Posts Tagged With: school

The Ofsted Effect

I visit many schools and talk to hundreds of professionals all of the time. Never far from the conversation is Ofsted. Ofsted worry schools to the point that the whole ethos is to please Ofsted. This is wrong because a school’s ethos should be built around its pupils.

I was listening to Mick Waters just the other week and he talked about ‘Game Theory;’ the idea that organisations adjust their practices because of the coercion of others. He gave the example of the railways. Since privatisation, the government has set train operating companies punctuality targets, in response to this the timetables have been adjusted to allow for more ‘slippage;’ the outcome is simple, journey times are longer but targets are met. A classic case of:

“Hitting the target but missing the point”

Schools are in danger of doing precisely this! The Ofsted game has led to some dubious practices; below are just a few that come to mind:

The learning objective must be shared.

We’re not saying it should never be shared, but for every lesson? Surely great learning is great learning and pupils will know this! We shouldn’t forget that learning is never ‘objective!’ It’s a personal process, it belongs to individuals and groups; it is therefore subjective!

The mini-plenary.

Of course great learners need time to reflect, to think about how it might be used; a chance to ponder. However, I heard a story the other day of a class given just 1m 40s before the first mini-plenary was delivered. Pupils need time to question, discuss and just to get on with learning; they don’t need the teacher stopping them every five minutes to check progress.

The end of curiosity.

I’ve seen too many lessons in the past 5 years where the learning outcome is measured in levels. The message is clear; “no need to be curious or inquisitive, I’ve given you the outcome using an arbitrary numerical level and that’s where we’re all heading.” What happened to wonder? Wondering what the outcome might be, the chance to play, to experiment and take risks. I asked a learner in July what he needed to do to get better at maths and he replied “Get a level 5.” Earlier this year I asked a girl what she was learning in English and she replied “AF5” – she could tell I was bemused. I then asked her why and she replied “to get a level 4.” Needless to say writing for pleasure is not one of her pastimes!

Tick Box Teaching

The arrival of the ‘lesson observation grids’ has done great damage to teaching. Instead of teachers, the danger is we become technicians; just ticking the boxes as we go along and ticking as many boxes as possible when an observer is in. Of course there should be guidance, hints and tips, strategies shared and practice observed but when you’ve seen practitioners shower praise like confetti, include a dozen mini plenaries and share enough differentiated learning outcomes for the entire population you know it’s ‘Tick box Teaching.’

Teaching to the tests.

Ofsted predominantly measure a school by their ‘standards.’ Some argue this is not the case, but I’ve yet to come across a school with 100% level 4s at KS2 who’ve been put into special measures. So along comes the ‘SPaG’ test and hey presto, grammar lessons are back on the menu, the ‘how many pieces of punctuation can you fit in a sentence’ game is played and spelling tests, lots of spelling tests! Some argue that children should have this type of experience, but if they felt so strongly why weren’t they doing it last year?

If we continue down this ‘Game,’ education will lose its heart, writing will be a technical experience marked with levels, learning will become boxes to tick and teachers will become robots who simply deliver the packages of contents…And pupils…I fear for them…

So please, follow your philosophy, don’t be compliant and ensure the children in your class/school enjoy an education fit for their futures.

The Thought Weavers

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WHEN TEACHERS LOSE THEIR MOJO!

WHEN TEACHERS LOSE THEIR MOJO!

“What’s the difference between a rut and a grave?”
Answer: The depth of the soil,
This phrase was rather eloquently coined by the American Novelist – Ellen Glasgow in the early 1900s; although it’s over a century old the sentiment is still as fresh as the day it was first written.

Those of you who are teachers will know that the job can sometimes be a series of extreme highs and lows.

The highs occur when the light flickers within the eyes of a child and they say:
“Oh I understand now!”
That ‘Bing’ moment when the imaginary light bulb appears above their head. An additional high point can be when you bump into a former student/pupil and they inform you that their chosen career path was all down to a comment or a bit of advice that you gave them when they were younger. (As you can imagine this can also work the opposite way round and become one of your low points.)

The lows are, all too, familiar to many teachers that I speak to:
An ever increasing workload.
High and sometimes unrealistic expectations of parents.
Demands from the Head Teacher and Senior Management Team.
The ever changing nature of education due to change in government.
Unsupportive colleagues.
‘The Class from Hell!’
Ofsted.

