A spoonful of regret

28th September 2012 at 01:00

Autumn is a miserable term for teachers. While Keats saw it as a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, all I can see ahead of me is a shedload of teaching, tough targets and frantic break times where I'll be lucky to grab a Hobnob and a mug of Mellow Birds.

It's a tough term. Not only do you have to re-acclimatise yourself to early mornings, marking books and emptying your bladder to the sound of the bell; you also have to spend ridiculous amounts of time analysing last year's results. Results analysis is like some weird form of mourning where we all write comprehensive obituaries on the more tragic of our grades. Like Victorian widows, we're not allowed to face the future until we've paid our respects to the past.

The whole reflective process starts with the annual examination debrief. Last Monday we were ushered into the hall, where the principal invited us to reflect on our exam performance. "In the light of your departmental data, what could you have done to improve your grades?" he queried, peering in the direction of English. There really wasn't a lot we could have done, short of living in Wales and qualifying for a re-mark or fiddling our controlled assessments to a B. He then launched into his usual post-match analysis, announcing triumphantly that this year's GCSE man-of-the-match was maths. It should have been English, but thanks to an off-side ruling from Ofqual we ended up with the wooden spoon.

As the thin applause from the maths department died down, the lights dimmed. Within a few seconds, a sequence of spindly bar charts was projected on to the screen. These were our public examination results filtered through a range of different contextual factors: with value added, with no value added, with and without the acronym kids (the EALs, SENs and LACs) and then finally in swimwear, daywear and long shiny frocks. Then came the humiliating comparison with the posh school down the road.

Thankfully, the principal's choice of tiny font meant that most of his findings passed us by. Given that a Lilliputian with reading specs would have struggled to read his charts, I'm hoping that tapping twice to enlarge his iPad screen will be his new performance management target.

Sensing that everyone was falling asleep or texting, he wound up the session with a flourish. "I have a dream," he declared. At this everyone perked up and got ready to pitch in with "I believe in angels". Sadly it was the wrong dream; this one was more civil rights than Swedish spandex.

This dream was that one day teachers from all disciplines would unite to tackle literacy across the curriculum. But his dream that every department, even ICT - that desert state, sweltering with the heat of overclocked processors and ironically named cooling fans - would one day be transformed into an oasis of literacy failed to take into account one significant fact: namely that when it comes to spelling and grammar nobody outside English gives a flying fuck.

I spent the rest of the week analysing results. By the time I finished I knew everything about my previous Year 11s: their raw scores, their uniform mark scale points and their marks for question four. But as Lot's wife would tell you, looking backwards is a dangerous pursuit. Because when it comes to my new Year 10s, I don't know their names, their target grades or whether the child sitting in front of me is autistic or just plain rude.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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