Teachers are to be balloted on whether they are going to prepare pupils for the national Key Stage tests next year.
The teachers have proposed boycotting the tests this year in an effort to get them abolished, however they have now come up with this radical new method, whereby instead of spending the greater part of Year 6 priming the kids in their charge to excel at stupid questions for four days in May, they will actually teach, or try to, the children something that might be relevant to their forthcoming secondary education, reading words with more than one syllable or stringing a co-herent sentence together for instance.
Well pardon me, but wasn’t that what they were meant to do in the first place?
When the Key Stage tests were introduced they were meant to show where a child was at, at a certain point in their education.
It was something that was supposed to be a snapshot of a child’s progress, but standardised across the country, so parents and schools could tell where there children were compared to their peers nationally.
Not a lot wrong with that ideal really. I have met many parents who think that an average child is a budding genius because they can tie their shoelaces at five; or recite a list of the world’s highest mountains, with no idea of just how high 27,000 feet might be or what continent or country one might find these mountains; or even read Shakespeare but with no understanding of what he is on about, and let’s face it, there’s plenty of adults who have no idea what Shakespeare is on about.
Likewise there are the parents that worry he might be a little slow as he struggles with long multiplication and he’s seven and a half.
So having a set of skills that a child should be able to achieve is not necessarily a bad thing, perhaps a little sad that we can’t just let the kids develop at their own rate and with whatever interests them most, but if it is what people think they need then fair enough, that is the way the world tends to be at the moment.
Even in sports everything is broken down into minutely incremental acievements, so that the kids can be seen to be progressing.
It used to be that the first award possible to get a swimming certificate for was a width of the pool, a distance of 8 yards at least, but now, they can even get badges when they are babies. The pre-school children I teach get their first badge for getting in the water, moving along holding the rail, wetting their faces and getting out. There are a further 13 badges before the child is deemed able to swim confidently 5 metres on their front and two metres on their back. The scheme rewards all sorts of activities such as blowing bubbles, splashing their feet, floating with armbands on, putting their faces in the water, in fact all the sorts of thing that kids do in the water when left to their own devices. But now it’s all micro-managed.
And it’s the same in schools. Once upon a time you would expect that your child would bring home progressively harder reading books and maths questions. They would start counting beans and then learn to use the abstract concept of numerals and so on and so forth, before you knew it they were talking about percentages and compound interest that probably left their parents flummoxed.
But then people wanted to know what was normal or reasonable for a child to do at a certain age and all the little steps were identified and earmarked with a period when they ought to be achieved.
After that, well you have to check that the kids are actually achieving don’t you?
Hence national testing, designed so the teachers couldn’t set questions they knew their pupils could answer – gosh teachers wouldn’t do that would they? Mmmm yes.
And the teachers didn’t like it, they didn’t like it one little bit.
Because where it is perfectly reasonable to expect that a child at a certain age can write structured sentences using capital letters and full stops and spelling correctly, the great emphasis on not stifling creativity meant that many children couldn’t do these things, because they had never had their work corrected from that point of view and in many cases to anyone not experienced in deciphering the random phonic combinations of letters, with little or no punctuation, the “fantastic story Liam, you realy build up a sense of pace…” was just pure gibberish.
But then things got even worse because the Government decided to use the results to say how good or bad a school was and league tables were drawn up, ranking schools in Education Authorities by how many pupils achieved the desired level in Maths, English and Science.
Of course this system was flawed. If a bright kid arrived in year 3 – 1st year junior school – with a level 3 (above average) in all three subjects and left four years later with a level 4 (average) he hadn’t progressed as well as would be expected.
However if a kid came in at W (working towards level 1, literally below the bottom benchline for 7 year olds) and left with a level 4, he’d obviously made brilliant progress.
But the teachers failed to spot this argument and became intent on teaching to the test. First it was just a week or two, then it became a half term and gradually as they tried to prep their pupils to a state of near perfection it took up hours upon hours of lesson time.
And then the govermnent dealt another blow.
Education, education education!
Targets were set.
By 2002 Tony Blair wanted 78% of children to achieve level 4 in Maths and English and something like 80% of children to acieve level 4 in science.
After initial improvements the government realised that even with making their test simpler their targets would still not be met.
With the wilyness of Baldric they came up with a cunning plan, they would pay schools extra money so they could coach those kids who were just below the expected level in a bid to boost them up to level 4.
The extra classes were supposed to be extra curricular, but some teachers weren’t prepared to put in the extra time and objected to other teachers getting the extra money. Many schools started having booster classes within ordinary lessons, with small groups taken out for extra or intensive coaching.
And so the original idea was lost in the desire of the grown ups, both teachers and government, not to be seen to fail, irrespective of the damage done to the children they were all supposed to be so concerned about helping.
And the poor kids have had to put up with this.
The teaching profession and the educationalists have both had thier own interests at heart and forgotten about what they were there for.
A generation of kids have had their education blighted by the self serving interests of those who were meant to help and inspire them.
The best thing that could happen is for the teachers not to prepare the children for the tests, then perhaps the public could see where all the micro-managing of the National Curriculum has got them, and perhaps make a point of telling whoever leads the next government that it should leave teaching to the likes of Chris Woodhead (perhaps not popular amongst teachers because he was so right) and forget about trying to win votes with phony achievements.
The comments in this thread prompted Little Nicky to take a look at an article in The Times which is referred to several times. Reading that article in turn inspired a Boggart Blog post. Well it is a while (three days at least) since we gave education the Boggart Blog treatment. Take a look at How Shite Are SATS