Comparative Judgement – Now What?

Over the last year we’ve had a lot of fun at Reach Academy using comparative judgement to gain a better picture of how our children in primary are attaining when it comes to writing.

Whereas previously primary school teachers have been tied to vague descriptors, which promote a check-list approach to teaching, comparative judgement has provided us with a much more valid assessment of how good each child’s piece of writing actually is. As we’ve begun to collaborate with other schools, we have also benefited from gaining a better picture of how are children are attaining compared to a wider sample, something that has always been problematic with writing in primary.

In this post I want to address our next step in the comparative judgement journey –  what I call the ‘Now what?’ problem. Yes, CJ is quicker. Yes, it’s more reliable. Yes, it gives you a more valid picture of children’s attainment. But once the children are ranked, and you have a standardised score showing you where each child is, what do you do with that information? How do you use it to actually help the children improve as writers?

Level descriptors, for all their flaws, seemed to offer a solution to this problem. You highlighted off the descriptors and the child’s next step would be whichever descriptor they hadn’t achieved. Of course, this was a nonsense, and led to contrived writing in which children shoe-horned front adverbials into their next piece of writing come what may, because that was on the target card stuck dutifully in the front of their book.

With CJ the next step isn’t so straightforward, but I’d argue that it allows for a more appropriate and nuanced approach to formative feedback. Whilst I’m tempted on some level to say that CJ’s primary purpose isn’t formative (it’s more of a ‘taking the temperature’, summative picture), I think that there are a few fairly quick and easy ways to provide children with rich and meaningful feedback.

I’d be very interested in colleagues’ suggestions for any other approaches that they have found to be successful. One of the most exciting things about CJ is that it’s being driven by teachers, for teachers. we have grabbed assessment by the scruff of the neck and ensured it gives us and our students what we and they need – a valid and reliable picture of where they are, and an appropriate set of next steps that will help children improve.

1. What makes this good?

Display the piece of writing that came out top of the pile at the end of the judgements. Remind the children of the original task, and explain that the teachers compared all of the pieces and agreed that this was the best. Then analyse the piece of writing together as a class, picking out the features that made is so successful. What elements do you think are effective. Why? Choose one of the features, and allow students to practice that element. For example, if you agree that rich description made it so good, then allow them to rewrite the sentence or paragraph in which they describe the setting or character.

For example:

“Let’s jot a quick list up of what makes this so effective. We’ve already talked about the rich description. Take some time to talk to your partner about what else makes it effective. You can annotate the text.”

2. Let the children compare. 

Provide the children with two pieces of writing, one good, one weaker. Ask them to vote on which they thought was judged to be the better piece. Ask the children to justify their decision. Sentence stems may help here:  In text A the writer _____, whereas in text B the writer ____.

For example: “Something that stands out straight away is that this story includes some dialogue between the characters, whereas the other piece doesn’t. Why is this better?’ Expected response: it makes you care more about the characters, and also brings them to life.

Then have the children edit and redraft the weaker piece of writing. Could they even get it to a place in which it reverses the judgement?

3. Involve parents

A “level 2b”, a “WTS” or an “emerging in age related expectations for composition” is pretty much meaningless when communicated to parents. However, providing parents with a range of children’s work can help them not only gain a picture of how ‘good’ their child’s writing is, but also of the sort of level of writing that is normal for their child’s age group. Sending home their child’s piece, with a piece that is slightly weaker and a piece that is slightly stronger will help them to have meaningful conversations with their child about their writing, and how they can further improve.

For example: “Here’s a recent example of your child’s writing. As you can see it has a lot going for it. Their verb selection in particular is very strong. Have a look at it compared to the other examples and try and identify how they could improve it further.”


P.s. If you’re new to comparative judgement, greater minds than mine have set out the nuts and the bolts, including some very practical how-to guides:


Knowing stuff is cool.

Does he write his own rhymes? Well sort of, I think ’em. That means I forgot better s*** than you ever thought of.

