Nail Your Colours to No More Marking

colour demo

This is a grave new world of assessment. In my post yesterday I referenced via an article in Schools Week the assessment company No More Marking [a ruse of a title if I have ever heard one] and as is so often the case with me, such has rankled my sensibilities about teaching, learning and assessment.

There are two things I want to quote from the No More Marking website for any interested readers to check out and judge for yourselves [I think you are entitled to judge for yourself, without access to a graph/matrix/model….].

The first, which I found mildly amusing, is their ‘Colours Test Demo’, here, which is meant to prove the hypothesis as follows [and quoted in yesterday’s posting]:

Marking does not work when it involves any degree of human judgement. This is due to a simple principle.

“There is no absolute judgment. All judgments are comparisons of one thing with another”. (Human Judgment: The Eye of the Beholder by Donald Laming, p.9).

I can confirm that when I completed the demo I had been unable to retain the information needed to make the ‘correct’ judgement about the sequence of colours. I am flummoxed by how this relates to and proves that I cannot effectively compare and comment on writing from across a range of writing? With 30 years of human teaching experience I feel I have an expertise to do so [accepting there will be variations in aesthetic appeal/expectation – what makes writing, especially creative, what it is in its infinite variety] and by extrapolation I reckon that if I had experienced the sequence of squared colours used for 30 years I would then be able to sequence them precisely as originally sequenced.

Second, and to leave readers with, is the following. On the one hand, in not understanding this I could just be hugely out of my comfort zone in not comprehending the mathematics/statistics of it all [and of course I am!]; on the other, it could just be totally ridiculous, an emperor’s new clothes of assessment gobbledygook that sums up its meaninglessness to me as a human English teacher in its meaningless to me as a human English teacher. I will of course be making a found poem out of this stuff:

Following a series of pairwise judgements we can establish a measurement scale using a statistical model. The most commonly used model is the Bradley Terry model (Hunter, 2004) which predicts the outcome from any comparison. The statistical model enables us to build a measurement scale without having to make all the possible pairwise comparisons that would otherwise be required.

The measurement scale that results from a CJ study has some powerful characteristics. The Bradley Terry model is algebraically equivalent to the Rasch model (Rasch, 1960), so the measurement scale shares the advantages of a Rasch measurement scale. The scale is linear, robust to missing data, has estimates of precision, detects misfit, and the parameters of the objects being measured can be separated from the measurement instrument being used.

A CJ scale can therefore be examined in terms of its reliability and consistency: a high value of reliability would suggest we could replicate the scale. The linear scale means that CJ studies can be anchored together using a sub-set of common items, which can be useful, for example, in measuring progress over time. Misfit to the model can be detected both for objects being measured and for the judges doing the measurement. An object may misfit if there is no consensus amongst judges over the quality of the object. A judge may misfit if their judgements are not consistent with the overall measurement scale. Misfit is useful in understanding the traits under consideration and the interactions between judges and the traits (Pollitt, 2012).

© No More Marking [colour chart and quoted sections] –


The Balls of Finite Outcomes

As a former secondary school English teacher and Head of Department I had to suffer the annual assumed assessment and judgement of ‘stagnant’ – or worse – student progress from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3.

I was and always will be on the defensive about this. One of my more considered rejections [above and beyond a simple disregard for the miserable nonsense of KS 2 and 3 external testing in English] was the nature of KS3 English testing, when it existed, which did suddenly require students to read and write quite differently to the discrete kinds of testing at KS2, though this too suffered the ludicrous narrowing of prescriptive expectations for student responses.

As reported in today’s Schools Week, a new organisation No More Marking has reported forty-two per cent of year 7 pupils either stood still or “regressed” in English, based on their assessment software [no comment on this methodology, yet…].

It is too soon to simply reject, yet again, such an ‘assessment’ organisation and its assertions, but also too soon to warm entirely to the company’s director of education Daisy Christodoulou who is reported to have stated the following:

Year 7 may also have “particular issues” around transition, she said.

“They’re suddenly studying a lot more subjects, they’ve got lots of new teachers, new peers – there’s a lot more going on there.”

No More Marking tested more than 28,000 year 7 pupils using “open-ended” questions in English and maths, which could not be revised for and required a creative grasp of concepts…

This is sensible about the personal and social phenomena of the transition for most students, but I do also wonder especially at the seemingly poignant reference to students needing a creative grasp of concepts to respond to their open ended questioning.

