#Nurture1516

My ambivalent relationship with TwitterEd was nurtured during 2015. I know that we’ll stay together because, truly, clicking on those links has been the best CPD of my career. I follow Stephen Tierney, Laura Mcinerney, Sam Freedman, Tom Sherrington and others (as we all do) and as a direct result feel that I’m ON IT.

However, I also experience deep and daily frustration on Twitter and the sense that it has nothing to do with my lived experience as a senior teacher responsible for inclusion in a secondary mod.

Take the reformed GCSEs. Broadly welcomed on TwitterEd, these are a disaster for students like mine. Indeed, I started a petition against the ‘strengthened’ English Lit GCSE and the complete nonsense that is a closed book anthology paper. This generated some media interest – TES covered it, and Schools Week; policymakers also expressed concern –  I had a conference call with Ofqual and a letter from Nicky Morgan (each directing me to the other).  But in the end I couldn’t get so much as a retweet out of TeacherToolkit, Geoff Barton, David Didau, Tom Bennet or any of the big Twitter players. Morgan can rest easy in her bed then, if TwitterEd is a true reflection of teaching opinion.

That, however, is my point. I don’t think TwitterEd is a true reflection of the new reality confronted by those perplexed, exhausted, ignored teachers who lose sleep for their students. Our Head of English is for me the truer voice because she’s not speaking to an audience or trying to impress anyone that she’s hard-core rigour personified. She’s simply describing with complete honesty and deep concern how it is.

So how is it? Well, we have many students with SEN who made terrific progress in reading during KS3 – students who started to believe in themselves as learners, as readers. Who slogged through 1:1 phonics interventions and second chance reading schemes; who relished their every Accelerated Reader quiz success; who went on to share books with each other; who spent lunchtimes in the library with our librarian – himself a force of nature, private reading his mission.

These same SEN (or by now mostly exited SEN) students started Y10 full of confidence – they truly believed they could demonstrate their reading ability in a GCSE exam. And we persist in trying to convince them that they can do this. But, in truth, the challenge confronting them is an impossible one. Most will not comprehend a C19th text that is so far beyond their ZPD that it might as well be written in Swahili. They will not be able to demonstrate their reading ability in an exam constructed by out of touch elitists who, in the end, are not interested in them.

Perhaps I’m missing something (come back at me, big Twitter players) but why can’t an English exam (not Literature) focus on assessing candidates’ ability to comprehend English in its current form? What’s the harm in a Foundation tier, which could perhaps include such a focus? Why the insistence on C19th literature in an ENGLISH (not Lit) exam?

I don’t want to rant, on the cusp of a new year. I just think that our SEN learners deserve so much better. I’m posting this, though, in full knowledge that the TwitterEd A team will conclude that my expectations are low and that the future lies in a diet of Dickens and Austen from Year 7.

I’d like to reply by stating that TwittedEd opinion doesn’t concern me because I have more respect for what our Head of English thinks. Whilst that is true, I write this purely because actually it does concern me. And that’s because, clearly, TwitterEd IS influential. Just read some of Gove’s old speeches.

My wish for 2016 is then that TwittedEd does more to promote fairness; without this, there are no real standards; assessment is fatally flawed when it doesn’t allow all learners to show what they can do; when it is exclusive and says to so many, ‘This English, this academic stuff – don’t even bother.’

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9 thoughts on “#Nurture1516

  1. Sorry for not RTing. I receive hundreds of requests each month and sometimes in a week. It’s hard to keep up.
    Growing an audience takes time, but that aside, sharing something that resonates often automatically gains traction without the need for ‘big players’ to RT. I often discover powerful blogs as a result of others sharing good content, not necessarily because it has been shared 100s of times just for exposure.

    Drawing the attention of the TES, Schools Week, Ofqual and NM is a huge feat! They must get 100s of tweets per day and 1000s more when various bits and pieces are published in the news. I know I still get chuffed when the DfE acknowledge my tweets, but I’ve yet to hear anything back from NM about any of my blogs!

