Never Mind Anti Bullying Week – What About Anti Assessment Week? By Sean Williams

The violence in assessment: excellence,  conformity and uniformity vs The care in appreciation: development, plurality and difference  

Never mind anti bullying week   –  what about a week in our schools free of all assessment, judgement, and criticism?

Is the use of assessment in schools contributing to the kind of culture that with undue force, violently  ‘dis’ appoints, ‘dis’ members and ‘dis’ regulates our children?   Is the ever competitive, reductionistic materialistic view of our schools leading to a loss of love and life in our staff and systems?

However well mapped the curriculum, however intricately woven the threads, vertically, horizontally and diagonally, where each and every intersection creates a pearl –  a pearl full of potential to know more, remember more and do more, are the current ‘no excuses’ assessments of a child’s performance  creating such crippling shame,  that our schools drive for excellence, opportunity for all and shared values is shaming and denying rather than appreciating and developing our young people.

An alliance which doesn’t leave much room for real self esteem, real regard and real respect for the other.

In their search for ‘outstanding’ rather than good enough are our most  ‘successful Multi Academy Trusts breeding the kind of ‘disappointment’ that leads to systemic bullying, scapegoating, feelings of intolerance, attacks on self, attacks on difference, even hatred?

It might make sense to consider this carefully given the well documented mental health and social difficulties so many of our population are experiencing……

Let’s consider that there is a  tyrant  furtively lurking  in our schools.

Not a pupil.

Not an adult.

Not a role nor a system.

This tyranny is  written, almost imperceptibly in our values.

Its Observed  in in the ‘way’ we drive standards and improvement.

Hidden in plain sight in our mantras espousing opportunity for all.

So called excellence.

What if the shadow side of ambition, excellence, opportunity, uniformity and conformity leads so many of our children and school communities, even the ones who do apparently ‘well’ to experience feelings of acute and chronic shame.





What if the scale,  frequency and intensity of this extended experience of judgement   in some way contributes to the mental health and anxiety pandemic in our schools.

What if this kind of  violence through assessment  creates  the kind of ‘gap’ in connection with self, other and the world  that brings about individual, social and economic collapse.     Could this be redefined as bullying?

If so, with this insight what can we do?

As a head in Alternative Provision and having worked and lead in the primary and secondary sectors, it is plain to me that many many staff and pupils are crippled, numbed and terrified of being judged, criticised and condemned in school –  either internally through their own highly developed  self critic,   or externally by their peers, managers and quality assurance systems.

The system we have created to ‘measure’ progress, to create ambition and paradoxically  safeguard the conditions for growth and development, by its very nature restrains and constrains the very development it is trying to measure.  I belive this is  because it is based on shame.  Filling gaps.

Such Gaps  cannot be filled with knowledge or success.  Gaps that cannot be outsmarted or woven with cognitive facts or gilded with knowledge, understanding and doing. These gaps can only  be filled with care, attention, appreciation, love.  Filled through processing, relating and a rich web of interconnections, they build a shared  humanity.

And yet, the gaze in schools and the gaze upon schools in terms of our ‘performance’ both staff and pupils is  becoming increasingly intimidating for all involved.

We are encouraged to self reflect, but this kind of ‘reflection’ , without compassion, without context is nothing more than self harm.  Mortifying. Soul destroying. Outrageous. Depressing.

Our assessment system constantly hold a  threatening mirror that reflects back lack, not being quite there, not being nearly enough –  its like living with a violent and dangerous critic every day.

Despite the narrative in the education system about development, improvement, ambition, the  kind of gaze we are talking about mortifies, freezes – closes boundaries to new information, learning, exploration and opportunity.  It closes boundaries to difference, new experience and appreciation.

It leaves people alone. Intimidated, bullied, minimised, dismissed. Stuck in a cycle of repetition and compulsion. It kills the only source of real development. Creativity.

Could this kind of gaze be redefined as traumatising – ?

If so, what can we do with this insight?

Let’s start by redefining Assessment and changing the way we look….

The word Assess is derived from the Latin which meaning  to sit down with. This conjures images very different from the violent and threatening gaze   I have described above.

Images and feelings of being joined,  being understood and being appreciated arise. A sense of gratitude and mutual respect for the power of the pupil teacher relationship grows.

Further more, feeling joined, appreciated, held, opens boundaries to difference and the unknown, reduces anxiety and feelings of depression  –  which is surely the place to start from if our children are to go out in the world able to love more, participate in the world and importantly have the courage to fight for what is  important.  This is the ambition that OFSTED are talking about, right?  Minds that are curious.  Minds that can explore and create.

This kind of appreciative gaze improves our capacity to sit down with ourselves, sit down with our children, our friends and our family.  It improves our capacity to relate, to  pay ourselves and each other  attention.  An attention  that  cares.  An attention that opens boundaries within minds to explore the joys of life,  whether it be in the curriculum, the differences and similarities of the other or exploring the most hurt parts of ourselves.  That feels like progress to me.

In the service of creating a culture that holds and sustains life, safeguarding the conditions for growth and development for all, we have experiences like Anti bullying week.

One kind word is the mantra for this years campaign.

I have another idea.  Let’s start with one kind  gaze. Now we know more, we can remember more and maybe be more. Bring on anti Assessment week.


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