At KS2 testing in English, and therefore the explicit teaching to this, there is absolutely nothing that encourages being creative or independent or anything other than robotic in dealing with the discrete and closed nature of, in particular, Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling testing.

Suddenly at KS3 in English, students will be reading and writing much more widely – like they used to at KS2 lest colleagues there think I am denigrating their curriculum. I’m not. The target culture that judges so clinically at KS2 would seem to have narrowed the curriculum to the robotics of test preparation, as reported so thoroughly – from schools, not the DfE – over recent years.

Obviously as I write I do not know what the exact nature of the No More Marking assessment is. That said, I have to conclude on a note of worry and concern when I quote the following guiding principle from the No More Marking organisation:

Marking does not work when it involves any degree of human judgement. This is due to a simple principle.

“There is no absolute judgment. All judgments are comparisons of one thing with another”. (Human Judgment: The Eye of the Beholder by Donald Laming, p.9).

Laming has shown that at best our judgments are ordinal. We can place things in an order, but scarcely more than this. Ask two people to apply a mark scheme and you will most likely get different marks. Ask people to place two scripts in order, and you will get more consistency.

Having just come through the process of examining GCSE with regular standardisation through seeding, I am not a novice when it comes to questioning personal judgements [and haven’t been before the online seeding process]. That said, I can’t imagine assessing English properly without it – unless, of course, we think English teaching and learning is only concerned with finite outcomes,

excusing the complete bollocks of the last two words in the above paragraph.


National Poetry Day’s Freedom


The ideas offered here are to support students writing poems for this year’s National Poetry Day. All provide structures and models to aid writing list poems: these are straightforward and impactful with the repetitions building detail, pace and overall meaning.

These ideas are also essentially writing aids. Students can and should talk through overall thoughts about the theme of Freedom and how each creative writing idea presents this, but the focus is on the practical activity of writing – hopefully getting quickly into the spirit and crafting of the approaches.

Click on the links below. This will take you to a pdf copy of the individual resource that can then be downloaded.

Please feel free to share as widely as you can with other teaching colleagues:

0National Poetry Day – TN

1Freedom to

2Freedom to

3Freedom to

4Freedom to

5Freedom is Randomised

6Freedom is Randomisedb

7Freedom is Where

8Liberty poem

9liberty poem edited

The following PowerPoint has 5 slides in support of the above resources [the Tagore poem is resourced from the internet and I sincerely hope it is entirely accurate in its original Bengali language]:

National Poetry Day PP

The following is an additional resource, added today [10.9.17]:

10People of the World

11A Song poem


Progress 8

Es will attract
additional points
but not
if Easy


New performance measures
a point score,

see step below,

not C or below/above, mind you,


but Strong pass.

We measure
and 8 measures
every increase
in approved list
double weighted
double weighted

and compare
compare and

put simply:

our first step
an academic core
based on their key stage
then used
to calculate

to calculate.

Student Influx Warning


Above from today’s Guardian.

Apart from this graph’s headline sounding like a Daily Mail immigration scare story, what does it actually tell us?

Not much, and quite a bit.

Significantly, very little has changed between 2016 and 2017 in terms of the two English and Maths results – the main subjects [along with Science usually, but not this year] by which schools are judged to have performed.

Why is this significant?

  • It suggests Gove’s [and currently The Gibb’s] pontificating about ‘tougher’ exams making it harder to achieve the top grades – but also, by extrapolation, most grades, especially B-C now 6-4 – hasn’t been realised;
  • And/or the grade boundary adjustments undertaken by Awarding Bodies, presumably with Ofqual blessing, have retained the status quo.

What else does it tell us about GCSE English, and Literature [my examining subject] in particular?

  • That students, teachers and schools have had to work extra hard adapting to changes – closed-book, new texts, increased content, pressures to hit targets/Progress 8 especially for Eng Lit that was included in school performance/progress data – was an increase that did not [if my Maths is up to 2017 scratch-ability] warrant the ratio of bloodsweatandtears to the reality of securing the status quo.

Anything else?

  • What we don’t know is how any individual students and individual schools will have fared with these changes: that is, whilst nationally percentage passes across grades have remained remarkably similar, they could be very wrong for some/many students and schools.
  • None of this addresses the bigger issues of why there is a perception that GCSE examinations need to be tougher/more robust [apart from satisfying the compulsion for such regular political rhetoric], and why we continue to examine students like this at age 16.

