Tests Don’t Raise Standards – Learning Does

Recently, the head of our federated state schools shared his opinion with a local newspaper about the testing of seven year olds. I have to agree. Testing seven year olds won’t improve standards, but learning will.

What was interesting was a letter sent to the newspaper in response to this article, reading:

Dear Sir,
I can’t have been the only reader to have been shocked by the arrogant rant of head-teacher Steve Woodhouse at a new Government education policy, coupled with his pernicious attack against Nicky Morgan the Education Secretary (Pocklington Post Thurs 12 Nov.) Mr Woodhouse might remember he is a public servant and not some self-appointed Government Strategist and Education Advisor.
The need for the introduction of simple national tests for children as young as seven stems from a basic failure of our education system, and the desire by the Government to rectify it by the elimination of illiteracy and innumeracy in Britain and thus in later years, restoring this country to near-full employment. In 2012, a shocking 44% of pupils failed to secure a GCSE pass in maths and English by the age of 16, and almost half never studied these subjects again afterwards. This is a disgraceful indictment of our education system as it operates today and justifiable reason for the need to change.
Mr Woodhouse assures us that, ‘teachers regularly assess seven-year olds themselves, without the need for any formal testing’. Yet teachers traditionally bleat about large class sizes and thus the impossibility of 1:1 teaching! He assures us that the current system, ‘works very well’ and this is, ‘probably why Nicky Morgan wants to change it’. A disrespectful and ignorant comment and probably the reason why Nicky Morgan has not yet responded to the pearls of wisdom delivered to her in his emails!
He goes on to assure us, in a list, of the many aspects of primary education that tests can’t measure. However, the most, ,thoughtful, creative, honest, confident, kind, loyal, determined compassionate, and intuitive, child is of little use to an employer if they can’t count or spell. Moreover they subsequently become a burden on both themselves and society. The percentage of illiterate and innumerate inmates in our local and dispersal prisons is shocking.
No-one would wish to stifle a teacher’s natural creativity, but this wonderful skill should be firstly channelled into teaching basic numeracy and literacy skills with a follow-up assessment of how successful this has been.
It is not the Government’s intention to impose strict ‘exam conditions’ on children, as Mr Woodhouse asserts. These are simple benign tests designed to highlight those children needing additional training in, maths, reading, grammar and punctuation.
To accuse the education secretary of ‘putting our children at risk’ by imposing an ‘unnecessary burden’ of ‘mindless policies’ and being ‘devoid of compassion’ is contemptuous of both Nicky Morgan and her predecessor Michael’s Gove’s attempts to bring our country back to full employment and prosperity.
I respectfully suggest that Mr Woodhouse’s time (paid for by the tax-payer I would remind him) would be better spent focusing on the educational brief Nicky Morgan has given him, rather than on composing ill-conceived, self-righteous criticisms of Government policies every week for the Pocklington Post.

Yours sincerely,
A. J. Wilson,

Let’s start the fun and begin to pick apart this strange argument for tests – one of few I’ve seen.

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6 Things I Learnt In My First Year Of Teaching!

I learnt an awful lot in my first year of teaching, definitely too much to write down in one blog post. It was, without question, one of the best experiences with teaching that I’ve had – including the sports coaching experience that I’ve completed – and seeing myself learn new things helped make this such an interesting thing. So here’s a ‘list’ of the top stuff I learnt in my first year as a primary teacher.

1. Lecturers weren’t always right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arrogant or naive enough to even begin to suggest that I know more than my university lecturers. Some of them had spend 30+ years as a teacher, working their way through the leadership ladder and knew far (far!) more than me. Read more

Mental Maths Magpie

Mental Maths Magpie

Mental maths, but not as you know it. A game used when on placement with questions from Pitch and Expectation, newly typed up and prepared. Time to get the kids outside and enjoying mental maths.

This is an active mathematical game based on a PE game. Rules, answers and differentiated (four ways) questions are included. The idea is that the children run from a corner, grab a question and work it out to earn points for their team. This mental arithmetic game has been made for my KS2 class – hence the differentiation four ways – but could be easily adapted by adding/removing questions.

Target Time: A Focus On The Little Things

Getting through the curriculum and providing children with the little steps needed to make successful progress is, lets face it, an almost, if not, impossible task. When there’s many other things that crop up throughout the year – charity events, sports days, school trips, productions etc – fitting everything in from the curriculum is a nightmare task and making sure every child understands it all, well… that’s just difficult. However, giving a little bit of time each day to the small steps is an effective way of making sure progress is met. 20 minutes of ‘Target Time’.

Now, before I get started, I want to say that this was not my idea and I won’t take credit for thinking it up. This was something I saw in my final university placement and it worked brilliantly. Since, I’ve adopted it and adapted it to fit the needs for my own class.

Target time is the first thing we do in a morning and usually lasts 20 minutes, though, like most of my teaching, this is a guideline only and some days we find we only need a few minutes… or the whole morning. Within this 20 minutes we push the little things that help make up more effective bigger things. Here’s an example; in the first half-term we blitzed through the word types (adjectives, adverbs, nouns, verbs etc), improved vocabulary by looking at ‘wow words’, learned about figurative language (yes, I used that term) and began looking at some of Alan Peat’s complex sentence structures.

What we’ve found is that all of the children’s writing has improved because they understand why and when we use certain pieces of punctuation or words. The majority of the class has already moved at least one sub-level in their writing over the first term and a sizable amount have moved 2 sub-levels.

Target time doesn’t have to be used with just literacy either. I’ve decided that we’ll be splitting target time to work on the ‘3 core areas’ of maths, writing and reading (not that I agree these are the ‘essential’ three but that’s another story). Term one was dedicated to writing and we saw improvements. Next up will be reading, with a reciprocal approach, and then maths in the final term.

The great thing about Target Time is that it’s content is within the curriculum and it specifically targets all of those little things that you can’t really teach in a cross-curriculum manner. I can’t imagine how I would go about teaching word classes when teaching a topic on Egyptians (other than tedious links using Egyptian words…), for example. The children have responded well to this little bit of time too and know that this is the time we put aside for very detailed focus which can then be used across all of our other work.

As a note: I urge you to go and buy the Alan Peat sentence books. They’re easy to teach and, after a little bit of target-time teaching, the children become autonomous when using them.

Book 1 (£16.99) – This is the one I’ve used and highly recommend it.

Book 2 (£16.99) – I’ve not used this one yet but, if it’s anything like the other one, I need it.