– Kanye West, Diamonds from Sierra Leone 


This is the second of four posts on knowledge organisers in primary education. The first post set out what they are and why I wanted to use them. This post very briefly addresses some general and specific objections that have arisen since I originally suggested their use. The third expands on these rebuttals, and clarifies what I take to be the purposes and limitations of a knowledge organisers drawing on research from education, psychology and cognitive science. The fourth post sets out exactly how the knowledge organiser was actually used in practice. The final post sets out my reflections on using a knowledge organiser and implications for further use (or abandonment).


Knowing Things is Cool

I used to cry a lot as a child, often in the middle of the night. Usually it was about not wanting to die, but I remember one occasion when I traipsed downstairs to my parents in a terrible state. When my blubbering had finally stopped, they were baffled by the cause of my meltdown – “I’m not going to know everything!” I loved knowing things and was convinced that one day, given enough schooling and learning, I would own all human knowledge.

That fateful night it struck me, after reading about remote Amazonian tribes, that even if I memorised all books ever written, there would remain some colloquial phrase in some far flung corner of the globe which I could never be aware of. It ruined me. I had to accept that ‘know-it-all’ would remain the touching nickname from my teachers and never become a bona fide, official title.

It’s with this, admittedly quirky and perhaps psychologically questionable, world view that I am slightly bemused when people question the value of knowing things. I think that knowing things is glorious and beautiful and makes the world sing. And so I think helping others to know things is the greatest gift of all, and why teaching is the most important and noble of professions. There is no nugget of data too small, trivial or inconsequential for me. On my good days, this is the face that I show to my students, whether they are 6th form, year six or age six. Helping children know more things is, for me, what school is all about.


Introducing Knowledge Organisers to Primary School

Recently, I wrote about using ‘knowledge organisers’ in primary schools. It gathered some interest, and some other teachers have even shared their own attempts at writing knowledge organisers for their primary classes. I was especially pleased that Michael Tidd, who is in my opinion the leading mind on primary education, took to private message to challenge me on some of the details of my own thinking, and debate the purpose of the resource. I’m pleased that he then set out his thoughts in this excellent blog.

There have since been several others who were taken enough by the idea to have blogged on the subject, notably Sue Cowley and Debra Kidd. The original idea, I should note, originates from the inimitable Joe Kirby and his blog sets out the rationale for the approach with far more lucidity than I could ever hope to aspire to.  Many people have been in touch over email and DM to politely (but with a satisfactory robustness) challenge my thinking or request clarifications. I started the initial blog by stating that it was early days and that I welcomed feedback, and I really meant it. My thinking on this is still in its infancy, and the friction from the resistance is ultimately, I hope, what will polish a diamond.

This blog aims to answer some of the questions and criticisms that have arisen since my original post. But it would be dishonest not to begin by stating, without apology or equivocation, that I believe knowing things is worth it just for the sake of knowing things. Knowing stuff is cool.


Objections to the Use of a Knowledge Organiser

I’ve listened carefully to the kind colleagues who have taken the time to challenge my thinking on this. The most common objections were the following:


  • Isn’t this just an MTP?
  • This looks incredibly dull.
  • That’s too many facts to learn.
  • Who gets to choose the knowledge?
  • What’s the point in learning specific dates?
  • Why don’t you get the children to ask questions first?
  • Children will forget most of this.
  • How will this fit into an enquiry curriculum?
  • Books are much better sources of knowledge.
  • This is just a list, it’s not ‘organised’ at all.
  • How will children learn what’s important if you just tell them?


(If I’ve missed any please feel free to add them in the comments, I’ll do my best to respond).


Here are my trigger finger responses to the objections:

Isn’t this just an MTP?

I wrote this before I wrote my MTP, which was heavily informed by it. My contention is that defining the knowledge that should be learnt by the end of the unit will have an impact on how lessons are then structured and sequenced.

