The dark side of the whiteboard - The clocks are striking 13

17th June 2011 at 01:00

Visionaries are always getting it wrong. Clive Sinclair's battery-drive pedal car was a remarkable invention but was shunned by motorists because its compact size and tiny electric engine hinted that its driver had a hulking green conscience, but only a three-inch penis. Arguably Sinclair's smart invention was simply ahead of its time.

A similar misjudgment was made by Californian evangelist Harold Camping, who took time out from sucking Werther's Originals and wearing beige slacks to announce his End of the World Clearance Event some five months too soon. His latest prediction is that a lucky few will ascend to heaven in the October half-term while the rest of us slog it out in TK Maxx. But it is not just the religious righteous that get their timelines wrong. George Orwell had a bad case of premature revelation with 1984 because it is only recently that the Ministry of Plenty and the Progress Police have taken over our schools.

Thanks to the changes in the Ofsted inspection framework, the Ministry of Plenty is now running the show. Under their watchful eye, we are expected to increase key stage 3 attainment so that "year by year and minute by minute, everybody and everything is whizzing rapidly upwards". Like 1984's Winston Smith, we input "fabulous statistics" by strategically substituting "one piece of nonsense for another" until the APP grades we record bear "no connection with anything in the real world". Under the ministry's diktat, any child who can use a potty, a full stop or a comma is given a level 6b. If they are struggling with the latter but there are extenuating circumstances - like dad's a doctor or mum has a Boden catalogue - they will probably get a 7 instead.

The problem with this focus on "progress" is that it hides the real picture of a student's performance. Attainment grades have become relative concepts rather than absolute truths. Few teachers I know are brave enough to mark children's work objectively. Instead, we fudge optimistic grades that sit comfortably between a child's previous and his predicted national curriculum level. Selecting the new sub-level is a bit like choosing a bronzer - you want one that improves your natural tone without looking too obviously fake. But there are some honest teachers who go it alone. They mark accurately, ignoring the intoxicating lure of the end-of-year target. Invariably they are court-martialled by the deputy in charge of Raising Attainment and Polishing Turds because their students fail to make "sufficient progress".

Sats were a nightmare, but at least Sats markers were the common enemy. APP is insidious because its target-driven culture pitches teachers against one another. In September we inherit new classes with national curriculum levels assessed by their previous teacher. What do we do when these are too high? Shop the previous incumbent? Or keep on adding to the lie? Because teachers' end-of-year assessments are guaranteed to elicit an unreliable response: behind every headache, nausea and flu-like symptom lies a woman who fancied watching Trisha with a plateful of toast before catching up on a mountain of ironing.

Education was better in the days before "progression", when teachers' marks were nasty, brutish and short. Kids might have got Ds or bottomed out on level 4s, but at least the clocks weren't striking 13.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.

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