unSATisfactory

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this week, you’ll have noticed that the SATs for 10 and 11 year-olds across the country has made the news. At least, that is, if you’re an educator. If you’re not, and you’ve stumbled across this innocently clicking my links through Facebook or something, I can only apologise for embroiling you in what is a total shambles of a system (it’s too late to turn back now, you have to read on!).

It is, by the way, a total failure and mockery of our education system. And I say that with utter conviction. Testing children isn’t something I’ve ever been a fan of, but I find myself growing more and more cynical each and every time the subject of standardised assessments (tests) is brought up. With good reason too.

Let’s start with the idea of turning all Local Authority (LA) schools into academies. Without going into the whole host of reasons that I don’t think this to be the right step forwards, the link to SATs is interesting. Failing schools are forced to turn into academies. Schools which perform less-favourably in the year 6 SATs are called into question when OFSTED come knocking – almost like a preconceived idea that, because the data has been ‘bad’, the teaching must be terrible. Everyone knows not all children perform well on tests. I’ve been fortunate enough to teach some of the brightest, hard-working, and enthusiastic children who performed above and beyond when in the comfortable classroom environment… and then absolutely flopped in the test due to worry and stress (and I try as much as I can to not pass that on to the children). Though, the curriculum has been made more tricky, the SATs more so, and doesn’t that set children up to fail? Is this just a ploy to force all the remaining Local Authority schools into academies by almost automatically deeming them unsuitable?

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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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Why I Worry About The Perception Of Teaching

It’s not uncommon to hear reports, or read articles about the state of the teaching profession at the minute. Granted, I haven’t been a teacher long – this is my third year – but even I’ve noticed an increase in the media coverage discussing how much harder teaching is becoming. Even Michael Wilshaw (OFSTED head) says that teaching is becoming more difficult.

Believe it or not, that’s not what I worry about though. It’s inevitable that things are going to get harder on a personal level anyway. What I mean is that, the longer I teach, the more responsibilities I’ll be likely to take on. Eventually, I might have a family of my own to take care of and juggle teaching with that too. So, as time passes, teaching is going to become a more demanding job, regardless of what the government decide to throw at me.

With that said, the bureaucracy of teaching is slowly becoming more and more of a problem to me. The more paperwork I have to fill in and the more marking I have to do, the less time I’ve got to do the things I love – make learning games and think of exciting things to teach. However, it’s not the thing I worry about most.

What I do worry about is the perception of teaching. As teachers, we know it’s getting harder and we moan about it to other teachers. There are plenty of people on Facebook who take to teacher groups and vent their stresses, but we all understand.

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Sharing Is Caring

The two areas that I spend most of my time on are getting ideas together for teaching, and gathering the resources for these ideas. Sometimes they don’t come in that order – occasionally, I’ll find a resources first and build an idea around this. I spend quite a lot of time making resources for ideas too, usually because I can’t find something quick enough.

I can only assume that the vast majority of teachers, or at least new teachers (who don’t have a heap of resources they’ve built up over the years), have the same problem. Sometimes I can sit down and think for hours about what I want to do over the next week, particularly when it comes to teaching maths.

Spending all of this time on resources and ideas and then being returned to a website that offers the resources I need, but for a fee, is particularly irritating. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

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Using Proper Terms With Kids

I have always used the proper terms for things with kids, and I always will. Whether it’s ‘purpose’, ‘features’ or ‘figurative language’; I’ve never chosen to create another term in place of the proper version.

The reason for this (and I’ve thought about this a lot) is that we don’t swap proper vocabulary in other subjects, like science, for “easier to understand” terms; we teach the actual term. Here’s an example: mass. The difference between mass and weight is a key idea that helps support the example of gravity, but we don’t go around labeling mass as something else. We use the term.

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Why I Got Into Teaching

Teaching is a great job and I absolutely love it. I know I’ll never get rich from it and that I’ll probably stress work myself into an early grave… and I’m pleased about it. It all happened by accident though: I never planned on being a teacher of anything, never-mind everything!

This is the little story of why I became a teacher. It’s cliché and something that might be considered a little cheesy (so I recommend skipping this one if it’s not your cup of tea)… but it is 100% true.

It all starts with my year 10 work experience. I wanted to go to the local police station and learn all about what it takes to be a police officer, but apparently that’s not an appropriate place for a 15 year old. Too much confidential information. So instead I ended up in a primary school. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t pleased.

I’m not sure how many days into the experience it was – I can’t even remember how many days I was there for altogether – but I remember, as clear as day, one of the children being unable to tie his shoelace. He was the only one in the class that couldn’t (or the only one in the class that was brave enough to say so) and I felt sorry for him. I made it my mission to teach him how to tie his lace by the end of my time there – I didn’t have much else to do really.

Every time that he came up to me I knelt and showed him how to tie his lace with a little explanation. After the first couple of days he’d asked me to tie his lace, and I’d shown and explained it to him, I started to get him to begin to tie it on his own and just helped with the bits he couldn’t manage.

Long story cut short: eventually, he managed to tie it on his own. I’ll never forget that day because something clicked. His face lit up and that feeling, that buzz, made me get into my mum’s car at the end of the day and proclaim that I wanted to be a teacher. The rest is history.

The boy probably doesn’t remember me now. I don’t remember who helped me learn to tie my shoelaces. But the fact that I managed to help another person, another person who would go on to grow up and potentially help others, or make huge changes to the world, made me feel incredibly rewarded.

Reward. Keep your millions, keep your mansions, keep your flash cars. I’ve got the best job in the world.