Monday, April 02, 2007

Child Cruelty?

There’s an interesting debate in the TES Primary Staffroom about SATs revision at Easter. “Pilko” has posted to say that her daughter was given a three-inch high pile of worksheets. The letter from the school explained that this was “voluntary”, should “allay anxiety about SATs” and would only take 60 minutes a day. To compound it all they asked for a £2 “donation”. Our intrepid correspondent fired off a letter of complaint, much to their annoyance. I think I might have been tempted to suggest which orifice they could place their three inches of worksheets – rolled up of course.

Other contributors reported that sad, no-life-outside-of-teaching, automatons were volunteering to take Saturday morning or Easter holiday revision classes.

My immediate reaction is, “what the hell are we doing to our children?” Or see the Unicef report for more details – the unhappiest children in the western world.

‘The Independent’ quoted Mary Bousted the leader of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (normally the most somnambulant of unions) on SATs,

“The consequences are catastrophic. They lead to a period of exhaustion, not only for the teacher, but also for the pupils who are route-marched through to level 4. We know that real learning does not take place in boot camp year six classes.”

Dr Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, has also argued that the national end-of-year tests should be replaced by testing of a sample of pupils. Professor David Hargreaves, a member of a Government appointed inquiry team, has criticised ministers for neglecting one of its recommendations - that there should be a top-level investigation reporting by September into what forms of assessment and testing are needed. He accused them of “wilful blindness” in desperately supporting “a discredited system”.

Some of the posts in the TES Staffroom were more concerned about children having fun and learning outside the classroom. They also felt that grinding their children down with test papers was not the way to forge a lasting relationship i.e., “do you remember when you slaved over those test papers?” versus “remember the fun we had on holiday?”

Why should teachers oppose SATs testing?

· High stakes testing are stressful for children and adults
· Constant testing can reinforce failure
· The curriculum becomes narrowed down to English, Maths and Science
· Children don’t actually learn anything new
· Only a narrow range of abilities are tested
· Teachers teach to test
· Teacher assessment is more accurate, tests lead to grade inflation

For children with special education needs the testing week is horrendous and for more able children they are usually bored out of their skulls. Is it any wonder we have one of the worst rates in Europe for children staying in education after 16?

How do you “raise standards”? Even a brain-dead chimp could do it. All you do is focus on the borderline group. In the average class of 30 children you might have – five SEN, five borderline Level 3 to 4, fifteen Level 4 and five at Level 5. If your borderline group don’t perform your pass rate is 66% - result P45 and misery, if they all do well your pass rate goes up to 83% - result the LEA, Ofsted and the DfES are happy, your career path is intact. No prizes for guessing which group get all the attention in Year 6.

I’m sorry but three-inch thick “voluntary” SATs revision worksheets belong in the lower echelons of child cruelty. Oh ye latter-day Gradgrinds hang your heads in shame. Year 6 teachers should print out this quote and display it in a prominent position, “The only way for evil to triumph is for good people to remain silent.”

Here’s my alternative Easter holiday plan for Year 6 – with curriculum links

1) Switch off the television and read them a good story – English
2) Visit a museum – Geography/ History/ Science
3) Go for a walk in the countryside and look at the birds, trees and plants. Paint a picture afterwards – Geography/ Science/ Art
4) Visit relatives, talk about times gone by – History
5) Play board games – Maths
6) Cook something with them – Technology
7) Sing some songs – Music
8) Talk with them – Speaking and Listening
9) Invite their friends round – PSHE
10) Help them to dream dreams

Naturally you will be required to fill in assessment forms on all of these activities, provide a Level Descriptor and set clear targets for improvement which must be displayed in their bedroom. Ofsted may also arrive to undertake a ‘light touch’ inspection. Gotcha! Just a belated April Fool… on the other hand.

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On point 10: My dream is one day our teacher assessment will be robust enough to be trusted...
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