Analysis: 'Noticing' not just 'seeing' every pupil

Is a pupil, tired, hungry or wearing a dirty shirt? Noticing exactly what is going on with individual children is a key requirement of good teaching and in these challenging times it is more important than ever.

Dr Sue Allingham

Before the full force of Covid-19 hit the UK, there were discussions on social media about how teaching and learning can take place while schools and settings are shut. The first update is pertinent here.

Early years apps approved to help families kick start learning at home (DfE)

I have discussed the development of these ‘apps’ in a previous update when the idea was first proposed. I was reassured that Professor Jackie Marsh was to be part of the panel developing them. There are now six apps to help with reading, writing and speaking. It is a shame that the general title for these is ‘Hungry Little Minds’, when real hunger is such an issue, and that each app has a slightly awkward name. Particularly tricky for me is ‘Teach Your Monster to Read’. We are too often guilty of inappropriately labelling children and families and this feels like one such instance.

Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, is quoted as saying –

‘The first few years of a child's life are crucial in equipping them with the skills needed for the classroom, and we are working with families to make it easier to weave early learning into daily activities.

I'll come back to this comment further on.

With this in mind, the next headline makes interesting reading.

14 per cent of parents say school must teach children to talk (TES)

Apparently – ‘One in seven parents believes schools and childminders are responsible for children learning to speak, survey shows’. I am always wary of statistics, and it isn't clear how many parents were interviewed or what they were asked. But this is an interesting article because, it reads as if all parents were surveyed. As I said earlier, I'm very wary of the labels that we can be so quick to attribute to the families we work with. Interpretations of this survey may well lead to parents being ‘blamed’ and judgements being made before individual circumstances are known.

I suppose the survey feeds well into the current government agenda, so it is no surprise to read that –

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: ‘A child's early education is crucial to their future success and our research shows that young children, especially the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, benefit from an early start to learning.’

So let's tie that back to the apps discussed above. If 14 per cent of parents really believe that school is where children learn to speak, will they use the apps? Using this thinking it would suggest not. However, the poll also states –

‘…that most young children – 81 per cent – had used an app on a smartphone or tablet in the past six months, with 75 per cent using a developmental or educational app’.

So what are we to believe?

And that leads into the subject that is dominating the headlines as I write – ‘baseline assessment’. It is no secret that the proposed method of ‘assessment’, which was trialled last year, has not been universally well received. Having seen the materials and spoken to several teachers who piloted it I can understand why. I am deliberately putting the word ‘baseline’ in inverted commas as the proposed model is less an assessment and more a test that captures how the child is feeling at one point in time. This argument has been well rehearsed, but is now coming to the forefront again as the Department for Education is moving ahead with signing people up to start the ‘assessment’ in September.

DfE claims trial shows baseline is accurate, and confirms September roll-out (Schools Week)

As I write, I am listening to a webinar from Foundation Years on the Reception Baseline Assessment, or RBA as it now seems to be known (found at

It is an interesting listen as it describes the stages that the RBA has been through to get to where it is now. The premise is reiterated that the results of the Primary Assessment Consultation gave the evidence that the RBA would be welcome and useful. As has been discussed before in these updates, this is not strictly true. It is also argued that there is a need for a consistent type of ‘assessment’ across the country, so observational assessment is not reliable.

It is clear that the significant research against this type of test has been ignored. Most particularly this includes the report A Baseline Without Basis – The Validity and Utility of the Proposed Reception Baseline Assessment in England 2018 .

Early Education also supports this with its article ‘DfE decision to press on with Reception baseline’ is fundamentally flawed: here's why’.

The same week as the DfE announcement was made the National Education Union (NEU) published a major piece of research that again refutes the DfE decision. The cover of which contains the statement ‘I can't read… I don't know… I can't do it… What does that mean? When can I go? Can I play yet?’ This is a sad indictment of what is happening and gleaned from its survey of 1,285 schools and six case studies, where only three per cent of teachers felt the RBA was a positive thing.

NEU-commissioned research shows lack of trust in baseline tests

Despite this article on the Education Executive website flagging up problems with RBA based on NEU research, the TES quotes the Secretary of State as saying that ‘great’ teachers back baseline by ‘instinct’

Again, so what do we believe?

Let's finish on how we can make a real difference for the children in our schools

Radical vision that kept troubled children in school — and cut (The Standard)

As reported in this article the vision of a director of education in Glasgow resulted in a child centred and effective approach to behaviour –

‘A child's behaviour is due to life experience and since they don't choose their life experience, our job is to give them strategies to cope instead of sending them away to be somebody else's problem.’

So let's reflect on that statement from Gavin Williamson again –

‘The first few years of a child's life are crucial in equipping them with the skills needed for the classroom, and we are working with families to make it easier to weave early learning into daily activities’.

And then his comment about ‘great’ teachers agreeing with RBA. What is missing here? The child and family. The final headline in TES addresses exactly that –

‘Teaching isn't about “vision” – it's about seeing is a pupil tired? Or hungry? Or wearing a dirty shirt?’

The author writes – ‘…teaching is not about seeing – it's about noticing. The greatest teachers are the ones who don't just see the children and the scheme of work and the hoops through which everyone is being asked to jump’.

That's what makes a great teacher.

Links to articles and reports

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