Another graph, from Schools Week, for visual learners:



Good Guy

Arizona - Copy

Very Presidential, isn’t it?
very Presidential
turning those suckers off fast,

helmets and black masks,
you know, the bad elite:

turning those suckers off.

I got very presidential.
I live in an apartment.
Presidential, isn’t it?
White House too,
white supremacist
elite house and
very good.

I was a good student,
better schools than they did,
really great,
better future,
big big apartment.

An honest guy.

Wound inflicted bad guy I am

Guy I am
a great
I am.

I was good,
please, please,

but believe,

Fox treated me in a bigger, more beautiful show
as a good guy,

believe me.
Honest show.

I must sentence here and there
I was a good guy
and I was a better student.

Don’t put on me saying
history and our heritage
is also KKK and

just I was a good guy
turning those bad suckers off.

Excuse Donald Trump

excuse me

Another poem from me, found in the language of DT and at International Times here.

As ever I am grateful for its publication, and I hope it can make sense, as it can for me just as catharsis, when what he actually speaks beggars belief in a way that very expression could never have imagined it would apply so massively.

Laws on Tomorrow’s GCSE Results?

David Laws, leader of the Education Policy Institute, is reported/quoted in today’s Daily Mirror as observing The old ‘C’ grade is not an adequate aspiration, and this is made in the context of comparing our education system to the world’s best.

I do and don’t know what to make of this. On the one hand it is that inevitable, withering, irrelevant, diminishing comment that is always made just prior to or on the day that GCSE results are announced for the nation’s students, these appearing tomorrow. Rarely is there an up-front and centre focus on and congratulations for the hard work and consequent ‘success’ [at whatever relevant level for any individual student] there should be. This wouldn’t be ‘news’. This certainly wouldn’t be the regular annual third-week-in-August news.

On another, David Laws does appear to have a positive history of actually knowing and caring about national educational policy and relevant matters: he did criticise the previous Education Secretary Michael Gove for having a ‘hunch’ approach to dictating education policy, not least the changes to GCSE which have their realisation in so many ways announced tomorrow. I have no particular view on the EPI, but it does seem to be an independent, evidenced-based rather than party-political or similar organisation.

But this comment attributed to Laws is nonetheless a soundbite nothingness, apart from the – annual again – insult it delivers to students who have worked hard to achieve what they can, especially considering the pressures they are under from schools to ‘perform’ for all the wrong reasons [target achievement and consequent external school judgement]. This is the diminishing impact of such observations as an overall comment and summation.

More critically, I don’t quite understand the notion that attaining grade C [or similar] is not an adequate aspiration. Always maintaining my caveat that individual student progress and attainment needs recognition and celebration when it truly reflects her/his best efforts and aptitude, I can accept a thinking about the level of attainment one would like to assist most students – if they can – to achieve. This being the case, how is the grade ‘C’, or whatever its numerical equivalent turns out to be, suddenly no longer an acceptable aspirational goal?

The point is, such grades are criterion referenced. They are described and assessed to those descriptors by their objective criteria. They are skills. For example, in the subject I have assessed for 30 years, GCSE English Literature, the notional grade C and its numerical equivalent is based on objective criteria and its descriptors and this has not changed over those years. And quite rightly so. This is what sustaining a standard actually means.

Therefore, core skills/understanding such as

  • clear understanding of ideas
  • clear, explained response to task/text
  • sustained response
  • understanding of effects of writer’s methods
  • effective use of reference to support

have for all those years been sustained – occasionally varied in some language but meaning the same, and certainly consistent across all examining boards – so how are these no longer an acceptable gauge/measure of desired achievement for most?

Have other nationalities [the anonymous world’s best] become different readers of their literature? Have they become on average more ‘analytical’ and ‘exploratory’ and thus such skills [old grade A/new Level 6 descriptors] the new aspirational norm?

That’s nonsense. And this could now become a more complex analysis of grading, descriptors and very pertinently grade-boundary adjustments in relation to tomorrow’s GCSE grade details, but the point is this is precisely why Laws’ apparent soundbite of not an adequate aspiration is meaningless and ultimately just another annual knock-back to students, their teachers and the examiners who have this year worked so hard to sustain standards with a history of actual value and worth.