    Do send anything to me to read, but I cannot 100% guarantee I will see the tweet or be able to read. At least I can try …perhaps email instead?

    Keep up the blogging and best wishes for 2016.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Forgot to mention, I line-manage my head of English and we have weekly discussions about curriculum and examination reform in Lit and Lang, and iGCSE. It’s too much to keep a grip of to be honest. And these conversations will be happening with every HoD English across the country I’m sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for taking the time to comment Ross. On the NM point, I must admit that I wrote an open letter to her, having secured advice from EASS that the reforms are probably discriminatory. She didn’t just get in touch.

    https://teenschooling.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/nickymorgan01-tes_sen-the-reformed-english-literature-gcse-is-illegal-a-case-that-needs-answering/

    She replied that I ought to raise the important issues with Ofqual. Just as Ofqual’s earlier advice had been to raise important concerns with the DfE since it was they who undertook the so-called Equalities Analysis.

    The long and short was that nobody was willing to accept responsibility for the Equality issue. I then went to a solicitor but the thing fizzled out at the legal aid stage. I assume it has anyway (communication not the best).

    Twitter has been a frustration because I know that it does have real – possibly undue – influence. I still believe there should have been stronger, longer, louder calls for inclusive GCSE assessment. It was change I was after, rather than RTs or a wider audience for its own sake. The DfE / Ofqual has betrayed SEND learners and that is just wrong.

    Thanks again for commenting – and hope you and your Head of English have had a really good break!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As you know Mary – we had some fairly extensive debate on Twitter. I considered you view, asked some questions, thought about it, and disagreed.

    My view – which of course is nothing but my view – is that the GCSE does more to promote fairness than the one it replaces. At the school in which I work, Swindon Academy (which is about as far from a bastion of privilege as you can hope to find) ,we’re teaching a very challenging curriculum to our KS3 students in order to prepare them for the rigours of GCSE. In Year 7 they study the Odyssey, Oedipus The King, Beowulf, Cicero and Shakespeare. We’ve produced knowledge organisers with the information we want them to remember – including quotations – and tested them on it regularly. We’ve done the same with Year 10. The response of most older students was to say “This is impossible, we can’t do it.” The response of most Year 7s was to say, “No problem.”

    No doubt the transition to closed both exams and more challenging unseen texts will be harder for many teachers and students, and if we don’t change the way we approach teaching English we will be in danger of failing many young people. But by delivering the curriculum in a way which helps build retention and by explicitly teaching students how to remember things we can perhaps make an important difference.

    I know I’m unlikely to convince you or anyone who agrees with you, but I certainly haven’t ignored you and I see my position as considered, ethical and optimistic.

    Thanks, David

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    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. You did indeed engage in debate on the matter of the closed book anthology paper and I have no doubt that your stance is ethical.
      Just one anecdote by way of reply. We monitor reading ages closely – a screen for all three times a year. One Y8 student stood out as having made no progress in our most recent check. Turned out he was struggling through Lord of the Flies because his parents wanted him to read it, whilst other students were enjoying novels at just the right level of challenge for progress in reading to happen. Our Head of English rang home and an understanding was reached. Lord of the Flies will always be there for this student and one day he’ll surely enjoy reading it. In fact it’s great that he has parents who want him to read it! Just not yet.

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  5. A great blog.
    One day someone will explain to me why rigour and high standards can only be taught through 19th century literature and not the wonderful range of texts through the centuries and including the most recent.

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    • Thanks for the comment. I too would be interested to hear that explanation. I think there are a few issues worthy of further consideration.
      1. Why must an English exam (not lit) prioritise the literary canon over truly inclusive assessment?
      2. Has anyone read Raymond Williams? Should we, as English teachers, be utterly uncritical in our commitment to the canon?
      3. How does presenting a student with a text beyond their ZPD represent challenge in the true sense of the word?

      Thanks again for the comment – and a HNY!

      Like

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