Words, lists and rubrics

Polonius: What do you read my lord.

Hamlet: Words, words, words.

 I have been reading some blogs about assessment. They explain, as if it is a new idea, that standards are often best defined, agreed and shared by reference to actual examples of students’ work rather than by written lists of criteria. It is true that the obsession with written descriptors of standards, grades, levels etc. has often been exceedingly naive in both development and application. I think that the accompanying evolution, and unbiquitous use, of spreadsheets, data and targets has further undermined the intellectual integrity and practical value of criteria driven ‘assessment’. 

But, I have been as quilty as anyone, actually more than most, of creating lists of criteria which have sought to define common expectations and standards. I had been doing it, in all key stages, with QCA and other agencies for 30 years. However, throughout that time most of us involved realised that what we were doing, was not defining standards/expectations/levels, per se but modelling the assessment conversation that teachers would have with other teachers and students as they considered real students’ work. The words themselves were always meaningless until they were placed in the context of real students’ achievement. The standards are realised in the work rather than the descriptors. This seems now, as it did, then simply self evident. What went horribly wrong was that this basic recognition of the role of written criteria in assessment – especially  in art – was not accompanied by a health warning written in large letters ‘THIS IS MEANINGLESS UNTIL IT IS OFFERED UP TO YOUR STUDENTS’ WORK AND ACHIEVEMENT’.

What should have been an example of the vocabulary and process of critical discourse and judgement became too often a facile and forlorn attempt to label children with vague and unrefined words set out in a simplistic hierarchy. One suspects that, in most cases, children were intuitivly rank ordered and the labels applied in retrospect. 

It is a tragedy that we were not more successful in developing informed and sensitive assessment which takes into account the quality of responses across the range and breadth of expectations. After all a lot of work was done in the name of assessment. The lists of criteria/levels/grades should have been valuable in providing a commonly understood framework for assessment which ensured that all aspects of the subject were considered. They could also indicate how the qualities of different work could be described and compared. In and of themselves they did not really define ‘standards’. 

The fact that the lists were subsequently deployed in so many facile ways has undermined the quality, integrity and value of assessment in our subject. The evidence for this is easily found in the current grade criteria and practice of today’s GCE, GCSE examinations. Perhaps the real tragedy is that everyone colludes with an almost meaningless system because it is easiest not to rock the boat or shout about the emperor’s clothes.

Joey Bagstock 

Wing to heaven blog

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Accountability games

Assessment and data is confusing everyone, often because it is based on a lazy and silly use of data to predict and ratchet up grades. It is curious how it keeps coming back and it is the same question.

Art teachers don’t understand the basis of the data and so they are unable to develop strategies to engage with it. They keep on hitting their heads on the wrong brick wall.

SLT may, or may not, understand the basis of the data but they don’t care anyway because they just need leverage to impose higher targets in the name of accountability. “We are going to motivate our teachers by challenging them to do better.” Is about as far as they go.

The sad issue is that the assessment structure based on the silly use of data completely undermines the credibility and integrity (reliability and validity) of assessment practice in the classroom. It makes the assessment strategies children and teachers use to raise standards unfit for purpose, but nobody cares because the system (or spreadsheet) is  based on data and so must be right.

I used to think that art teachers can be supported by good explanations about what the data means and how it might be used properly i.e. combining it with professional teacher assessment, discussing and agreeing personal, realistic and challenging targets. It won’t stop art teachers being forced to do silly things but at least they will be able to explain to SLT the real reasons why it is silly.

Papers about targets and assessment were written, a few years ago, to support and inform the department v SLT dialogue about targets. They are still pertinent and can be found by searching ‘assessment’ here. But I am surprised that the questions are still being asked and it seems with an ever increasing air of desperation as logic left the building some time ago. It seems that it is OK for managers to parrot slogans and half truths to justify their accountability games. Well that may be OK for American presidents but it shouldn’t be OK in our school system.

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What do we want?


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This is not about puppets

This is an experiment to see how easy it is to use Adobe Spark Pages to share ideas and information quickly and easily. The answer is very easy. The pages below took about an hour to create. However, the content drawings (and thinking) had already been done for another project (with teachers in Kazakhstan). So it was just the text to be written and the pictures to be put in place. The whole thing is done within very well defined and designed templates. This is really helpful because the design choices are limited so I didn’t spend hours deciding on formatting and just focussed on content.

This idea came from discussions with colleagues (in the ESAG) about ways that the new generation of Facebook using teachers may use new media to support sharing within a new understanding of how teacher communities work together.


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<a href=”https://spark.adobe.com/page/3XzXJmJkhIfdB/”><img src=”https://spark.adobe.com/page/3XzXJmJkhIfdB/embed.jpg?buster=2″ alt=”Artbitz” style=”width:100%” border=”0″ /></a>

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Learning objectives are NOT enough

Wing to Heaven I do like this educational blog. It’s the sound of sacred cows falling over that appeals. It forces you to think whether it is worth helping them up again, or is it better to find some new cows to deify.




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Great ‘A’ Level art from St Marylebone’s School

It is always good to see what ‘A’ level students do. Here is a link to St Marylebone’s exhibition.


'A' Level Exhibition 2016

‘A’ Level Exhibition 2016

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Reasons to do art part 1: Creative Industries

NSEAD posted this – well good.

‘This fantastic new film explains why studying art and design and/or design & technology have value – value both in terms of learning and in terms of career choices.

The film will be helpful to students, parents and carers, careers advisors and senior leadership teams. The CreativeJourneys website also has links to mini films of designers, architects, engineers and other creative professionals who explain how their careers started.’


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Academies, Art Express and Abebooks

The government is set to announce the academization of every school. This means the national curriculum, certainly for all but English and Maths, is no longer compulsory. It also means, perhaps more significantly for teachers, that national conditions of service and pay bargaining is also a thing of the past. Yesterday I was at a meeting of the ‘Expert Subject Advisory Group for Art’ . This includes representatives from organisations such as  the NSEAD, the Arts Council, and gallery educators as well as teachers, lecturers and hangers on like me. We discussed the changing nature of advocacy, and the way that, from now on, change would be generated at school, or academy chain, level. Politicians have, in effect, left the room, followed by local authorities.

The structural changes in secondary education are already underway, but the structural changes in primary education have yet to be seen. The world will not come to an end and new generations of subject champions will come to populate new networks. But in the short term it is hard to see how subject support and leadership can be provided for primary schools. In our meeting we discussed developing guidance for primary subject leaders in developing a programme of study, and I think we will produce this.

But we also noted that the publication ‘Art Express’ already provides a complete scheme of work. (See details of this elsewhere on this website.) I noted, with regret, that it was expensive and had not been taken up widely and it was no longer actively promoted by the publisher – so probably not a solution. However, this morning (and this is the belated point of this post)  I wondered whether it was still available – perhaps on Abebooks, and a quick search revealed that it was readily available online and at considerably reduced prices. The publisher is still selling individual year group books at £31.49 each whereas on Abebooks they are available for as little as £4.60 – brilliant. (note I was on the editorial board of this publication so have a vested interest)

If you have not heard of it Abebooks is the equivalent of Amazon in secondhand and remaindered books. It seems to have just about everything I can remember reading on their lists at remarkably low prices. Remember the book you had as a child that you would now like to read to your grand daughter – try Abebooks.


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Art advocacy is important

Once again art is important because…

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