This looks incredibly dull.

If it was the only thing presented in the lessons I’d agree with you. The content it represents is anything but dull, though, and once you’ve defined the content you can go about making learning memorable with all your teaching expertise.

That’s too many facts to learn.

I don’t think it is. Some children would learn all of this content even if I hadn’t made the knowledge organiser, and they’ll flourish as a result. My expectation of all children learning all of it is an expectation which will level the playing field. It will, however, require employing learning techniques like retrieval practice, which aren’t always features of lessons in primary.

Who gets to choose the knowledge?

The teacher, or other relevant subject expert. They have sifted enough information and have the requisite contextual knowledge to identify the salient facts which represent mastery of the topic.

What’s the point in learning specific dates?

Because I taught this in the context of a narrative to make it more exciting and memorable, and the dates help with the story. Also, the end of unit goal is to write an information text and great information texts are precise, detailed and accurate.

Why don’t you get the children to ask questions first?

Because they don’t know anything about the subject, and it would take ages for them to stumble across interesting or insightful questions. You can’t ponder why all of the astronauts were men if you don’t already know that all the astronauts were men. You can’t be curious about stuff you’re ignorant about.

Children will forget most of this.

That’s probably true, and that’s ok. There are a few items I’d want them to retain long term, but mostly just long enough to write their info text. I think the process of becoming a master of a topic for a particular purpose is very powerful, even if they go on to forget finer details.

Is that all they’re going to learn?

I certainly hope not, but it is a bare minimum. And since knowledge begets knowledge, I’d hope that nailing the KO would accelerate the learning of more stuff about the lunar landing.

How will this fit into an enquiry curriculum?

It almost certainly doesn’t; you can’t enquire about that which you don’t know about in the first place.

Don’t you lose the awe by reducing something so gripping to a list of facts?

You can lose the awe of any topic if you teach it badly. The facts in the KO, I believe, unlock the awe of this topic.

Books are much better sources of knowledge.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and mastering the content in the KO makes books more accessible. I have lots of wonderful non-fiction books which I’ll be using in this topic, and they’ll make so much more sense when the children know the key facts about the topic.

This is just a list, it’s not ‘organised’ at all.

I hadn’t even considered this, and immediately realised it was an accurate and damning challenge. Will inform future efforts.

Some children won’t want to learn about this.

Some children don’t like eating healthily or becoming numerate. It’s our job as adults who care about them to make them do it anyway.

How will children learn what’s important if you just tell them?

There is certainly a case for children to begin to rank importance of different knowledge items, but you can’t begin to do this before you know about the subject. Also, teachers understand which knowledge items will be necessary for future success in school, play and life.


What it is (and what it isn’t)

Some of this reveals what I take to be the purpose of the knowledge organiser. Or rather, purposes, as I believe that it has value in three distinct but related functions:


  1. As a planning tool for the teacher.
  2. As a resource for the child and parent.
  3. As an assessment tool.


I would have thought that it goes without saying, but the knowledge organiser is not a replacement for other planning documents. It isn’t the only thing they will ‘do’ in lessons. It doesn’t preclude the use of other resources. I don’t think that it even necessitates a particular ‘teaching style’ – you could probably do all of this through dance if you wanted to (although it would likely take much longer). The key is setting out what you want all children to learn (not just the ones who go home and learn it all regardless of what you do in lessons), and then holding yourself to account for that.

Using Knowledge Organisers in Primary

There is huge variation in the process of planning a unit of work in primary. This post is about how I’ve gone about planning a two (possibly three) week unit on the lunar landing for my year two class. A few people have asked recently about using knowledge organisers in primary and so I thought it worth exploring how I’m going about this. It’s still early days so I’d appreciate feedback.

We have a few guiding principles when planning at my school (Reach Academy, who are recruiting if the following seems like your bag).