So the question is: How can we stay out of the rut, or better still how do you get out of the rut once you have fallen in? Here are a few Thought Weaver suggestions that may help.

1. Talk to colleagues.
Many of the old sayings that our grandparents came out with still ring true today:
‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’
Perhaps if we share the problem a second time that would take care of the remaining half; therefore the problem would be dissipated. It’s always good to get the opinion of another professional whether it be in your own school or another.

2. Try some summer reading.
Some of you may think that books about education are high brow and too academic. There are many out there which are exactly that. However, if you choose wisely you’ll be in for a treat. Here are a few suggestions, they are great for a read or something you can just dip into:

GUY CLAXTON: What’s the Point of School?
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Whats-Point-School-Rediscovering-Education/dp/1851686037/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1221064489&sr=1-2
This book will help practitioners to reflect on what they feel the purpose of school really is!

IAN GIBERT: Essential Motivation in the Classroom.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Motivation-Classroom-Ian-Gilbert/dp/041526619X
A book of brilliant and inspirational ideas to promote intrinsic motivation in the classroom.

IAN GILBERT: Why do I need a teacher when I’ve got Google?
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Need-Teacher-When-Google/dp/0415468337
A forward thinking book, considering the changing role of the teacher within 21st Century education

SIR JOHN JONES: The Magic Weaving Business:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Magic-Weaving-Business-Learning/dp/0956376002
Inspirational stories that help capture the essence of why we do what we do!

3. Get on Youtube and be inspired; here are few of the gems we have found!

SIR KEN ROBINSON: Changing paradigms.

SIR KEN ROBINSON: Do schools kill creativity?

NICK VUJICIC: I Love Living Life. I Am Happy.

MATT HARDING: Where the hell is Matt?

BOBBY McFERRIN: A demonstration of the power of the pentatonic

DAVID HOLMES: The Rapping Flight Attendant – Try to love your job this much!

4. Get on Twitter!
We assume that by reading this blog you are already aware of Twitter. However, if you received this link from another source, and as of yet you haven’t got a Twitter account, we strongly suggest you set one up. From our perspective it will be the best continual professional development tool you’ll ever use! It’s easily accessible 24/7, user friendly, highly informative, humorous and more importantly its FREE!

The Thought Weavers.

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Preparing for Ofsted!

Last year I gave a presentation at the education show entitled ‘Preparing for Ofsted.’ I sifted through lots of Ofsted reports, founds patterns of ‘behaviours’ and looked for things inspectors seemed to be consistently asking for and produced a slide show based on my findings.

In February 2013, Ofsted paid my school a visit. As a result I’ve recently updated the slide show and below is the new updated version. I hope it will help you when your visit is due!

Preparing for Ofsted! 2013

<div style=”width:425px” id=”__ss_12069324″> <strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson/preparing-for-ofsted-nec-2012&#8243; title=”Preparing for ofsted! nec 2012″ target=”_blank”>Preparing for ofsted! nec 2012</a></strong> <div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”> View more <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/thecroaker/death-by-powerpoint&#8221; target=”_blank”>PowerPoint</a> from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson&#8221; target=”_blank”>paceanderson</a> </div> </div>

Lee of the ‘Thought Weavers.’

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What Kind Of Restaurant Is Your Classroom?

Myself and David (AKA the Thought Weavers) love to play around with analogies, sometimes they help us get a point across and at other times people look back at us with glazed eyes. However, we really feel this one works and will hopefully help you think about your practice.

So here goes.

We think classrooms are like (or perhaps even should be like) a good restaurant. However, this is not always the case, sometimes they are more ‘fast food’ than ‘gourmet’

Let me explain some of the classic features of a ‘fast-food’ model of the classroom:

  • Pupils walk in with no-one to greet them
  • Adults talk really quickly; they’re impatient and want answers quickly.
  • The menu is always the same.
  • A diet of uninspiring food learning is supplied daily. (it does however hit all of the APP outcomes)
  • Pupils will never remember their favourite or lesson when they’re older
  • Standards are high because the criteria for judging them is so narrow. The ‘fast-food’ restaurant makes and healthy profit and the classroom produces high ‘standards’
  • The tables and chairs never move.
  • All posters and displays are professionally made by adults.
  • Differentiation is made by the words ‘small,’ ‘regular’ or ‘large,’ or in classroom speak; ‘poor,’ ‘average’ or ‘bright.’ (Although occasionally ‘G&T is on the menu)
  • Sometimes special menus/promotions are created, in schools these are known as ‘theme days,’ this is the only time when the menu is slightly more interesting.
  • Feedback is standardised and irrelevant. In the classroom this might be ‘Good Work’ or ‘Well Done’
  • No tips are given; the children will never go the extra mile.
  • Customers can never change the menu and ask for something a little different; in the classroom children get what they’re given.
  • There is no overt way of expressing pleasure or disappointment at the service provided.

