Nick Gibb’s appearance in front of the select committee earlier this week was as depressing as it was saddening. It’s not his fault, he’s simply clearing up the mess left by a minister who thought smashing everything to pieces would be some sort of magic bullet and raise standards. That said, his failure to get to grips with primary assessment is stark and nothing he said assuaged any reservations teachers have about primary assessment.
Lets be clear, this is not a moany blog: it is an attempt to shed light on the reality of what the new tests mean for kids, teachers and schools. It is by no means a reflection of my own school, but more the worrying stories I’ve heard via DM etc on twitter. It also contains my personal views on the new SATS regime and what will come of the massive hike in standards.
This blog has one basic premise:
The tests are too hard
The new KS2 tests are too hard. They are certainly too hard for those who experienced the old SATS in year 2. They are certainly too hard for schools where the worst teachers are chucked in years 3/4 and kids stagnate. Until the first cohort that got the new curriculum from year 1 reach year 6 – the results will also be meaningless – the rise in standards meant that those secure under the old system were actually a year behind on the new one. Where this year-long catch-up comes from (for y3/4/5/6 cohorts) is anyone’s guess. If the children aren’t on track by the start of year 6, you’ve no chance in reading, writing or maths of reaching the expected standard. Saving your best teachers for year 6 is now the equivalent of saving Matt Le Tissier to take the 5th penalty in a shoot out, only to find his four team mates missed, meaning he didn’t get a go.
There are no short cuts
Put simply, unless your children have had an excellent and well planned maths curriculum in years 3/4, focusing almost exclusively (80%+) on number, the year 5/6 curriculum will be way beyond the majority. Unless your children are reading Harry Potter at the beginning of year 5 and you continue to expose them to hard texts, they will have poor chances in the reading test. Unless your children are writing 2 pages of coherent and well put-together paragraphs in year 4, they have a low chance of success in year 5/6.
“We wanted to produce tests you couldn’t teach to”
Problem is, teachers and headteachers still think you can teach to the test. What we are experiencing is a disconnect. It is unlikely that anyone in a HT role has experienced the new SATS at KS2, this is also probably true for most DHT’s too. This lack of experience of the higher standards means teachers are being leaned on to make that difference in year 6. The solutions vary, but I have heard the following: teaching nothing but maths and English since Christmas, before or after school boosters every day for children, Easter schools, afternoon catch up lessons meaning kids miss the subjects they actually go to school for, revision guides sent home and 30-60 minutes revision expected every night, teachers telling parents to get private tutors and so on. It’s all premised on a lie: that the SATS test children. They do, but their primary reason for existing is to test schools. We turn this pressure onto parents and kids because we have no choice. If we don’t we (or our HT) lose our (their) job. Its a vicious circle. And secondaries don’t give one flying bit of notice to the results. And don’t set on the basis of them.
Will somebody think of the children!?!?
I’m no bleeding heart liberal when it comes to education. I see myself as a traditional teacher, even if I have been deserted by other trads on twitter. Perhaps what I am about to write is why: these tests are making children think they are a failure. AND ITS UNFAIR. Anyone getting base points of 18+ in KS1 tests is now expected to be greater depth for everything. THAT IS SO LUDICROUS CAPITALS DON’T DO IT JUSTICE. Even if a child does well and passes the test, if the progress measure isn’t high enough, they’ve still failed. I suspect that rather than the old dash to push children to level 4, that smarter schools have looked at protecting the progress measure by ensuring those at the middle/top get high scores. The problem with this is those children may only be allowed to drop 5-10 marks on the reading paper in order to get that level, which given the 3 mark monster question last year, becomes a tough ask.
I honestly think the main affect of these tests will be to wreck year 6. The kids won’t want to come to school, the teachers won’t want to be there and the behaviour will go out of control. Until the end of June the children will be worked into the ground and after that, assuming the teachers are still sane and the kids are still coming to school, they will do precisely no learning before the holidays start. And then precisely no learning in year 7/8 making the whole process crazy (THAT’S A JOKE SECONDARY TEACHERS).
“SATS in all subjects”
I read this tweet by Michael Fordham the other day (sorry if I’ve misquoted you Michael) – and it made me laugh out loud. The reason is this: no sane year 6 teacher is teaching anything other than reading, writing, maths, Science and PE. And even then, I suspect the PE and Science have disappeared in some schools (I actually know it has from conversations with other teachers). If your year 5 teacher is savvy and tuned into whole school priorities, then they are doing the same. The curriculum has been demolished because there simply isn’t enough time to fit everything in. In schools with nice catchment areas I expect things are tickety-boo right now, but for most it isn’t. The type of kids who need to be hooked into a varied and diverse curriculum are likely getting a maths/English heavy curriculum, leading to disaffection with school for those who need to be engaged the most. It’s a disaster for these children.
I’ll leave it there.