Sunday, May 16, 2010
Peter Preston in 'The Guardian'
Peter Preston attacks the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) boycott of the SATs tests for 11 year-olds (School heads put to the test 4/5/10). He castigates those ‘who anger easily, blow their tops’. As for being ‘fist waving and rowdy’ I can’t think of a more inappropriate description, natural rebels they aren’t, they don’t go around spraying graffiti, listening to garage music, wearing studs in their noses, spiking their hair with gel and spitting in the street. Yet within local communities who do people value and trust? Politicians, businessmen/women, or journalists? The headteacher of the local primary school would come close to the top of any list.
So what has stirred them into action? Is this not a cause for concern when people who have worked for decades educating children are threatening industrial action for the first time in decades? They have a strongly held belief that testing children and publishing results in league tables is wrong.
Just how useful are the dreaded league tables? Well let’s put it this way at the top you will find schools in neat villages and the leafy suburbs. Yet, despite the Herculean efforts of their teachers, languishing at the bottom will be the schools in ‘challenging’ areas, with high numbers of special education needs (SEN) children and Free School Meals. The connection between educational achievement and poverty is well established, however, they will be branded as ‘failing’. Ofsted will merely confirm the results of the tests.
Where has that tunnel vision of targets, targets, targets led us? Stafford Hospital ticked every box, exceeded every target and won the exalted status of foundation hospital. The reality was that patients were left to die, unattended, in draughty corridors. So fixated were the staff on fulfilling targets.
The reality of testing in schools is that teachers use every ruse to reach their target. The standard one is to concentrate on the borderline group in the class. Let me give a concrete example. The teacher arrived in September looked at the Year 6 class – 15 children of middle or higher ability (no problem there they’d easily achieve the magic Level 4) 5 SEN children, with no real hope of a Level 4 and 5 children on the Level 3 and 4 borderlines. Potential SATs score 60%, result special measures and misery. Do not pass ‘Go’, please pick up your P45.
The solution? The teacher spent every morning during the maths and literacy hours working with the borderline group, then there were the ‘Booster Classes’ in the afternoon, the parents were summoned in to school, and there was after school one-to-one tuition. The SEN children were consigned to work with the unqualified teaching assistant, the rest of the class were left to their own devices. All of the borderline children achieved Level 4, SATs score rises to 80%, the teacher is hailed as a genius and the headteacher breathes a huge sigh of relief, career still intact. Testing corrupts everything and everyone and it spreads like a cancer around the blood stream.
Over the past decade a consensus for changes in the testing regime has emerged supported by teachers, headteachers, Royal Societies, academics and authors. Wales and Northern Ireland have abandoned SATs and only the government remains to defend the indefensible.
There is a noble tradition of civil disobedience in the face of tyranny or oppression, we teach about it in schools. The NAHT members are taking action on a matter of principle, they have been threatened with legal action, loss of pay, a threat to their careers and that Ofsted inspectors will demand to see test results. Are they not walking the same path as Gandhi or Martin Luther King? Instead they are branded as moaning minnies who shouldn’t complain and just get on with testing 11 year-olds to destruction,
The government’s reply is always ‘standards’ and Peter Preston sites falling standards in Scotland and Wales. Why the fall in standards? Because teachers aren’t teaching to test, spending all their time between January and May on revision, and mock tests. It is true that the more tests children do the more proficient they become, at the same time schools jettison art, music and PE. A diet of gruel eventually leads to malnutrition.
As for the children who won’t be tested being ‘victims’? The fact is that testing reinforces failure, I’ve heard children leaving primary school waving their test results in the air, ‘I’m thick, I’m a Level 3’. More able children become bored and disaffected with the stodgy, unchallenging curriculum. Others succumb to stress faced with these high stakes tests – don’t worry children it’s only the headteacher’s job that’s at stake, no pressure.
Finally Peter Preston gives the impression that the National Union of Teachers’ (NUT) General Secretary, Christine Blower is in favour of hearty, bone-crunching games of rugby as an alternative to SATs tests. The truth is that Ms Blower did suggest a whole list of academic, cultural and sporting activities, a sort of festival of the mind and body, as an alternative to that grim week of testing. As a sop to middle England she might have included rugby. The less salubrious papers indulge in outright falsification, disinformation and misrepresentation in an attempt to belittle their opponents. I had hoped that as an ex-editor of ‘The Guardian’ Peter Preston would have exhibited higher journalistic standards.
I am a secondary teacher of a core subject. I don't know how many times I have questioned the level that a child brings with them from primary school........ it is so stressful just trying to keep a lid on oneself about it all. Grrrrrrrrrrrr! is about all I feel I can do. If you complain then someone suggests you are criticizing primary teachers, which I would never do (if I remember one primary teacher who could play piano, guitar, knew geography, history, politics, maths English, coached loads of sports ... should I go on?)as they have to teach such a wide range of subjects. Other times I am criticized for not being able to bring that child on to the next level. Believe it, or not, some kids actually peak at level 4 and I did bring them on as they were really a level 3 at primary. SHOCK HORROR! Not allowed to say that am I?
Come on Primary Headteachers, stick to your guns. Wales, Scotland and N Ireland can't all be wrong.
What needs to be found is some middle ground - the third way that New Labour always seemed to promise but never delivered.
There must be accountability. Without accountability, poor teachers (of whom there are still too many, no matter what some of the unions would have us all believe) can keep "teaching", failing dismally to move children's learning on by any measure.
On the other hand, accountability is not the same as a big stick to beat schools and heads with.
League tables, the proposed report cards, national strategies, ISP, BSF, PFI - the damage that 13 years of a supposedly Labour government. It makes me weep.