On the other hand, a gourmet restaurant (or perhaps country pub!) model for the classroom might read as follows:

  • A friendly smile when you walk in.
  • Small talk at the table with staff.
  • The menu changes regularly and there are lots of daily specials
  • The meals (learning) are well deigned by experts who truly know what they are doing.
  • Great memories are created by the quality of service and friendly atmosphere.
  • Relationships with all adults and children are positive.
  • ‘Difficult’ customers are treated with dignity and respect
  • Standards are exceptionally high, because of the attention to detail at every step of the process.
  • If something special is required or someone wants to deviate from the menu it is celebrated and explored
  • Differentiation is the choice of the customer/pupils; there is a wide variety of activities/meals set out in a variety of ways.
  • Feedback is personalised and unscripted, it feels natural but authoritative.
  • Plenty of tips! Children bring in masses of things from home because they’ve been inspired in school.
  • Pupils can personalise the menus, giving feedback to the lead adult about their performance.
  • Pupils are encouraged to think about their decisions; they have time to evaluate the menu before making a decision

And so on…

Let’s make it clear. Classrooms are not restaurants and certainly shouldn’t be run as a business; pupils are not our customers, they are learners and we should be proud to facilitate their progress.

But, we feel the comparisons can be made. We believe that too often, the standards agenda pushes schools into a ‘fast-food’ model of education. Children deserve better! Whilst a ‘Gourmet’ classroom means hard work, it does mean that the children are the most important people and they will remember their experiences.

So how do you make your classroom ‘Gourmet?’

The Thought Weavers

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How does the Government support education? mmmmm…

Michael Gove often talks about leaving the running of schools to the professionals. We agree!

Below are headlines from the BBC website over the last few months. We suggest what Gove actually says and what he actually does are two different things!

‘Schools minister cracks down on league table incentives’

‘Ofsted plans to scrap ‘satisfactory’ label for schools’

‘Poor teachers face tougher system under shake-up’

‘New Ofsted chief takes aim at incapable teachers’

‘Third of schools in Wales not good enough, says Estyn’

‘Labour ‘would have cut school building scheme’

‘Ofsted head to tackle coasting and incompetent teachers’

‘Schools in England will face no-notice inspections’

‘Ofsted inspections to scrutinise teaching quality’

‘Michael Gove queries schools’ Ofsted ratings’

‘Education Bill outlines shake-up for England’s schools’

 

The great thing is that teachers are breathtakingly resilient! We are the eternal optimists! We get on with our jobs despite the headlines above! This is what makes teachers great!

The Thought Weavers

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Adapting to Curriculum Change. (BETT conference notes)

Perspective 1.

The ‘soft skills’ of learning…

The biggest change as a result of curriculum change should be the mindset of school when delivering the knowledge and facts contained within a proposed new curriculum.

We are always reminded that built into its design is the ‘extra freedom’ it will allow. This is what schools should hook onto. In it’s previous (still current) guise the national curriculum was seen as the end. The entire day had to be built around it (this was never the intention) – school should move away from this model and more focus should be given to the ‘Hidden curriculum’ – which ironically, if schools interpret curriculum change appropriately will not be so hidden.

When I speak of the hidden curriculum, I mean the aspects of learning that builds resilience, that promotes curiosity, encourages learners to be independent and helps all of us develop our role within society – recent years have seen a surge in this type of focus (PLTS / BLP); these have great potential, they are however hampered by the current assessment framework – the idea that if its not measurable its not worth teaching.

With relation to Academies and Free Schools, who will have greater freedom over their curriculum, my hope is that these organisations won’t simply use the ‘Safety net’ of the national curriculum as a basis for their pupils education and be innovative and brave; designing their very own! In reality however, because the summative assessment framework will be based on the national curriculum, I believe it likely that most schools use the new framework.