First, we backwards plan. This means that we begin by considering what children will need to know and be able to do to lead lives of choice and opportunity; a clutch of fantastic GCSE and A Level results are synonymous with this vision. Second, our lessons are objective and content driven – we start with what we want the children to know and achieve first. Third, we consider the method and resources by which the content will be delivered, ensuring success for all. Fourth, we aim for learning to be joyful and highly motivating for children.

Some more context, at Reach we split literacy into reading and writing lessons, and hour for each. Our reading lessons are guided by the principles of Doug Lemov’s ‘Reading Reconsidered’ which means that we do whole class reading of challenging texts. Each week children read poetry, fiction, non fiction and ‘cold extracts’.

On average, children will read around 750 words a day in these lessons. We read aloud as a class, with the teacher ‘controlling the game’: all children read the text with a ruler and I call student names every sentence or two and they immediately begin reading. Last half term we read The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe and a Times article on the shooting of Harambe the gorilla, amongst other texts.

In our writing sessions, we are guided by the storytelling approach, which encourages children to learn a story by heart before innovating based on that story and ultimately, inventing their own stories based on the theme. Over the next two or three weeks we will be writing an information text, based on the lunar landings. The children have already written stories after learning the story of The Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram, and have been learning about the Solar System in topic.

Writing information texts is hard, and something that children often find difficult. It is my contention that this is often because they know too little about the particular subject. Having a wealth of knowledge about the subject gives children a full cup from which to pour onto the page, and so I began by explicating the minimum of what I expect each child to know by the end of the unit (when they come to write their final draft).

Here is what the knowledge organiser looks like:

Screen Shot 2016-12-30 at 16.57.05.png

If children learn everything on this sheet, by heart, I believe that writing an information text about the moon landing will be a piece of cake. Rather than struggling to think what to write in the next sentence, it will be a case of simply selecting and organising the facts they have at their fingertips, before crafting them into well structured sentences. (Okay so not that simple, but crafting beautiful sentences is surely easier when children already have tons of content to communicate).

Early in the unit, I will also share a model exemplar, sometimes called a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like). It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-12-30 at 17.31.21.png

How will the knowledge organiser actually be used?

It’s my belief that assessment and curriculum are inextricably linked. Where I have taught poor units it is because I did not define at the outset exactly what I wanted the children to learn. This made assessment impossible. Writing a knowledge organiser helps me to throw down a gauntlet to myself: if any child in my class hasn’t learnt what’s on this sheet then I haven’t done my job. This also helps to organise my assessment tasks. Clearly, the eventual information text will act as a summative assessment task, but I will also weave more formative tasks throughout the unit.

Multiple choice quizzes will end every lesson, to help crystallise within children precisely what should be remembered from the lesson, as well as strengthening retrieval strength. Do Now tasks at the beginning of lessons will help children revisit these facts and apply them to sentence writing tasks (e.g. Use the term ‘Saturn V’ in a sentence including the subordinating conjunction ‘because’).

Finally, in case this seems like it is lacking in the ‘joy’ mentioned at the start of the post, once the content has been set, the method of delivery can be considered. With the knowledge organiser acting as magnetic north, I can be creative with pedagogy knowing that rigour will not be lost. So, for example, the opening lesson to this unit will feature Dan, a teacher and ex-actor from secondary, visiting our class in character as Neil Armstrong. The Commander will give a full ‘mission debrief’ to year two, whilst I collate the details on a flipchart sheet ready to be displayed for the rest of the unit.

Home Learning

This knowledge organiser will also be sent home to help parents understand exactly what our expectations are in terms of what children need to learn. This will help them to lead conversations with their children and explore other resources such as books and youtube videos of the lunar landing. Children, in my experience, absolutely love learning facts, and so armed with the knowledge organiser will be able to swot up at home ready to share their knowledge in lessons. Also I’ll tell them that they have to do this. By the end of it they will all know exactly what NASA stands for. Do you?


If you would like a copy of the knowledge organiser above, please click knowledge-organiser-apollo-11 to download one.

