Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Tue Feb 24, 2015 12:23 pm

I've approached the Education Endowment Foundation a couple of times with a view to funding for research - and I found the men I spoke to quite snippy about my querying the basis of their organisation in that the interest and application for research projects, as far as I am aware, has to come from the schools themselves.

I would have thought it made huge sense in terms of the bigger picture that researching the programmes and practices that the country has already funded the acquisition of (because they were recognised for fulfilling the official 'core criteria' to a sufficiently high standard) was the obvious next step.

To be seen to be truly objective, research should be, arguably, undertaken by non-interested/non-biased parties - and people who can conduct it with the appropriate experience, transparency and efficiency.

Where is the official will for this?

My impression currently is that it remains ad hoc/chance as to what programmes, practices, or combination of these are funded and supported by people with the necessary expertise.

My impression is that there is a danger of within-school people, and university researchers, constantly re-inventing 'programmes' with possibly lesser programmes and practices than those that already exist which reminds me somewhat of a hamster going round and round in one of those wheels - going nowhere.

I don't note any joining of the dots regarding what would be sensible regarding measuring and research moving forwards - I don't see anyone truly taking the lead. They may have, it may be that I'm simply unaware of some very sensible things going on so I could be completely wrong of course.

If you leave 'research' up to individuals, or individual publishers, or even up to individual schools or clusters of schools, there will always be the accusation of something untoward - or not gold standard enough.

As someone associated with two reputable programmes because they fulfilled the core criteria sufficiently well to be acknowledged and funded by the country, I can describe how incredibly difficult it is to maintain contact with schools and to get their findings.

I ask, and ask, and ask and ask.

I cannot do it myself because I am not working in those schools.

I cannot get funding or the necessary expertise because of not fulfilling the specified conditions for the EEF organisation.

Perhaps, Jenny, you might like to draw attention to this state of affairs to anyone in the EEF or DfE who has some authority to look into this.

However, there is plenty of research to be able to identify features for research-INFORMED programmes and practices which is why England could proceed with the notion of match-funding based on evaluations using the 'core criteria' which included, for example, warnings about multi-cueing reading strategies which may still continue in many of our schools despite this.

This raises serious questions about teacher-training and continuing professional development.

So, one could argue that the emphasis should now be on a deeper investigation into the state of play of university training and the training of teachers and teaching assistants in the schools themselves.

I go to schools and see teachers working very hard delivering phonics teaching - but this is not necessarily matched by the children getting the right kind of practice or sufficient practice - and teachers do not necessarily have the knowledge and skills to evaluate the reality of their provision and the reason for at least some children not making sufficient progress.

We now need to look deep into the realities and to work much harder on professional development so that the teachers themselves can understand the basis for the most effective practices and provision and can therefore understand and audit their own provision.

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by kenm » Tue Feb 24, 2015 2:12 pm

Debbie Hepplewhite wrote:Perhaps, Jenny, you might like to draw attention to this state of affairs to anyone in the EEF or DfE who has some authority to look into this.
The letters that I received, nominally from SoSfE, via my (very helpful) MP suggested that the DfE is not interested in doing or funding research as we think of it. Indeed, I found nothing in them to convince me that the civil servant who dealt with my proposal understood what it meant.

DfE has a lot of information from the schools that could be used to compare the methods used in them to teach decoding. What it lacks is an accurate description, for each school, of the methods themselves.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Tue Feb 24, 2015 7:08 pm

What it lacks is an accurate description, for each school, of the methods themselves.
It would take people with real insight to be able to evaluate this state of affairs.

By that I mean, if teachers think they are already providing their version of quality systematic synthetic phonics, that is how they would describe their provision on a survey, but from what I've seen, the teachers don't know what they don't know and it might take someone with sufficient knowledge and understanding to evaluate the reality.

Take for example the issue of the video footage that Ofsted uploaded onto its site of their definition of 'outstanding' schools...

The practice that is shown led to some of us approaching Ofsted with our concerns collectively and we stated strongly that the practice seen on the video for phonics was not 'outstanding' and, in effect, undermined our work as phonics and literacy specialists.

Ofsted would not budge on this.

So, this raises questions about the insight and capability of Ofsted in terms of accurate descriptions of provision.

In other words, one person's description of SSP does not fit another's.

'How long is a piece of string?' springs to mind.

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by yvonne meyer » Tue Feb 24, 2015 11:21 pm

I've come a bit late to this discussion but I want to respond to Frances5's earlier comment,
I feel that making the phonics too high stakes would put a lot of pressure on children.
'Pressure' should be put on kindergarten and Year 1 teachers to make sure that they ensure their students can decode written English by the end of Year 1. Otherwise, children, especially disadvantaged children, are going to drop further and further behind as the children who can decode get on with the process of reading to learn.

I think the concept that children feel too pressured by the test requirement is a bit of a non-starter. Watching students who would have been reasonably successful with academic subjects if they have been taught phonics, 'first and fast' and had, therefore, been able to read to learn, instead struggle year after year with little hope of success is heartbreaking.