On the one hand autonomy is promoted whilst on the other it is hampered!

 

Perspective 2- Leadership

If the new curriculum does allow schools more freedom to plan their own approach and schools are willing to take the risk (as I believe they should)  this has implications for leadership.

The role of the curriculum leader would be one of real expertise, they would be leading a curriculum that reflects the local, national and international issues of the day and the decisions made must be based on evidence available rather than simply subscribing to a scheme. The freedom to also deliver a curriculum in a way the school chooses, adds to this autonomy.

Curriculum leaders in school therefore need to be social commentators, interested in the latest research and confident enough to say that the approach the school is taking is the right one. The school would become an ‘intellectual community.’

The word ‘expert’ is not used enough in schools. Teachers are (and should consider themselves) experts in their field, in the same way a doctor is an expert in medicine and solicitor is an expert in law. Curriculum leaders would be expected to be leading experts, to be clear about their methodology, to read/promote/apply/challenge up to date pedagogical research, be brave enough to say some things are not appropriate for their schools and to have a clear rationale for everything they lead.

This would represent change because currently the all encompassing National Curriculum is a safety net – as long as there is ‘coverage’ then there is no issue. If, as seems likely, the new curriculum will explicitly say that it should not be all encompassing, then the only ‘safety net’ is the secure knowledge and understanding of the leadership team, the expertise of all staff and a clear vision of where the school is going – an expert community.

This would have implication for school inspections, as each school will have a mildly different curriculum, one they will have to justify and communicate clearly to a range of inspectors; this represents even greater accountability. Inspectors will have to make judgments on an unfamiliar curriculum and give reasons for it; very difficult! The evaluation schedule would need to be different.

What I believe will happen is that under the new curriculum, the very best schools will prosper, the expertise of the staff will shine through and ultimately the pupils will benefit greatly; many schools are ‘ahead of the game’ and curriculum design expertise is part of their fabric. In other schools, where a rigid curriculum ( or bought in ‘creative curriculums’) has been employed for many years, curriculum change will be a huge challenge; without confident leaders, who have a deep understanding of curriculum design and learning processes, the results could be catastrophic.

The one thing that will hold back innovative and relevant curriculum design is the assessment framework. True freedom would not only be curriculum design, but also to decide the criteria for success.

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School Uniforms: Should we have them?

The ‘Thought Weaver Thought’ Blog

Welcome to our new style of blog. We hope it will inspire you to comment, complains, shout, smile or just to think.

This week’s blog relates to school uniform. The ‘Thought Weavers’ have different views on whether pupils should be forced to wear them. David feels school uniform helps pupils to feel part of a unique organisation; their school. He also feels they ensure that children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds do not worry about having the latest designer clothes.

Lee, on the other hand, feels that school uniforms cloud the message we try so hard to give children; that we are all unique and this should be celebrated. However, he does believe schools should, like most organisations, have a ‘dress code’ as this would be more in keeping with the world they’ll be entering after school.

So, our question to you is this…

Should schools enforce a strict school uniform policy?

 

 

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Here Comes the Summer! Achieving a good work/life balance!

HERE COMES THE SUMMER! – THE SECRETS OF WORK/LIFE BALANCE.

Well time is almost upon us. The time when I drive home from work with the car windows rolled down and the effervescent tones of Feargal Sharkey blasting out a classic from July 1979 “Here Comes the Summer!” I know most people opt for Alice Cooper and ‘School’s Out!’ but due to the fact I left School in ’79’ I’m an Undertones man all the way!

(Check out the YouTube clip at the bottom of the page)

Yes, my friends it’s the School Holidays! The Big Holidays! The Six Weeks Holiday! The holidays that all your non-teaching friends really hate! The one holiday they all despise you having! (I know that our friends in Australia and NZ feel this feeling later in the year.)

Little do your friends know, or even care, that by the time the holiday arrives you are physically, mentally and spiritually on your knees; especially for the first two weeks anyway. You and I know the pattern:
Two weeks to recover and become human again.
Two weeks going on holiday (if you’re lucky and can afford it)
Two weeks to prepare physically and mentally for the next term!
Yeah we really have a great time during our SIX weeks off – don’t we?