Bluffer’s Guide to Teaching Key Stage One

This article originally appeared in the magnificent Teach Primary 3-7.

“Hi, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a primary teacher,”

“Oh! What age?”

“I teach year two,”

“That…is…..SOOOO cute. Oh my gosh how old are they? Six? Adorable.”

“Yeah I know…” is what I say.

It’s not what I mean. Look at these grey hairs. Look at them. Does adorable cause that? Any adorableness, I’ve learnt, is in fact a very cunning disguise that these tiny whirlwinds of terror have adopted to lull unsuspecting adults into a spider’s web of carnage. Perhaps they have trapped you too. Perhaps, in a thoughtless and utterly regrettable ‘adventurous’ spirit, you agreed to take charge of a class of very small people.

Fear not! Follow this bluffer’s guide and you might just make it to July with some sort of sanity in tact. I’m kidding, of course, you have no chance of retaining sanity, but follow the steps and you should go the right kind of crazy.

You can’t control the chaos, but you can channel it.

You’ve done everything you can to sculpt your classroom into a bastion of tranquility, with calming colours and Chopin twinkling in the background. But do not kid yourself for one moment that this will provide any sort of defence against the blitzkrieg onslaught of 30 whirlwinds of pure energy and enthusiasm. Any attempt to stabilise and control the mayhem will leave you dashing around the classroom like a clown in a suit, desperately trying to keep dozens of plates spinning in some sort of unison.

Instead, you must embrace the disorder, find your inner zen and masterfully direct small groups into contained activities. Deploy your TA like a platoon commander to the ‘hottest zones’ of the classroom, triage the rest by temporarily distracting them and then focus their glorious curiosity on something resembling a learning intention.

Entertain yourself and your colleagues with high brow reprimands

The luxury of being able to reprimand a child by using logic, reason and an appeal to socially accepted norms is no longer an option for you. Gentle, regular reinforcement of what is and isn’t acceptable can become tiring and dull, so keep it interesting by referring to topical political developments and historical events.

Strike a solemn face and a serious tone as you declare that ‘you’ve walked into this classroom like you have no regard whatsoever for Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I know that’s a document that you really respect.’ Or ‘You can’t just wander around the classroom like Caeser crossing the rubicon because we all know how that story ended. *Shaking your head* What would the senate think?’ They’ll be so confused that they usually just comply with your general instruction of ‘stop that’.   

Don’t touch that liquid.

I just don’t understand how so much snot can emerge from such a tiny person. They must have lost half their body weight with that sneeze. Keep calm, and remember to smile as you remove the thick brown-green sludge from your face, then cheerfully remind them ‘Oh, don’t forget that we put our hand over our mouth before we sneeze(/release the kraken.)’ Snot, unfortunately, will not be the only suspect liquid that you come across. Under no circumstances should you come into physical contact with a UBS (Unidentified Body Spillage), but instead order whoever has joined the staff most recently to mop it up. And if you’ve just joined, pay your dues. Also: alcohol gel, my friend. Bathe in it hourly.

Learn from the masters

It was with a deep sense of embarrassment and helplessness that I was first observed by a senior member of the team whilst in infant school. My classroom could most accurately be imagined by picturing the scene in Fantasia when Mickey Mouse puts on the comically large sorcerer’s hat, and is soon overwhelmed by multitudes of tiny axe-wielding broomsticks reaping devastation on all in their path. Then, like the wizened sorcerer of the story, my headteacher quietly slipped into the room, subtly waved their hand and restored peace and order in seconds. With time, you too will learn this magic. Watch closely and add any technique deployed by your more experienced colleagues to your growing arsenal.

Follow these guidelines and you may just survive your move into the lower end of schools. Sure year six may moan that they have the pressure of SATs, more content to cover and children beginning to understand the true meaning of the word defiant. But anyone who has worked in both knows that teachers of young children are the SAS of primary schools. Welcome to the club.


