This year has been a real eye-opener for me, in terms of just how much I have relied on such data in the past to help target support for young people
Well what a build up to exams this has been. As a leader I have struggled to adapt to life without any certainty at all about the grades that our students are achieving in the vital subjects of English and maths.
As a rule I try really hard not to ask staff for pointless data that helps me sleep but doesn’t drive progress for the students; this year has been a real eye opener for me, though, in terms of just how much I have relied on such data in the past to help target support for particular young people.
I think I have felt it more this year due to the nature of a very vulnerable year group that started significantly below the average of their peers nationally; when the bar is raised, our ability to diminish any difference over the five years really takes a hit.
If I do not offer the support to one young person that I would have been able to in previous years then I will have failed them – and this is not a comfortable thing to think.
I have tortured myself using last year’s Progress 8 calculations to attempt to predict this year.
I have, alongside my heads of maths and English, tried to work out grade boundaries in order to answer the never ending questions from parents and students alike about ‘what level they are currently achieving’.
I have felt like a failure because I haven’t been able to give an answer.
It’s not been an easy process, but it has certainly forced me to rethink the conversations I have spent the last 15 years having as a member of SLT.
I teach maths to a wonderful group of year 11 young men and our mantra has quickly become ‘be the best mathematician we can be and the grades will take care of themselves’. Now that seems blindingly obvious and, of course, should always be the mentality in every subject, but it hasn’t been in the past if I am really honest.
As a leader I have always said we need data to focus our support - however, I hadn’t realised how much of a crutch it had become for me; a way to make myself feel that I am able to support and challenge where needed. In many ways then, this year has been beneficial for how I approach the build up to exams – even if it really hasn’t helped my sleep pattern!
I know that I am not alone in feeling the strain of not having any confidence in being able to predict grades; I have had dozens of conversations with our English and maths teachers, all of whom tell me in desperate tones that they can’t predict grades for their students with any accuracy.
I have told them I can see how hard they are working and that I can’t ask any more of them. I have tried to reassure them that, whatever the grades, I won’t be thinking differently in the summer - but the data crutch has been removed from them, too.
The most difficult bit has been the conversations with our young people and their parent(s)/carer(s). We have had two open evenings where we have shared some of the science behind ‘best practice’ revision, and also tried to explain why we cannot tell them what grade their young person is likely to achieve.
But they have become as used to having this information as we have, and understandably, find the absence of it stressful.
I feel that this lack of information has forced me to be the most ‘growth mindset’ I have ever been, possibly for the first time in the truest sense of the phrase. I cannot say that it has been comfortable, and I am not convinced it has been in the best interest of the students that we serve.
That said, once we are through this year (and hopefully the results of our current year 11 learners are not so badly affected that their future career choices are damaged by them) it may help in the future to have had our crutches removed. Perhaps we can support and challenge without the reams of data we have used in the past.
I am trying to be positive about it; but in truth, it’s hard to ignore the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.