track’ with students and parents – Isn’t this essentially what they want to know?
  • Use Phil’s process – using marks but student generated

Is it worth ditching grades or instead, refining summative feedback so that grades become less important?


Kohn –   includes a nice list of references for further reading

Phil Race – Making Learning Happen