Bluffer’s Guide to Evidence Based Practice.

This article originally appeared in Teach Primary, a wonderful and intelligent publication to which you can subscribe here.

The quickest way to endear yourself to your primary colleagues and win their respect is to helpfully explain to them that everything they do is wrong and probably educationally damages their children. Whilst a commitment to becoming more informed by evidence might seem both intimidating and time-consuming, you’ll be happy to learn that it’s perfectly possible to bluff your way through this endeavour with little or no extra work.

So read on, brave teacher, and rightly earn your place as the most exasperating and pestiferous charlatan at staff meetings and beyond…

Don’t actually read any research

Just how do all of these teachers manage to read so much academic literature whilst doing the backbreaking job of being a classroom teacher? The answer – and don’t tell anyone – is that, and this really is the clever part, they don’t! Luckily, it’s almost impossible to be wrong about anything in education, because everybody disagrees about everything. Preface all of your pontifications with phrases such as ‘Of course all the evidence shows…’ or ‘I was actually reading an interesting study recently…’ In the unlikely event that someone actually calls you out on your claptrap, promise to ‘dig out the original article’ and then avoid them until they forget.

Take pot-shots at weak targets

 The wide ranging interest in education and lack of formal quality controls means that it’s pretty easy for dodgy initiatives and fads to take hold. A rookie error on the road to becoming an evidence based practitioner is to believe that you should contribute something positive to education; perhaps attempting to discover and share more effective forms of instruction, assessment and school improvement. I mean, fine, but that just sounds like a lot of work. It’s much easier to smarmily denigrate the fresh corpse of learning styles or brain gym. Revel in self-righteousness as you tear down the overlooked multiple intelligences poster, left up in the corner of the staffroom since the 90s. Exclaim sternly, ‘This has been thoroughly debunked!’ as you cast it into the recycling bin from whence it came. Suggest to your colleagues that they start calling you the debunker ‘as a joke’, then change your email signature.

Narrow your world view

Perhaps you may choose the more athentic, but ultimately pointless, path of actually engaging with academic research. Be warned, this can and will lead to depressing levels of cognitive dissonance in which you are regularly faced with the painful realisation that you’ve been doing your job horribly forever. To combat this, only read research which will reinforce your predisposed views and ideas. Psychologists call this ‘confirmation basis’. I’ve tried it and it really is lovely. This handy mental defence will ensure any nasty opposing views are either avoided or instantly dismissed out of hand.

Ignore context and nuance

In strong contention for the most unsurprising axiom of all time, Dylan Wiliam (NB famous educational researcher, drop his name often to boost your evidence credentials) reminds us that ‘everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere’. This introduction of thoughtful application and reservation around research findings presents a dangerous challenge to your (always humble) ‘I am the WORD, cower before my genius’ understanding of teaching and learning. At face value, it’s blisteringly obvious that a study involving English literature undergraduates may not be applicable to learning maths in year 1. On the other hand, reading up on the methodology and assessing the reliability of results within the context of your school or year group would take up like half your PPA. Don’t do it – read the headline, strap on your blinkers and just plough on.

Grow your audience 

As your confidence in spouting about effect sizes increases, you are likely to find that the staffroom is no longer a large enough audience for your enlightened sermons. It’s time to go national, baby. A twitter account is the quickest way to ‘establish’ yourself as an authority on the school scene. Start referring to yourself as an ‘educationalist’ (for you have transcended mere teacher status now).

Make some dollar

If you have carefully followed the above steps of this guide, you should now be well on your way to delivering your first keynote at least one national conference. And once your twitter follower count has crossed the 10k mark…cha-ching! It’s time to monetise. Set yourself up as a consultant promising to bring an ‘evidence based approach’ to terrified and confused headteachers. Try not to corpse as you assert that this can be done in a two hour CPD twilight at any point in the year.