The purpose of this week’s blog is not really to really inspire or encourage but mainly to share how the Thought Weavers spend their ‘Big Holidays. Hopefully some of you will share your holiday experiences with us. Also we could explore some of the ways that we seek and find that elusive Holy Grail AKA ‘Work life Balance.’

The first thing to try and remember is that we are on holiday and school MUST come second place. As my wife once said “David it’s great being everything to everybody else’s children but remember you have two of your own!” Partners know instinctively how to make you feel special – don’t they?

So here goes with our ‘Thought Weaver Tips’ for the holiday season.

PLANNING YOUR BREAK
Now some of you may scoff at planning your time off but hear me out! Most of us are slaves to the clock/time table for 10 months of the year. For example I know exactly what I’ll be doing on the third Tuesday in June 2012 at precisely 1.30pm; my class and I will be having PE, Friday afternoon its Guitars, Monday morning Maths and the list goes on!

As teachers/lead learners we have come to accept that this is our lives (sadly) and therefore during the holiday period many of us like to go off-piste so to speak! However, the new found freedom that we all experience can cause some of us to become lethargic; we can waste precious hours on basically doing nothing. So often I hear my colleagues say, “I’ve been off for three weeks and I haven’t done a thing!” This may cause us to become a little resentful. Our suggestion is to have a basic outline of things that you wish to achieve whilst your off work, this can be as simple as fetching the newspaper, go shopping, visit the pub (visit lots of pubs) at least we’re doing something positive!

FAMILY & FRIENDS
Holiday time is a great time to catch up with family and friends that we haven’t seen for a term or two. We could meet up and have a coffee, a beer (lots of beers), BBQ etc.

Last year Lee, my son Leo, and I caught the train to Manchesterand visited the Lowry Centre. (The home of the Salfordbased painter L.S. Lowry) http://www.thelowry.com/ls-lowry/

Leo loved everything about the trip: the train journey, the big city, the gallery and twelve months later he still talks about it.

Therefore log on to obtain information about your local museums, galleries and places of interest. There will be loads of FREE activities planned for the summer; once again you’ll be super dad/mum and earn Brownie points by the barrow-full.

READING
You MUST have a holiday reading list (It’s the LAW). Whether you opt for sentimental tosh (sadly I love these), or books on special interests; why not try the latest offerings on educational research (Sadly once again a favourite of Lee and I). You may want to read the newspaper or ‘Hello’ magazine it’s up to you. But try and read as it keeps the old cogs of the brain going!

WRITING
Over the years there have been a wealth of people who tell me they have ‘a book’ lurking inside them – a book they long to write. The holidays are a perfect time to start. I have friends who have spoken about writing a book for nearly twenty years but still they struggle to put pen to paper – don’t talk about it – do it! Here’s a question for you: When do you become old?

“A man is not old until his regrets replace his dreams” John Barrymore

So don’t dilly/dally and your let your dreams become regrets when you are older – get a pack of cheap pencils, a note book, a good coffee shop and the world’s your oyster.

RE-ENACTMENTS: You must have seen the many re-enactment societies that operate the length and breadth of the country? Check out their website: National Association of Re-enactment Societies: http://www.nares.org.uk/

 

Lee and I are involved within our very own re-enactment society: it involves Rigger boots; trackie bottoms and an old football/rugby shirt and hey presto – we’re builders! Once we break up from school; we have a whole agenda of slab laying; fence erecting, shelf building – our project this August is decking out Lee’s back garden – the point we’re trying to make is that all this work is nothing to do with school/learning; basically it’s a chance to charge up the mental batteries and visit the most exquisite ‘bacon buttie’ suppliers in the land. Why not start your own re-enactment society? You could become a chef; landscaper; train spotter (Lee’s one – but it’s our secret); football coach; tour guide; once again anything that chills you out and recharges the batteries.

Well that’s it for another term! The Thought Weavers will be taking a month’s blogging holiday but we will be back at the end of August with our preparations for the new term.

Thanks for all the tweets; blog hits; comments and words of encouragement over the past few months; we really, really appreciate it.

Best wishes and have a great (relaxing) holiday.

Lee and David (The Thought Weavers)

so take it away Fergal…

‘Sorry this is where you have to pretend there’s a seamless link to the video below – you’ll have to manually click the link – our apologies! – So take it away Fergal…’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUg7OO1gZk0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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What is the point of SATs?

What’s the point of SATs?

What’s the point of SATs?

In short: Very little!

