It’s the start of a new term and with the onset of the summer season there comes the inevitable testing, ranking and report-writing.
Stressed young people, exhausted teachers, concerned managers, perplexed parents – all affected by this arduous season of accountability.
An entire year of learning – assessed in a few hours?
Is it really too much to ask for our curriculum to be focused on the needs of the child rather than determined by a prescribed exam, where children begin to feel as though they’ve wasted time learning certain things if they don’t appear on the final test paper?
Aren’t our children entitled to learn all year round? Aren’t they entitled to think that anything they learn is important, regardless of whether it is tested or not?
(NB: US equivalent of traditional three-term system)
The Secret Teacher in the Guardian this week thinks the system is okay – that children need to be tested because it’s good for them. It gives them grit, determination. Apparently most children like being graded. They enjoy the competition. They like to “step up to the plate and deliver”!
Read it in full but if time is pressing, with those reports to write, here’s a couple of paragraphs to consider.
I happen to believe that tests and exams are good for children for a number of reasons. At certain times in our lives, we are required to step up to the plate and deliver. We can practise, we can prepare, we can lose sleep the night before, but at some point we have to achieve what we are capable of. Want a job? Do the interview. Want to drive? Take the test. Want to sell your product? Deliver the pitch. No matter our vocation, age or background, at a certain point we all have to be able to take and pass a test. So why should we shelter children from this experience? How are we preparing them for the world if we never subject them to it?
Tests and exams give children something to work towards. As a year 6 teacher, part of my job is to prepare children for their SATs exams in May. Some argue that these exams are just a measure by which the school is judged and that, because the children’s performance doesn’t contribute toward their transition to secondary school, the tests are pointless. I disagree. While achieving good SATs results is important to the school (it is a crucial factor in how a school is judged), I see them as a culmination of everything the children have learned since they were seven. It is a major milestone in their lives and on our class calendar – it is a valuable opportunity to prove how hard they have worked and how much they have learned.
The young people that this teacher is talking about are eleven years of age. They’re CHILDREN, for f…goodness sake!
Yes, we should also be helping them to develop resilience and all manner of skills to cope with all that life might throw at them but do we really need to create a false environment of competition in order to do so?
No, we can do that throughout their learning and throughout their schooling, and indeed in dedicated PSHE lessons without an exam at the end to see if they’ve passed the life-preparation test.
Here’s a few other concerns with this Secret Teacher’s thoughts.
“Tests and exams give children something to work towards”
Really? This is the single thing that motivates children to learn? How about a greater ambition “to work towards” like enjoying childhood, learning to learn, energising their minds for learning. Isn’t that something to “work towards”?
“How are we preparing them for the world if we never subject them to it?”
“As a year 6 teacher, part of my job is to prepare children for their SATs exams in May.”
Prepare them. Oh yes, we need to prepare children for their SATs. We need to prepare children for secondary school. We need to prepare them for work. We need to prepare them for adult life, and whilst we are doing all of this preparation, we forget to look up and see the child in front of us – a child, with the needs and desires of childhood.
Here’s a thought. How much more of the other part of your job could be achieved if the preoccupation of SATs was no longer present? What if we gave as much value to the personal, social and emotional development of a child? If we concentrated on this, perhaps the world for which we are “preparing” them might not exist. Perhaps it could be a more tolerant, less competitive, calmer place to live if we value the development of empathy as much as the “preparation” for exams.
“Some argue that these exams are just a measure by which the school is judged and that, because the children’s performance doesn’t contribute toward their transition to secondary school, the tests are pointless.”
Some argue that because that is precisely what SATs are for; an irrelevance for secondary transition with their pure “purpose” being to grade a school in a half-truth of league tables – ones that rarely explain the entire story of a school. The tests are pointless. The real assessment of an eleven year olds ability is what happens on a day-to-day basis. We strongly suspect that every Year Six teacher worth their salt would be able to predict precise levels for their children without these tests. So, to put it bluntly, what is the point of the SATs?
“While achieving good SATs results is important to the school (it is a crucial factor in how a school is judged)…….”
Let’s be honest, it’s the only factor in how a school is judged. Yes, there are four categories of judgement in Ofsted, but if the rate of progress and attainment is ‘unsatisfactory’, then the big Special Measures judgement will swiftly follow.
“I see them [SATs] as a culmination of everything the children have learned since they were seven. It is a major milestone in their lives and on our class calendar – it is a valuable opportunity to prove how hard they have worked and how much they have learned.”
Everything they have learned since they were seven???
So anything that is not tested in an English, Maths and Science paper is irrelevant?
So a child can only “prove” how hard they’ve worked and how much they’ve learned by sitting a series of test on mornings in the second week of May?
The more we read of this, the more we weep.
The article continues with further incredible statements.
“[SATs] they keep us honest.” – Without tests, we are prone to lie about our children’s progress!
“Almost all my children enjoy taking tests” – And some of them don’t. Some are intimidated. Some dread “result” day because it makes them feel massively inferior. Remember, these are 11 years old.
“Some argue that the low-achieving children in the class will always feel dejected witnessing the cheers of high-achieving peers. – Er, yes! And without decent PSHE lessons and a focus on personal and social development, then that feeling of dejection will be exacerbated.
“That’s because we need to place more value on progress rather than attainment.” – Finally – a statement with which we can agree!
Yes, we need to value progress rather than attainment. The outcome of this would be that we might concentrate on learning throughout the year, giving almost three or four months more of teaching and learning. We would value all types of learning too, not just the learning of facts ready to regurgitate. We might value a child’s individual writing voice rather than the one they have to learn to pass exams. We might even allow young people to read books of their choice rather than having insufficient time for them to do so. We might learn to see the individual child as a unique person in their own right rather than a figure or a grade on a tick sheet of artificial outcomes.
The saddest thing about this article, however, is the extent of indoctrination that oozes out of every sentence. This teacher has probably never experienced the flexibility of a life without SATs or the National Curriculum. As we’ve said before, we’re not advocating anarchy. A national curriculum framework is a good idea. Compliance to it is restrictive and ignorant of the needs of all children.
Assessment is absolutely vital to good teaching. Planning next steps for learning couldn’t happen without it. The irony is that adherence to the National Curriculum has all too frequently disabled a teacher’s natural inclination to plan more appropriate and timely steps for individual children because there’s a whole load of prescribed stuff to get through before the end of the Spring term.
The children in this teacher’s class are also indoctrinated. They are constantly told how important their SATs are. They are programmed to work through an imposed curriculum. They are constantly told that they need to prepare for this and that.
The truth is that our entire system needs to change and the teaching and learning that we all value in the final month of the academic year should be what drives our planning for the entire year.