Mainstreaming children with intellectual disabilities, without providing the classroom teacher with adequate support, is another issue.

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by kenm » Wed Feb 25, 2015 12:43 am

Debbie Hepplewhite wrote:By that I mean, if teachers think they are already providing their version of quality systematic synthetic phonics, that is how they would describe their provision on a survey, but from what I've seen, the teachers don't know what they don't know and it might take someone with sufficient knowledge and understanding to evaluate the reality.
Of course; if they knew their methods were inadequate, they would try something else. Teachers are not trained to understand research, still less to do it. If they had to do a term of experimental psychology as part of their training, and take an exam in the sort of statistics used to evaluate experimental results, some of them might get an idea of what makes research believable, and the rest ought to be kept out of teaching.
Take for example the issue of the video footage that Ofsted uploaded onto its site of their definition of 'outstanding' schools...

The practice that is shown led to some of us approaching Ofsted with our concerns collectively and we stated strongly that the practice seen on the video for phonics was not 'outstanding' and, in effect, undermined our work as phonics and literacy specialists.

Ofsted would not budge on this.

So, this raises questions about the insight and capability of Ofsted in terms of accurate descriptions of provision.
I thought most of us agreed that Ofsted was not fit for purpose.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by chew8 » Wed Feb 25, 2015 6:11 pm

Debbie:

I’ve never had any contact with anyone at the EEF and have had no contact with anyone at the DfE for some time, so am not in a position to approach them as you suggest.
You wrote:there is plenty of research to be able to identify features for research-INFORMED programmes and practices which is why England could proceed with the notion of match-funding based on evaluations using the 'core criteria' which included, for example, warnings about multi-cueing reading strategies which may still continue in many of our schools despite this.
Yes – so the research preceded the selection of the programmes, and what is on paper in the programmes can be said to be evidence-based in that sense.
You also wrote:I would have thought it made huge sense in terms of the bigger picture that researching the programmes and practices that the country has already funded the acquisition of (because they were recognised for fulfilling the official 'core criteria' to a sufficiently high standard) was the obvious next step.
I think you must mean that as one can’t go entirely on what is on paper, research is needed on how well the various programmes work IN PRACTICE. What you have said about numbers of grapheme-phoneme correspondences suggests that this may be a particular area where you think the DfE should have commissioned research – e.g. on differences in results between programmes which explicitly teach more GPCs and programmes which explicitly teach fewer. 10+ years ago Diane McG. said research was needed on this. She could have initiated this research but didn’t, as far as I know, though I hope someone will correct me if I’m wrong. If others, including the DfE, have felt less strongly than she did about comprehensive coverage of GPCs, it’s not surprising that the research hasn’t been done.

What the DfE has done is to commission the NFER to evaluate the Year 1 phonics check, and the two reports published so far have shown that almost all schools still use mixed methods. The reports have commented on the inconsistency between this and schools’ claims that they teach systematic synthetic phonics, so the problem has not been ignored, even if the implications for reading (and spelling) standards have not been thoroughly investigated. The DfE may well be on this particular case, and it’s an important case even if it’s not exactly the one you would like to see investigated.

Jenny C.

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Wed Feb 25, 2015 7:11 pm

The DfE may well be on this particular case, and it’s an important case even if it’s not exactly the one you would like to see investigated.
On the contrary, I definitely think the reality of what teachers actually teach compared to the official guidance and compared to what they say they teach is very important and such information should be ascertained as much as possible.

I have called upon the contents of the NFER findings (May 2014) about teachers' phonics provision and teachers' responses to the Year One Phonics Screening Check on numerous occasions already.

The Government has gone to great lengths to put Systematic Synthetic Phonics and the need for cumulative, decodable texts on the map - indeed, in the National Curriculum!

How the DfE proceeds with ascertaining professional knowledge and understanding, and ensuring high-quality professional development, will no doubt unfold.

Whether the DfE will ever be able to hold teachers to account for persistence with multi-cueing reading strategies despite official guidance and despite the warnings in research conclusions of inculcating bad reading habits in children is yet to be seen.

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by volunteer » Wed Feb 25, 2015 11:43 pm

Interesting development in this thread. Apologies for being very simplistic. To summarise, there are two schools of thought here - that phonics programmes and maybe a more advanced phonics check should cover the advance code or that they should only do so if there is a research evidence basis for doing so?

What is the basis for not doing so? What harm would be caused by doing so? Does there really need to be research evidence for doing so? It seems very logical and I have come across plenty of children even in my narrow experience who would have benefited from it and none that would have suffered.

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Feb 26, 2015 12:12 am

Personally, I think we have to tackle the perception that 'phonics' is 'baby stuff' and only the domain of the infant teacher.

But, once again, this is about professional knowledge and understanding so that teachers can evaluate their own provision matched to children's needs and progression into phonics for spelling.

Where schools have been led to believe that phonics is about Reception and Year One teaching (and that the job should be largely done at this point), I think there is a grave danger of too many children being left high and dry without sufficient quality phonics teaching after that.