Firstly, I’d at least try to provide some balance to my argument. The main arguments for SATs are:

  1. They provide the data for the ‘standards agenda’
  2. They provide an objective snapshot of children’s progress.

In 2009 I sent an email to Ed Balls at the Dept of Education and below is a quote that sums up the Government’s position. (A position that still holds true in 2011)

‘The majority of parents value the information our system of testing and assessment provides to help them choose the right school for their child and to have objective information on their child’s progress.’

From this quote there is, could I add, one more argument for SATs:

The fact that the Government feels that teachers are unable to offer an objective assessment of pupils.

I’ve facilitated learning with my class for the past two years, taking the children at the end of Y4 and all the way to the end of their primary education. It may seem odd to say that ‘Standards’ are one of my lowest priorities; learning and enjoyment are my top priority, with the belief that ‘Standards’ will be one of the many outcomes of my pedagogy. Children in my class have excelled in SATs this year and the cries of, “this should keep Ofsted of our backs!” have reverberated around the staffroom. I therefore feel in a position to add my two penneth’ worth

I suppose I should be happy then, my children have done great in their SATs! Ofsted (even if they do turn up), will be drooling over RAISEonline…I am not happy though. In their current form, I despise SATs with such a passion that I’d happily see them abolished yesterday.

The simple truth is that SATs do great harm to children. They fix their ‘ability’/mindset in maths or English. The ‘level 5’ children think they’re great or clever, the ‘level 4s’ will spend their secondary education in what we call ‘an average kind of hell’ and the level 3s will feel so stupid they will want to finish school now!

From the beginning of Y1 until the end of Y6 children spend over 6000 hours learning in the classroom . These youngsters put in a lot of effort in that time; they laugh, love, cry, complain, question, find friends (and enemies), have chicken pox and lose teeth along the way. In that time we hope they have become a child with the potential to flourish now and in the future.

Towards the end of primary school, the children sit ‘Standardised Tests’, in less than four hours, the Government decide whether the 6000 hours was all worth it! Children are then pigeon holed into the ‘bright ones’, the ‘average ones’ or the ‘slow movers’. All this assessment based up on two principles, maths and English. (see our blog on Multiple Intelligences http://wp.me/p1upWt-1S )

Imagine this: Ofsted, come into a maths lesson, maybe yours (I can feel the shivers down your spine as a write this) and you decide, based on your understanding of ‘Standards’ that:

  • There will be no differentiation.
  • Any word problems will involve the same three people and involve sweets or buttons.
  • Children will, under no circumstances, be able to talk to one another, reflect upon their learning, collaborate with each other or think creatively!
  • The lesson will be 45 minutes, not a second more, not a second less
  • Pupils will not be allowed to apply any ‘help’ strategies if they get stuck; if they do get stuck, the MUST stay stuck
  • All learning prompts will be covered up or removed from the pupil’s desks
  • At the end of the lesson each children will be explicitly told they are either
  1. Above average
  2. Average
  3. Below average

After the lesson, you sit down with the inspector and confidently ask “Did you like the way I really focused on standards today?”…

Why assess children in a way so detached from the learning process? It’s like asking Lewis Hamilton to complete his next race in a submarine! SATs bear no resemblance to the learning process – the only thing being assessed is how good the pupils are at sitting a test, or as one little boy (Niall) said to me, “SATs only prove how well you do under pressure don’t they”

Chris, who had the highest raw score in the maths test, also happens to be the one boy who struggles most with problem solving! I also have a wonderful writer, she writes with such vivid description, creating wonderful pictures inside the minds of her readers – she ‘scraped’ a level 4 in the writing because her handwriting was poor and in this extremely unnatural situation, she failed to show the wonderful figurative language she shows day in day out in class. For the past two years I’ve shared my admiration of her writing with her, her parents and colleagues, only for the ‘Standardised’ test to inform us that she’s average! Sadly she’s not so sure she’s such a great writer now.

SATs are also used to put schools into a league tables. The only conclusion I can reach from this is that schools move from being collaborators to competitors. Teachers look to see if they’ve ‘beaten’ the nearest rivals and schools from economically challenging areas are looked down upon.

By creating league tables an ethos of competition, winning and losing, comparing and contrasting emerges; the motivation to collaborate slowly ebbs away. Self perseveration rules!

