Tag Archives: parents

The Stressing Abominable Tests or The Shameful Aggrandisation of Tests? by @Mroberts90Matt

It’s January. That means the start of crazy season for Year 6. Incredible targets never before seen in the children’s lives are set, staff give up their mornings for booster sessions (not because they’ve been asked to but just because they want the children/school/performance management to get the results required) and children are suddenly hit with a larger amount of testing. All those who have worked around Year 6 know this feeling. However, as this circumstance impacts a large sphere of influence (other teachers, parents, governors, governments and so on) it creates a wide array of opinions.

I think there is one clear consensus – the current climate of testing in the Education System in England is not healthy. Children, teachers and schools are under strain to perform. It is not necessarily the expectation that is too high, but the emphasis placed on these results that causes extreme pressure. As I was looking at this issue I came across two excellent blog posts which identified contrasting views but both gave points which I fully agreed with. I would encourage you to have a look at them:

https://debrakiddmum.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/whose-child-is-it-anyway/

This post written by well-known Debra Kidd (who I had the pleasure of being taught by at University) and it hit home with me. She was always inspirational in her sessions and it was at the time I was being taught by her that she decided to leave the University and go back into teaching.

I have a 4 year old son. He loves dinosaurs, cars, Paw Patrol and playing with his parents and his little sister. He loves being read to and is starting to read letters and sounds as well as simple high frequency words (he doesn’t enjoy that quite as much though). Basically he is a typical 4 year old boy. However, in a year and a few months he will be sitting his first ‘test’. He will be tested on his ability to decode and read phonic letters and sounds. Now whilst I know this is not like the SATs and less emphasis may be placed on it, it represents the beginning of a school career of testing.

She states: “The new tests are so demanding and the results from last year so unreliable that schools are in a blind panic about not meeting the floor target. They are concerned that poor data will lead to a poor Ofsted inspection. They are right to be worried. This is the government that declared they wanted all pupils to be above average, demonstrating a poorer understanding of mathematics than they expect of their 11 year olds.”

I agree that schools are in a panic and that they are trying to shift their results in assessments that are of a higher standard so they reach high expectations. Due to schools being deemed as ‘requiring improvement’ if their pupils only achieve expected progress (wow, I would hate for my child to be in those schools that provide the progress that the government expects, because that are requiring improvement!) they are in a frenzy to push results up. Ofsted are changing their ways to put less of an impact of their judgements on hour long lesson obervations, but because of this they are relying more on data. We have heard the stories of inspections where the watchdog have walked in already with a judgement in their mind after having received a RaiseOnline analysis, and the school has to prove them wrong. I heard of a school where the inspector came in, did their findings, then said that the school was requires improvement. When asked for the points to improve on, they did not have any!! All from the results of these high-stakes tests.

Debra calls for parents to stand up and make their voice heard. A sticking point with some teachers on Twitter was the assumption that Debra suggests that parents should take their children out of the SATs pressure. Firstly, she does not suggest this – in fact she clearly states that she is not saying this: “That’s not to say we should all boycott – that’s a matter of personal choice, made between each parent and each child.”  I agree that changes need to be made. Hopefully parents can work together to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, I work with some parents that probably aren’t even aware their children are sitting tests this year (despite discussing it at Parents Evening with them). And this is where the issue arises – across the nation there will be parents who recognise the need for change but there will be a greater number who will be unaware of this issue. Can the current minority make their voice heard enough? Hopefully…

Then I came across this post by The Quirky Teacher:

https://thequirkyteacher.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/the-trouble-with-sats/

Again, several points were made in this well-written article, which was a direct response to Debra Kidd’s post. Out of the points that were made, two stood out to me.

The first was that the SATs were not the problem. Again, another point I can agree with. Schools must be accountable to the part they play in educating our children. If that performance was not measured then progress will slow. I hate having my performance monitored as much as anyone else but it is necessary in order to make sure children are making the progress required. As a result, some schools feel that they need to motivate children by saying these results will have an impact on their secondary school experience. This is plain lying. The children will be tested when they enter secondary school as the results they come up with are not always an accurate measure anyway. For example, I taught a child in 2014-15 who was not achieving more than 10/50 in the Old Curriculum Reading Test in March (in other words, just lower than a 3c). He left our school with a Level 4. I to this day do not know how that child pulled it off but I know that when he walked into that secondary school with that level attributed to him they would have wondered what happened in the Summer of 2015 between schools.

Speaking of that child walking into the secondary school with that level, it was stated with the introduction of the SATs that the system was simply there to measure the schools ability to educate and progress children’s learning. That actually should still be the case. But schools under pressure, parents wanting children to succeed and children being trained into this exam culture influence change the landscape of the purpose of the SATs. This was probably a naïve statement from the government at the time, but it is not a problem with the SATs themselves, it is a problem of those involved in the SATs.

The second point made was that parents must bear the brunt of the problems that have arisen. The point made is that parents are allowing their children to slack in their educational progress due to today’s culture of YouTube, quick meals and previous progressive education. Whilst to a point I agree with this notion, there is a comment I disagree with.

“…there was a time in the not-so-distant past when children mostly achieved these standards without too much fuss.”

Yes the standards are not astronomical. They are attainable and challenging and I agree with this. However, these standards have indeed been raised. If a child taught under the Old Curriculum for the past 7 years sat the New Curriculum assessments then they would struggle a lot more. This can clearly be seen in the number of children meeting the expected standard in Reading, Writing and Maths in 2014-15 compared to 2015-16 nationally. Why is this? The standards have changed.