Any subsequent phonics provision is considered to be 'intervention' and is highly likely to be left in the hands of largely unsupervised and maybe unsupported teaching assistants with inadequate phonics content and practice.

Worrying.

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by chew8 » Thu Feb 26, 2015 3:24 pm

Volunteer:

The way you put it doesn’t quite reflect my position. I’m happy for programmes to cover the advanced code even if there’s no research evidence at present showing that this produces the best results. I think, though, that it’s reasonable for the government/DfE not to take a strong line on this - i.e. I don't think they should incur criticism for not recommending something for which there is as yet no research evidence.

I am not saying that the advanced code should not be taught at all. I think that quite a lot of it should be explicitly taught but that most children start to self-teach after a certain point (the point may vary from child to child) and that those who don’t may not be best served by further rigorous teaching of grapheme-phoneme correspondences. I’m sure about the first of those two points (these children take off in reading and start absorbing a lot of spelling through their reading), but less sure about the second, though I asked a leading phonics teacher about it many years ago and she agreed.

There is evidence that programmes which do not teach the advanced code comprehensively nevertheless get very good results. Here’s what Diane McGuinness said about relevant programmes in her 2004 book Early Reading Instruction:
he wrote:None of the prototype programs include anything other than the most rudimentary attempt to teach the advanced spelling code. Yet spelling scores were surprisingly high, certainly much higher than the national norms….Merely teaching the basic code the right way round, getting the logic straight, and adding a dozen or so of the remaining spelling alternatives* makes an enormous difference. (p. 144)
So that’s a researcher who is very much in favour of teaching the advanced code comprehensively saying that programmes which do not teach it comprehensively nevertheless get very good results, even in spelling – but she also says elsewhere in the book that further research is needed to clinch this – I quoted the relevant passage in an earlier post.

Re. what Debbie says: I am one of the people who think that explicit phonics teaching should be largely complete by the end of Year 2. I also think, though, that we go on using phonics in reading unfamiliar words and often in spelling even familiar words throughout our lives. Using phonics knowledge is not 'baby stuff', but I do think that children who have been taught phonics systematically for three years can feel talked down to if their teachers go through an explicit phonics routine every time they help with the pronunciation of a difficult word in reading, teach the spelling of a new word or correct misspellings.

*It’s worth noting that when ‘tricky’ words are taken into account, quite a lot more than ‘a dozen or so of the remaining alternatives’ are probably covered.

Jenny C.

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by volunteer » Thu Feb 26, 2015 3:53 pm

Thank you - and my apologies for my very simplistic summary. I see your point about the government line versus what a programme might include. However, I found that some programmes did not go as far as letters and sounds did together with "support for spelling" in ks2. Now these documents are archived it is possible that phonics will be given a very basic shove to the end of year 1 and then forgotten in those schools that were never truly "won over" by phonics.

I wonder if continuing with phonics for spellings in ks2 onwards would sound babyish to juniors and seniors. To discuss the alternative ways of spelling an /oo/ sound, for example, and which ones are used in through and threw sounds sophisticated enough to me for a junior child.

The whole idea would have appalled me a few years back, but having taken my own children through the early stages of phonics I have just found it illogical that it was not carried on through in some shape or form, where relevant, for tackling the decoding of much longer words involving complex code in ks2 and in the teaching of spelling.

Sometimes I think we could learn an awful lot from the methods of teaching of English as a foreign language.

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by kenm » Fri Feb 27, 2015 10:36 am

Debbie Hepplewhite wrote:...I definitely think the reality of what teachers actually teach compared to the official guidance and compared to what they say they teach is very important and such information should be ascertained as much as possible. ...
To discover that needs a detailed investigation along similar lines to Hart and Risley's research into infants' language environments, but preferably using video to record the classroom activities. The aim would be to determine the influence on children's literacy, as measured by the phonics check and SATs, of the detailed activities of teachers and pupils during reading periods. The independent variables in a multiple regression analysis would be the time spent in what teachers and experts consider the essential components of their literacy teaching, such as explanation of the alphabetic code, direct instruction in GPCs, reading practice with various sorts of material and, within the latter, any reference to context or illustrations. I see this as a difficult part of the design, but expert teachers would be more capable than I am. Categorisation of these activities is labour-intensive but also needs some expertise. Post-graduate students are the traditional source of cheap labour for this sort of work, but they would need to be trained and their observations checked for accuracy by comparison with observations by an expert.
I have called upon the contents of the NFER findings (May 2014) about teachers' phonics provision and teachers' responses to the Year One Phonics Screening Check on numerous occasions already.

The Government has gone to great lengths to put Systematic Synthetic Phonics and the need for cumulative, decodable texts on the map - indeed, in the National Curriculum!

How the DfE proceeds with ascertaining professional knowledge and understanding, and ensuring high-quality professional development, will no doubt unfold.
Do you see any signs of that happening? Is DfE capable?
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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Re: Primary schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding'

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Feb 27, 2015 5:19 pm

Sadly, the 'unfolding' might be that nothing much, or nothing tangible, happens.

I'm not aware of any available analysis of the realities of university provision or school-based training provision in England.

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