The mushroom effect – Universal issues becoming everyone’s problem

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I was so depressed to see that colleagues are being asked to think about what they can do in class to ‘close the gap’ for PP students. Supportive colleagues went on to make a variety of suggestions and some did question the concept. It’s not the ‘closing the gap’ bit it’s the ‘for PP students’ bit that depresses me. I’ve specifically blogged about PP before but this is slightly different.

This request got me thinking about how often in education, a ‘big’ picture is given from above (whether it is Ofsted, the DfE or from SLT themselves) and then the responsibility for changing this is instantly passed down to the teacher in the classroom.

This type of generalisation from the whole picture cannot and should not be passed down directly. There is a misunderstanding amongst some leaders that a whole school issue is every teacher’s issue. Or a national issue in education is every school’s issue. It is not.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to deny that a school may have issues that are across the board. I’m also not trying to buck the responsibility. But where these issues are identified they need well thought out, appropriate, specific, collaborative action. Not just passed to teachers in their raw form to deal with.

The job of national, local and school leaders is to be strategic with this information and how it can be addressed. They need to analyse the data carefully and think what may be the causes and then what may be potential ways forward. This kind of data can be addressed at leadership level through whole school interventions but should not be passed down directly to teachers.

A teacher’s job is to ensure ALL students are learning and making progress. Any interventions from a teacher should happen on an individual level for the student that isn’t progressing. That student may well have additional needs that will influence the way in which they are supported however it is not possible to create a general intervention for a category of students. It is almost as ridiculous as saying “The data says all our brown eyed students are underachieving, let’s do some special activities in class for brown eyed students” especially in the case of PP students. I am responsible for spotting trends. I am responsible for making a difference to these in my classroom.

Teachers may be supported in developing strategies to support students with additional needs in their classroom. However it is frustrating for teachers who are told “this is a whole school issue” and then are made to sit in a CPD session on it or write a report on how they’re dealing with it, even though it isn’t an issue in their classes. It’s close to keeping back the whole class at break because of the behaviour of a few; it doesn’t work and it isn’t fair.

The big issues in schools will rarely be dealt with by an over generalised strategy. Children and teachers are individuals and need to be treated in such a manner.

So, my heart goes out to those colleagues who are being told to do the almost impossible.

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Is it time to ditch data?

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I have a confession. Whilst I have data in my mark book, I rarely look at it. I tend not to look at it before I teach a class.

Is that bad? I’m sure some teachers & leaders would be horrified.

However, I don’t look because I have high expectations for all. I don’t really care what has been written about them whether it is SEN or pupil premium or looked after; I expect the same from all of them. In 15 years of teaching I haven’t had any disastrous incidents, in fact the students I teach generally do pretty well.

So why don’t we just ditch the data? We’ve supposedly lost levels so why don’t we do the same with the rest?

I will explain how and when I do use data. I use data from student books, their responses in class. I use my professional judgement. I know when someone is struggling and generally can work out what needs to be done to support them. This is why marking books regularly is so important. It is a diagnosis of what support I need to put in for a student. I then do something to help them. It is then that I may look at the data to see if concurs with my diagnosis. Sometimes it does but often it doesn’t. Often the student won’t be in a ‘category’ that I’m supposed to be giving extra attention to. But in my eyes they’re in a really important new category; a student that needs some sort of support or intervention. I really don’t care if they’re in an ‘official’ category, once they’re in my category it’s time for me to help them.

So, if we ditched data would there be any huge fall out? Would those students in significant groups achieve any more/less?

Or do these huge gaps in significant group achievement come from something else? Teachers not marking and/or doing anything about issues? Low expectations?

I’m fascinated by these gaps and would be interested to hear what people think.