Stat's not a lesson plan

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Peter Greaves regrets having to chase colleagues for their class performance data

When I took on the role of assessment co-ordinator, a part of me felt like a professional traitor. We are, surely, the tax collectors of the staffroom. One minute I am an equal with my colleagues, working in the same conditions, under the same pressures. Then suddenly, I am one of those pressures. As I ask one of my team for their writing assessment levels, I can see the look in their eye, a mixture of frustration and pity. "What happened to you?" their gaze accuses, "you used to be one of us."

I understand completely. For me, the "ass" in assessment seemed to sum it up. Sitting in meetings, I watch as schools are broken down by every demographic imaginable. Every year brings a new visual representation, yet the same message to teachers: "You're crap! Work harder and do better!" No one but teachers really knows what it is like to be savaged by a Panda. ( And now, the latter are even electronic.) So I find myself trying to lead assessment without becoming one of "them".

I don't want to become an Excel bore or run a twilight session on how to change the graph colours in the pupil assessment tracker. I try to keep firmly in mind the two images that assessment has always conjured in my mind.

The first is pointless paper-pushing, best summarised by the ritual that comes each July when you hand your class over. All around the country, teachers are furiously ticking boxes and making up mini sub-levels, not to ensure that next year's teacher is fully informed, but to avoid getting into trouble for poor paperwork.

The other image is that of faceless officials, ignoring the beautiful displays, the superb manners of the pupils, the enjoyment of a rich curriculum and the celebration of community. Instead they are demanding to know why only 93 per cent of your pupils are attaining the average.

I have created two images of my own to help me find my way through the assessment jungle. They entail, first, stepping a long way back and, second, zooming right up close to the individual pupils that give it all meaning. As I step back and look at patterns over four years, I become a twitcher in a hide, watching the pattern of behaviour over time. Through the binoculars of analysis, I see what is happening to pupils during their whole journey through a key stage. Data for this length of time allows the bumps and wobbles that each cohort experiences to be seen in the context of the whole journey a school is making. Without this, the peculiarities of each set of kids can just as easily deflect as guide. A short-term view has you chasing the weaknesses of past cohorts by looking at girls' writing one year, boys' mental maths the next, girls' science the next, all based on pupils no longer there.

As I zoom right in and look at individual pupil data, I become as loving as a pigeon fancier, seeing in each individual the whole child whom I know.

Statistically, pupils might all look the same to those who don't know them.

Zooming in can inform the relationship a teacher has with each pupil, and it brings meaning and purpose to data, which is why discussion of results without personalities can be so uncomfortable.

Don't tell me about "Free-school-meal, summer-born Muslim boys" - you mean Yusuf and Haider, neither of whom is reading as well as he should, but for incredibly different reasons. As their teacher, I know and can address them in the right way for each boy.

So in my class teacher role, I regularly speak to myself as assessment co-ordinator. "If there is information that will help me plan better lessons, teach better lessons and care better for the pupils in my class,"

I say to myself, "then please send it my way and help me to use it well. If it doesn't do this, shove it in your ass - essment folder."

Peter Greaves is deputy head at Dovelands primary, Leicester

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