Armed with this bluffer’s guide (and, if you absolutely must, a cursory google of the EEF toolkit rankings), you can confidently announce yourself as an ‘evidence based practitioner’. And you never know, if you shout that loudly enough, you might even be able to wangle a TLR out of it. You’re welcome.

Bluffer’s Guide to Surviving an Ofsted Inspection

This article originally appeared in Teach Primary, a wonderful and intelligent publication to which you can subscribe here.

Finally, you fully understand what it would feel for the characters in one of those asteroid apocalypse movies. Bruce Willis can’t help you now though, the death-line has already been crossed. It starts with headteacher charging into your classroom just before midday, wild eyed and sweating, manically gesturing a phone-hand-signal before blurting out, “We’ve had the call, everything is okay. EVERYTHING IS OKAY!”

Everything is quite clearly not okay. Everything is very far from okay. But fear not. You have 18 hours until impact, and armed with this trusty guide, you can bluff your way through your Ofsted inspection…

Pile additional pressure on teachers whilst insisting there’s nothing to worry about.

Briefly consider delivering an amended version of the “We will not go silently into the night!” speech from Independence Day, complete with dramatic music. Immediately disregard that plan and tell nobody you even considered it. Instead call a huge, panicked staff meeting like one of the town hall scenes from the Simpsons. Explain that we’ve all been expecting this and all we need to do is show them what we do on a day to day basis. Then don’t let anyone leave until every facet of the school is unrecognisable from its usual self.

Pile additional pressure on children whilst insisting that there’s nothing to worry about.

Primary aged children have an annoying tendency of being completely honest when asked questions by adults, and this is perhaps your biggest threat over the next few days. Embrace your inner Malcom Tucker and ensure that they are all briefed within an inch of their lives. Drill them with the literacy targets that you half-heartedly introduced two months ago, and ‘remind’ them of how they know how to explain their learning objective and success criteria. Prepare them for the fact that you will be wearing a thing called a ‘tie’ tomorrow, and that this is completely normal. Sternly explain that our ‘special visitors’ will be watching their behaviour very closely so it’s very important that they, you know, behave. For once.

Play your best team 

Whilst little Patrick’s refusal to do anything except shout “You smelly head” at the top of his voice has become endearing to the staff of your school, inspectors may not be so understanding. It’s lucky that Patrick has been looking a little peaky recently. In fact, come to think of it, a lot of the children with more ‘lively’ approaches to learning suddenly look a bit under the weather.  Seek out these characters and hold a compassionate hand to their brow, before asking them how they’re feeling. When they reply, puzzled, that they’re absolutely fine, send them to the medical room immediately. Suggest to their parents they stay off for the next 48 hours. Better to be safe than sorry, right?

Buy Red Bull.

Coffee is not going to cut it. Red Bull comes in crates.

The books. My god the books.

Triage, my friend. You cannot mark all of those books in the time available to you. It’s just not possible. You need three piles. First, your ‘show’ books; the trusty high attainers with neat handwriting – strategically place these in areas most likely to be perused by unwelcome hands. Now take books of the middle attainers and randomly highlight in an array of colours. Then have the children ‘edit’ their work in a variety of coloured pencils whilst shouting repeatedly, “You’re responding to feedback, just like always. What are you doing!? Responding to feedback, that’s right. Just like always.” Finally, there are the ‘hopeless cases’, the books that a thousand half terms couldn’t save. These will need to be lost in a series of unfortunate incidents including, but not limited to: accidentally being thrown out with their books from last year; being ruined by spilt tea; insisting the child took it home; and “I’m sure I’ve got it here somewhere” before hiding in the toilet until they go away.

Deprive yourself of everything that makes you an effective teacher.

Since you’ll be in school until midnight, take away pizza is the only viable option, but be sure to supplement this with biscuits, sweets and stockpiled generic junk food. If you absolutely must, you may sleep a total of two hours, but assert loudly the next morning that you didn’t sleep at all. Any sort of recreational activity that brings you joy and well-being is strictly banned. Surely that goes without saying.


