Tuesday, September 12, 2006
First staff meeting back and the reality check hits me straight in the mouth like a ‘Kirkby Kiss’. Most staff meetings are so dull and drear – planning, assessment, more planning, graphs, chartszzzzzzzz, that I mentally switch off, dream about holidays, sex, Everton’s next game, or silently hum Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ album. This one is different, this year we’re all having A3 laminated sheets in every classroom with targets for writing, reading, calculation and problem solving. Then the final straw, tests every half term with levels and results for every child all kept on a spreadsheet by the headteacher. ‘There is a certain time to rage’. This is my line in the sand, thus far and no further. Yes, there are moments of bleak despair and utter hopelessness and times when you are staring into the vortex of a black hole that is consuming light, matter and optimism. The only glimmer in the darkness is Everton’s victory in the derby game.
Amongst the staff I’m a lone voice, I’ll tell you why, staff come under the following categories-
NQTs – One factor not appreciated is the baleful influence of Ofsted in teacher training colleges, students disappear under an avalanche of planning, assessment and evaluations, no time to think, ponder or muse about alternatives. There’s one correct way to teach and for children to learn. In the beginning there was Woodhead. Anyway don’t rock the boat there’s the induction year to get through.
Waiting for retirement – Been there done it, got the T-shirt, survived Ofsted, still paying the mortgage, waiting for the day when the kids finish university and they can disappear into the sunset, keep your head down.
Management conscripts – OK we do it in the class any potential troublemaker, make them the milk monitor and see if some responsibility will change their attitude. The difference is that they are children, why is it that all critical faculties seem to wither and atrophy once staff get that co-ordinator badge?
Headteachers – under pressure from the LEA consultants and Ofsted for results, results, results. No wonder in the latest GTC survey only 4% of teachers wanted to be a headteacher in 5 years time. Of course some of them disagree with the system they’re “only following orders” – interestingly the Nuremberg Trials didn’t buy that excuse.
I’m going to say my piece at the next staff meeting, with a little help from the articles in the TES. Half termly tests? Here are my arguments in brief.
· Teachers will teach to test
· It will narrow the curriculum, 50% of teaching is already consigned to Maths and English
· For our school and our children in particular testing reinforces failure
· High stakes testing is extremely stressful for children
· Time spent testing is time children are not learning anything new
· If a child leaves school at 18 it is estimated they will have taken over 100 exams and spent one year of their school life revising or sitting exams and we want to add to that
· The Key Stage 2 writing test does not develop children as writers, here’s a picture write a story about it… the Children’s Laureate Michael Morpugo blanched at this, writers need time to reflect, re-draft and revise
· Teacher assessment is most effective, high stakes formal testing leads to grade inflation
· Testing only assesses a narrow range of skills, Durham University showed a significant decline over 20 years in children’s conceptual thinking skills
· Eventually we’ll end up with the nonsense from America where 40% of education authorities have cancelled elementary school playtimes to boost results
I’m not saying our teachers are bad people, just that they have lost their way, lost sight of why they came into teaching in the first place. Trying to satisfy Ofsted, desperate to climb up the league tables, they’ve become slaves to the juggernaut that crushes children. I can’t begin to express the depth of my opposition if my child were in a school with this level of testing I would take them out. Sod worrying about the publication date for my book this is my line in the sand, I can’t stay silent over high stakes half termly tests. The only way for evil to triumph is for good people to remain silent.