If it were a football team, the Y6 teachers would be the strikers who score the ‘goals’, they too often carry the weight of the team on their shoulders and should they miss the target, they are forced into finding excuses to save their skins. The Headteachers are the managers who watch on helplessly as the results come in, hoping they’ve beaten the school up the road for the kudos it supplies at the next meeting. And the sharing of ideas is something that can’t be done, after all why would you give your competitor the edge?

Would Chelsea and Manchester United ‘share’ players and tactics whilst performing in their ‘league?’

The Government and the media have hyped-up SATs to be the pinnacle of excellence, the gold standard for primary education, a system that gives bragging rights to some and embarrassment to others. SATs bog the education system down, skewing its purpose. The recent uproar relating to the marking of writing assessments illustrates our point; the anguish and anger caused by this cannot be good for children’s education.

It may then seem odd that we think getting rid of testing is not the answer. What we argue is that the significance attached to them is disproportionate to the data they produce. In short, good SATs results do not mean a good school and vice versa. They are the wrong criteria to use.

The ThoughtWeavers

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The dancer in the classroom!

Sir Ken Robinson tells a great story about girl whose parents were terribly worried about her lack of concentration in class;

I also have a very similar story. (I have kindly been given permission by Lucy’s mom to use her real name and share this story)

Two years ago Lucy came into my class as an enthusiastic Y5 girl. However, there was a problem, or to put it more precisely, a reputation that came with her. Lucy couldn’t concentrate in class.

Lucy couldn’t ‘sit still’, she was ‘noisy’ and her energy levels never seemed to wane. I thought carefully about this, as her teacher I became concerned. I wrote to her parents to request a meeting. At the meeting her mom informed me that this was ‘Just Lucy’. At the time I felt a little unsupported, however, I look back now and realise her mom was spot on. Lucy was just Lucy. She can’t sit still, she likes being vocal and she loves moving around the classroom; it was my duty to adjust to Lucy, not Lucy’s job to adjust to school! I therefore went about thinking of strategies to help Lucy and her learning.

I first ensured there was plenty of movement. I facilitated lots of talk (P4C was wonderful for Lucy) and sitting at a table became a choice not an order. At home Lucy’s mom decided to see if Lucy would enjoy ice-dancing…She loved it! In fact two weeks ago she won her first competition!

In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, Lucy didn’t have a problem; she wasn’t ‘naughty’ – she was in fact ‘a dancer’, someone who loved moving! Even more importantly Lucy can still be ‘just Lucy’

Last week I took two classes, Lucy included, on a residential trip. It was a tiring but wonderful week, the children gained invaluable and immeasurable experiences and collaborated on a range of tasks. It quickly dawned on me that all of the tasks had something very much in common:

  • No activities were preceded with a learning objective.
  • Differentiation was decided by the youngsters themselves
  • No-one got things wrong and everyone made mistakes
  • Every pupil was challenged but not compared with each other
  • Adults allowed children to explore possible solutions
  • Nothing was neatly recorded in  books
  • Children were encouraged to set their own targets
  • There were no walls (Except for bed time!)
  • Children were smiling – lots!

Taking ideas from outdoor education centres is not just about asking children to identify trees in the wooded areas and having a camp fire. It’s also about using ideas like those above; where children were challenged but had choice, where they built their self esteem by making mistakes. When youngsters didn’t always have to sit still and be quiet.

Talk to any teacher and they’ll tell you the value of an outdoor educational experience. So what bigger hint do we need that classrooms (In their traditional sense) are not always the best places to learn, they’re just a small part of the wider picture.
On Monday morning the children walked into my classroom. It felt different though. Unnatural. Odd that these young people were forced to congregate in a room within a building called a school after hugely successful week in an environment very different from a school.

For the past five years I’ve researched, experimented and applied many theories to my pedagogical approach, taking every opportunity to tap into children’s natural way of thinking and learning. It follows that perhaps over the next five years my emphasis should be on the physical learning environment and how it can be used to help all children succeed.

I will make lots of mistakes, but after last week I feel confident that it’ll work out for the best!

Remember when children are ‘fidgety’ it’s because they don’t want to be still, when they’re not concentrating it’s because they’re bored and when they’re noisy perhaps they want to perform! Whatever the reason, it is our jobs to adjust to the needs of the children, not the other way round. I no longer worry about Lucy, she’s just fine!

The Thought Weavers

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