Of course, you could disregard all of this advice and just do what you normally do, like some sort of maverick from an 80s cop show. In which case, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

Bluffer’s Guide to Assessment

This article originally appeared in Teach Primary, a wonderful and intelligent publication to which you can subscribe here.


Okay, so assessment in primary is a mess, but let’s get something straight: when we complained that the government should stop interfering and let teachers get on with assessing children however we liked, we didn’t actually expect them to let us do it. So we’ve learnt two things. First, it turns out that the only thing worse than having a bad system is having no system at all, and second: the only thing worse than being told what to do is not being told what to do.

But since we moaned for so long about creating our own systems, we need to muddle something together, and preferably before the end of the academic year. To help guide you through the chaos, I present the bluffer’s guide to assessment:

Re-invent levels (but change the name)

So maybe levels were ‘unhelpfully vague’, ‘statistically flawed’ and ‘encouraged children to progress before ready’, but better the devil you know, am I right? When creating new assessment grids, you should just copy and paste the old level descriptors from APP but, and here’s the clever part, change the name at the top. Something like ‘progress indicators’ or ‘mastery thresholds’ will do. Preferably, you should pay a shady educational company thousands of pounds to do this for you, but instructing your work-wearied Deputy Head to bodge it together over a weekend is also acceptable.

Use the word ‘mastery’. A lot. (Don’t worry about what it means.)

Apparently, we should all now be doing mastery. Don’t worry, nobody really understands what it means, so you can just declare authoritatively that you are definitely doing mastery and shrug if anybody questions you. You can evidence mastery by adding a box to your planning pro forma that says ‘mastery’ and sticking in whatever you’ve decided your more-able students will be doing. If a student gets all of their work correct then smile and say things like “Well done Michelle. You’re doing mastery now.” Using apostrophes correctly is a good example of mastery, I think, but there are others too.

Generate as much data as possible.

Teachers have grown accustomed to spending large portions of their evenings and weekends pointlessly entering data into spreadsheets that nobody looks at. It would be both confusing and dangerously liberating for you to remove this requirement so, whatever you do, make sure that your new policy necessitates a bewilderingly over-burdensome data-entry process. If teachers question the system, respond with a sigh and the timeless cop-out of “I know, but Ofsted require it.” If teachers counter with the new Ofsted guidance, tighten your lips and proclaim that “they don’t really mean that’.

Continue to be terrified by Ofsted.

But, like, really really now.

If a parent asks about assessment, remember the three Cs.

Given the national coverage of the changes to assessment, some parents have unfortunately cottoned on to the fact that nobody knows what the hell we’re doing. They may approach you and say irritating things like “I don’t understand this new assessment system,” or “My child used to be on track but now you’re saying they’re behind,” or “What on earth is any of this supposed to mean. And why do you look so panicked? Hey, where are you going?”

Although such complaints are well-grounded, coherent and reasonable, it’s very important that we maintain the illusion that we know what we’re doing. They must never learn the truth. The government’s guidance of how to respond to a terrorist attack (run, hide, call for help) happily doubles as solid advice for dealing with parents with questions about assessment.

For the trickier customers, remember the three Cs: counter, confuse, confabulate. Start by explaining with conviction that everything is fine and that your new system is robust and reliable. Then throw every piece of educational jargon at your disposal at them, using at least a dozen acronyms, for example: “The APS for EAL and SEN was never comparable to our FMS, and IEPs further complicated matters”. Nod sagely as you do this. Finally, end by thanking them for their interest and allowing you to clear everything up. Promise to email them some documents, but never do.


And finally, keep your head down and wait for the whole thing to blow over.

Following this guide should protect you from ever being called out for not knowing what you’re doing but, more importantly, it will mean that the DfE never call our bluff and actually let us do anything for ourselves again. At which point we can safely go back to moaning about not being listened to.