Total Eclipse in Nebraska

I think writing my review [previous post] got me tuned in to the reality of today’s total eclipse of the sun in the USA, but also nostalgic for its trajectory across my birth state of Nebraska. I’ve been watching CNN coverage, first of Oregon where in fact my immediate American family all now live – and I’ve just seen on Facebook how some have been watching it all in Medford and Portland – and the following images from the TV screen are a visual account of my transatlantic visitation to the Midwest.

Just a quick comment: astronaut Chris Hadfield’s guest commentary has been impressive for his articulate summation and humane grasp of the experience of viewing a total eclipse,





Scar by Carrie Etter – Review


It is timely that the natural phenomena of today’s complete solar eclipse of the sun in America takes an ‘ideal-view’ trajectory across the states of Nebraska and Illinois, for reasons that will be clear and relevant in a moment.

The linear path across the states wherein you would have the best view is both south of Omaha, the place of my birth, and Normal, the place of Carrie Etter’s: these two landmarks – for the sake of this review – on a reasonably close horizontal plane, interestingly.

The link? I had originally made a seemingly superficial decision to buy and read Etter’s poetry chapbook Scar because she is a fellow Midwest American ex-pat living in England, and the sample of work I saw from the book had that freedom of form – not experimental as such – which I so often enjoy in reading poetry. That her theme was exploring the effects of climate change on her hometown roots was of interest, partly for a shared environmental concern, but also because of my anticipating that writer’s nostalgic referencing of and concern for her origins with which I share a regular and profound personal preoccupation for my own.

In all respects, my instinct for seeking out Scar has proved a sound one, whatever the reasons. Further made relevant by President Trump’s arrogant and dumb decision to withdraw America from the Paris Climate Accord, the opening has on its second page a now ironic reference to


and one can see immediately how that use of line space [‘freedom of form’] is used purposefully to draw the reader’s attention to and across the gradations of revelation and predicted impacts – ending on the page as it does with the simple but heartfelt lament for her home state [and of course everywhere else].

Further references strike a familiar, nostalgic chord:


and the apparently casual sprawl of language and lines belies the serious reality where comfortable notions of safety from ‘more tornadoes’ are naïve as well as dismissive, for example, of those without and, again ironically, especially those ‘trailer-home dwellers’, Trump’s notional support base – excusing the stereotype but acknowledging a complex socio-economic factor.

I suppose the ‘superficial’ connection does get its fuel when such references do remind of the extreme weather and tornadoes of my childhood: living in Norfolk I remember once in 1965 when summer hail stripped virtually the entire town’s trees of their leaves producing an immediate winter landscape; on another occasion when cowering in my basement during a tornado warning [the town siren blares] a tree was blown down in the garden and crushed my boyhood swing-set.

And yes, there is a normality to these weather conditions, Norfolk and also Omaha in a geographical cyclonic zone, and any google search will reveal other continued, contemporary storm disasters – e.g. the Norfolk hail storm of 2014 – but the warning point highlighted in Etter’s poem is there will over coming years be much more of this.

The point is also how the warning recognises the relativity, but addresses America’s dangerous complacence, one again exemplified in Trump’s stupidity,


It is a global climate problem [that platitude directed at the Donalds of the world].

One of the most powerful poems is a remembrance from Etter as a young girl of nine or ten in the midst of a blizzard, her father on the CB radio trying to find the whereabouts of someone – maybe a family member – and the palpable fear recalled is also a foretelling of further worse fears in a future of climate change unchecked.

There is an emotive crescendo as the poems and their recalled/imagined stories continue, and it is genuinely sensitive, that seemingly simple arrangement of lines with their paces and pauses and projections avoiding the melodrama of a more blatant poetic diatribe but instead more disturbing in the building outlining of the whole.

Like the puissance of a memorable short story, this poem is a one-sitting read and all the more impactful for that. You will return because it is also crafted to endear as well as inform, and that is its literary significance.

In conclusion, another incidental, surprise connection for me was reading the chapbook’s ‘i.m.’ to Peter Reading, my favourite contemporary British poet, and another writer deeply concerned with the environment and its impact on us culturally as much as in the reality of its physicality.  But even stripping away all of this personal linkage, this is a book I do recommend highly for its crafting and its meanings.