Well done, this has nothing to do with you

Last week, in the run up to the release of the GCSE examination results, myself and Zoe (@greeborunner) wrote a piece for TES debating whether good teachers might get poor exam results. It was an odd thing to debate as fundamentally we agree that it is a nonsense to hold teachers accountable for their results, there are just too many other factors involved, but I argued that this doesn’t mean that as teachers we can’t learn from them. Years of results which are significantly below those of our colleagues, with comparable groups, must at least suggest we would want to look at what we were doing.

Since that article came out, along with the GCSE results, there has been a lot of discussion about this issue of just how much responsibility teachers should take for their results. The consensus being very little. This seems reasonable.

There has also been a slew of schools celebrating truly remarkable results for which they have been congratulated and individual teachers mentioning their own classes excellent results often as a vindication of changes they have made to their teaching. This also seems reasonable.

However as Kate Owbridge asked…

This seems a very good point. How much thanks do I deserve for my classes excellent GCSE results? If I am happy to accept some responsibility for when the results are good, should I also shoulder some of the responsibility when they aren’t?

I think high stakes accountability has led to teachers and school leaders tying themselves up in knots and the effect has inadvertently disempowered teachers in the classroom. We have been forced into a corner by having to point out constantly, to anyone who will listen, that the outcomes of our pupils are all down to them and their willingness to work and as such we run the risk of making ourselves irrelevant.

GCSE grades may not be a perfect measure of educational achievement but they are the closest proxy we have. If I am going to argue that I have no control over the outcomes of my class then I am effectively arguing that I may as well put my feet up, read my paper and leave the kids to do as they want. I could throw on a DVD at the start of the lesson, have a doze and get one of them to wake me up in time for their next lesson. And I very rarely teach like that.

Instead I try and teach better. I read and discuss ways of making my teaching more effective. I bring in retrieval practice and look at the structure of the curriculum. I work with parents to motivate my pupils to work hard and study at home. I teach them how to study at home. I make sure everyone is behaving in a way that means they are concentrating on their work and not disrupting the learning of others. I build positive relationships. I develop my own subject knowledge and look at ways to improve my explanation. If I felt I had zero control over the education of my pupils then why would I bother?

There are certainly many things that we teachers have little control over. You can’t force a kid to learn. You can’t help it if their attendance is poor or if they have problems at home. We can’t solve issues that arise from childhood poverty. There are many things we can’t control and that is why it is certainly a nonsense to try and hold a teacher accountable for a set of results. You have no way of knowing which factors came into play.

However, we need to be careful that we don’t allow this narrative to remove our belief that we can make a difference. Some schools do better than others. Without changing the nature of their cohort they see sustained rises in outcomes. We need to learn from them. Some teachers do better than others. They consistently, year after year, achieve higher outcomes than others with comparable pupils and we need to learn from them as well.

Moreover, as professionals we need to remember that we can make a difference. Otherwise, you’ll find me dozing in my classroom while the class watches Blue Planet. Nudge me when its finished.

My new book Teach Like Nobody’s Watching is available now! See how we can teach in a more effective and efficient way.

2 thoughts on “Well done, this has nothing to do with you

  1. I’m anxious to read your book! I worked in the school system in the United States in Duval County Florida for 20 years and got so tired of “teaching to the high stakes test at end of year” that it sucked all the joy out of teaching for me. For six years now I help four homeschool moms teach their kids. It’s wonderful! Using virtual reality to teach geography the kids and I can travel all over the world as we learn about it! Same with history. No more Machiavellian principals who are clueless. Teacher turnover is horrific. Administrator turnover is worse. The worst get promoted to the top. I’ve watched America go from the best in the world to not even making the top 20 . Excited to read your book! The teachers still stuck exhausted in the classroom will surely benefit from it!!!! It’s a noble profession and we need more great teachers!

    Liked by 1 person

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