Monthly Archives: April 2010

Assessment for who?

The proposed SATs boycott throws up once more the arguments for and against this form of assessment.
Many in education will tell you that the current SATs process is more about school accountablilty to government than it is to parents and children. How can an externally marked set of 45 minutes (and shorter) tests be of more value than the professional judgement and ongoing assessments of the teachers who work with those being tested everyday?

One of the major conerns with the current system is the public naming and shaming of schools through the publication of crude and potentially humiliating ‘League Tables’. Few would argue that it it important for children and parents to have some form of reported level at the end of their time in primary school but the current system puts so much stress and worry on the shoulders of the nation’s 11 year olds it’s no surprise that in some quarters they are being reported as less happy than their peers around the world. When neighbouring schools in Scotland and Wales don’t have this regime, it does seen odd that the English Education system still demands it. Indeed Key Stage 1 SATs are now internally marked and the government overnight, got rid of Key Stage 3 SATs, leaving one to wonder why Y2 and Y9 teachers appear to be trusted to assess students internally but not Y6 staff!

So, the answer remains unclear.   Assessement for who?

Students are far better served by accurate teacher assessements based on knowing each individually and using informed judgements alongside internal summative and formative evidence. The use of such a range of information negates the possibility of students having an ‘off day” and seriously damaging their chances with a misleading and inaccurate result.

Parents want to an accurate picture of their children’s attainment and how they can improve and build on this.

Staff don’t want to spend weeks and months narrowing the curriculum down to drilling for exams that allow others to judge their performance and ability in the classoom. They want to give children creative, exciting learning opportunities – this obviously doesn’t sit well with the SATs regime.

Schools don’t want to be unfairly judged against other schools based on a questionable set of data that is constantly plagued with inaccuracies and marking fiascoes.  Schools want collaboration, not competition and the pitting of one against the other through misleading League Tables and crude positions.

Local Authorities would also surely wlecome a reporting system that was accurate and enabled them to support local need ensuring all children left primary school with a love of learning, an understaning where they are and what they need to do to improve.

High schools would welcome the opportunity to work with primary colleagues to ensure tansition was as smooth as possible. This surely means getting together over assessments to unpick the reality of students ability over the snapshots currently provided through extenal national assessments.

It’s hard to find an argument in favour of the current system, it only appears to be useful as a political tool where figures can be used to support claims of success due to government intervention here, failure due to not following government intervention there.   It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of weeks.   The main three parties believe education is a potential vote winner – here’s a great chance to make a real difference to schools, children and families.


Letting go of the reigns – freedom to learn

Our children are wired up differently.   I remember getting new ‘hardware’ at home and having to read through the instructions before switching on!   I remember my dad doing the same.   My children think it’s very strange to approach technology in a linear way.   They approach it from a completely different view point.   They explore, question, play, find out, analyse, pull apart and put back together but they don’t follow numbered instructions to learn how to do anything.   Any instructions are usually thrown out with the packaging!    Is this method of working utilised in schools? I wonder…
I remember that most of my learning in school was linear, it had a clear beginning and end.   You started at the top and finished at the bottom.   Writing is a good example of how our thoughts and presentation were shaped by such methods.   You had to get your head round each sentence, paragraph, section in order, one at a time – that’s how I remember being taught.   With word processing children can dip in and out, they can allow their thoughts to wander around a subject, writing a bit here and a bit there.  Changing ideas as they go.   How different to the straight line schools followed in times gone by.
I recently took a group of children from school to an evening performance at the theatre.   While we were waiting for the show to start one of them asked me if they could have a go on my phone.   I passed it to her and within a couple of minutes she had handed it back to me with a series of morphed photographic images playing across the small screen.   ‘That’s great!’ I exclaimed.   “Have you got this phone as well?’ ‘No’ she replied, “I just had a play!’   My youngest son made animations on my old phone when he was seven using plasticine, flip books and playmobile (a creative freedom to learn not permitted in school) he will tell you now at 11, that his real learning begins when he walks through the door at home.

At Hawes Side we try to make the most of the children’s interests, creativity and naturally inquisitive nature.   Pupil forums such as the Teaching and Learning group and the Web 2.0 group regularly try out technology and new approaches to learning; we encourage them to explore and experiment (not that they need encouraging!) Their findings always amaze me and the way they approach their learning shows just how much things have changed from yesteryear.

Learning, at it most excting is about exploration.   There are more opportunities today to  exploit such an approach than ever before.   We need to trust children, to let go and give them the freedom to learn and discover things in their own way.   We may just be surprised by the results!

We are not building robots pt 2

A curriculum – for who?

Could it be that the political parties are beginning to realise that a central prescription will only suit a certain number? Children learn in many different ways, at different rates and at different times. There was a time in the not too distant past when you could be pretty sure that if you were in a certain year group at certain term in the school year – you would be doing the same thing as many of your peers across the country!   What was the reason for this?   Accountability is high in England because our schools have more autonomy than most, but a centrally prescribed and dictated curriculum was only ever going to serve central requirements, not those of individual schools and, most importantly, children.   Although the new primary curriculum looks dead in the water it has, along with the Alexander report, opened up the debate.   As a profession it is important that we engage in dialogue around curriculum design, as it is central to all we do in schools.   It is great to hear people talking about ‘new freedoms’ to deliver a more relevant and tailored curriculum that enables schools to meet their own idiosyncratic needs, but there are also some core values that I don’t think anyone would contest.

Both the Cambridge Review and the Rose Report are clear in their desire for young people to become successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens who enjoy their learning, make progress and achieve.   They both see these essentials as driving the curriculum rather than following it.

The Cambridge Primary Review, the first comprehensive report on primary education since Plowden in 1967 challenges a lot of the prevailing assumptions about what schools should be delivering. The Rose Report, which had a much narrower brief, also favours a less prescriptive approach, allowing schools more control over what their curriculum looks like. It’s heartening news building on what both reports have seen happening in pockets up and down the country and globally.

Politicians have seen that this ‘heart of the education process’ has suffered from years of excessive micro-management from the centre.   Whatever the outcomes of the up and coming elections, and whatever happens to the Rose Report and the Alexander Review, it is good to see curriculum design having a good airing, being discussed and debated.   Let’s hope that whoever has the final say remembers whose curriculum and what it’s core purpose is.

We are not building robots

Primary education is about children’s learning and development. There has been a sense in government that children can all learn the same thing at the same time. That grouping children by age in classes of 30 plus will reap dividends. As anyone in education will tell you smaller classes would allow more understanding of individual needs to develop, better relationships to grow and more children to succeed. All the money the government is pouring into 1:1 tutoring would be better spent on reducing class size. As long as we continue to operate in such large groups the silent majority will remain unheard.

Most teachers would argue that the reduced class sizes in foundation and key stage 1 (to a maximum of 30) could do with being reduced further. Some say the gains made by the current reduction are quickly lost as children move into larger junior classes. Primary education is about so much more than a narrow set of results and statistical data, it is about quality relationships, pastoral support and genuine understanding of children, their social, emotional and physical needs as well as their academic ones. Morally we know that class sizes have a huge impact on all of this but it is a costly undertaking to move to what we know is right.