A plethora of photographic evidence will make me snap

There is no point in taking pictures of practically everything in primary schools

Carolyn Ritchie

Question: Is there a tendency in primary schools to promote and accept photographs as evidence of quality teaching and learning taking place? To be frank, such evidence is everywhere. A casual visit to any primary school in the country will show laminated, captioned photographs displayed in foyers, corridors, classrooms, dining halls, gymnasia, even school toilets. But to what end?

"Well, you see it proves the children are learning," we're told.

"It's evidence for the inspectors," they say.

Really? "How so?" we should be asking.

About five years ago, my own quality improvement officer said at an in- service day that she did not believe a plethora of photographic work was evidence of quality teaching and learning, nor was it expected. Big sighs of relief all round. And yet, still the practice continues.

Primary teachers have an almost obsessive compulsion to snap away at even the most mundane subject, bestowing on it an air of wondrous achievement - Snap! Caption: "Primary 1 has been learning how to wash their hands." Oh, dear. Snap! "P6 learned about the properties of solutions." Yawn. Snap! "P3 tasted different types of healthy foods." Wow.

I have even heard of teachers taking photos of artwork and displaying it in a school scrapbook because "you need to catalogue the evidence but maintain the wall space for ever-changing, current displays". Someone should tell the Louvre - last time I was there it still had an awful lot of old paintings hanging around. And a queue around the block.

So, what is the point? What do the photos achieve? Well, they can be very attractive, up to a point. The pupils can see themselves undertaking various activities - but can't they do that just by opening their eyes and looking at one another anyway? They can show pupil engagement in a variety of situations - but here's the thing - it is just engagement. It is not proof of attainment or achievement.

A friend, knowing my personal abhorrence of all matters to do with gym memberships, sent me a photo of myself, wearing an Olympic gold medal with the words: "Carolyn Ritchie, Scotland's First Gold Medal-winning Female Weightlifter." So wrong, on so many levels. I did get a badge for swimming a mile when I was in P7, but that was enough; I didn't need a photo of me wearing the badge.

So, my message to teachers is "leave the digi-camera alone". Think about your ink-cartridge and laminating budgets. Think about what you and your pupils are discussing while working together. If anyone wants to know what they have been learning, let them ask the weans.

Carolyn Ritchie, Primary teacher teaches in Glasgow.

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Carolyn Ritchie

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