However, I am not saying that the standards that have been raised to where they shouldn’t have been. And yes, as a general rule, children today do not have the same opportunities for learning at home then they did previously. This certainly is not the case for all but for most. Being a parent myself I know as much as any how difficult it can be to keep children focused on their learning and make sure they make as much progress as they can.

Simply put, I agree with both of these great educators in their points of view to a point. However, I think there is something we can all agree with – the current KS2 Assessments are not completely fit for purpose due to the impact their results can have for schools, not the fact we have tests or with the tests themselves.

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Too Much to Report by @Mroberts90Matt

As the Whit Half Term Holiday begins, so does the realisation that most of it will be spent focusing on reporting to parents how their little darlings have learnt, behaved, achieved, disappointed, excelled, shocked…all in all performed in (mostly) one room every weekday for most weeks of the year. Where to start…?

As I have sat and contemplated over the past week on how to tackle this overwhelming but exciting prospect, I’ve realised that this is an almost impossible task, for the following reasons:

1: Consistency

The things that I write in these reports are meant to be a reflection of a child’s entire year of learning in school. Ok, we have had two parents evenings and, where necessary, homework diaries to keep them informed up to now anyway so it shouldn’t be totally new news. Yet, this is an end of year report, not just a way to avoid having a Parents Evening in the Summer Term. So one would presume that everything should be covered and we should give an accurate snapshot of the child in school for the year.

However, things change. They are changing even as I sit and tap continuously on this battered, tortured keyboard. A perfect example happened just this week! By Thursday I had already written three reports despite Ofsted being in for a subject specific inspection this week (was feeling very impressed with my productive self). So as the day ended on Thursday and I was in my PPA Time, my teaching assistant popped in to give some news (never a good sign on a Thursday afternoon in my PPA Time). Four boys had been rude to another child in Maths and were being spoken to by the Head of KS2. I guessed three of the boys and said that I would also speak to them, but I could not think who the fourth might have been. When I heard the child’s name I literally dropped my jaw. HIM?! “But he’s been brilliant all year!” I exclaimed. The TA agreed wholeheartedly but assured me it was the case because he was seen and admitted himself he was involved. Not only this, but this child had also deliberately upset another boy. His words: “Yeah, I wanted to upset him.” (This being whilst the other boy was in tears)! I was astonished. Then, I remembered that I had written the report for this boy – and I had written that he was a perfect example of behaviour in and out of the classroom and could be counted on to always do the right thing…So now what? Do I change what I am sending home as a reflection of his whole school year and overlook this deliberate act of emotional maliciousness? Do I mention it as something to work on? This, I think, is one of the problems with report writing, it will be impossible to paint an exact picture of what the child’s year has been like as children do not learn, progress or behave the same way throughout the whole year.

2: Brutual Honesty, Woolly Statements or somewhere In the Middle?

I’m certain that those of us who have written end of year of reports may have wanted to say something like: “Your child simply can’t be bothered, has a detrimental impact on their peers learning, has the amount of respect for adults that I would expect a virus to have and just not a very likeable human being.” Now I would say that I would never make such comments about an actual child even to other members of staff that may feel the same way – but this illustrates a point. I am currently considering a report for a child who (whilst they are nowhere near the description above) has some areas to improve on in their attitude to learning. Surely if it is said to softly that message may not get across with the impact we need it to have. But, of course, if I were to receive a report like the one mentioned above I would wonder why that adult was being allowed to work with children (again, I have not even had those thoughts about an actual child, just to make that clear)!

3: Painting the Big Picture

I’m starting to liken the End of Year Report as a completed paint canvas. When we get the class at the start of the year we have a blank canvas, a new year to experience excellent education and create a masterpiece. We need to give the completed painting to the parents, to be able to say “This is where your child is now.” However, what I’m finding is this is most difficult because a painting is not made instantly, it is made brushstroke by brushstroke. Each little experience followed by another. It is impossible to accurately describe how their child has learnt over the year. We have books and data to help us orientate ourselves with how well they’ve produced an outcome, or done in a particular test, but not the journey itself. One thing I plan on doing to help me with this is to create an easy to access record where I can note down good things children in my class do on a day-to-day basis so when I write the reports at the end of next year I have this to refer back to and mention great things the child has done throughout the year.

These are just a few thoughts I’ve had – I’ve done 3/10 of my reports, so I’m getting along – I now need to try and get more done but make sure it is one they will remember for the right reasons.

How do you make your End of Year Reports memorable? Do you have any ways of making them effective snapshots of your child’s learning in the class?

Teacher Voice Weekly Poll w/b 17th November 2014

Well, last time’s poll really brought in some interesting results! The focus was on setting by ability. 22.2% believed setting was a good idea, 33.3% believed setting should be instigated in Maths lessons but no others and 44.4% said that setting by ability should be avoided. That’s probably the most evenly spread result sen so far in one of these polls and highlights the need for research that has been done into this area to be examined and brought more into light – this decision can have a major impact on a child’s learning; is it therefore not important to decide what is best with evidence?

This week’s poll is linked to my last post on Parents Evening – what do you think is there most effective method of working in partnership with parents on their children’s learning? Obviously it will be suggested that more than one of these options should be used, and rightly so! However, which do you think has the biggest impact and which every teacher should implement?

Parents Evening… By @Mroberts90Matt

For those who don’t know, my blog is on the Teach100 List, which attempts to collate a list of educational blogs and rank them by various factors – activity, views and so forth. Recently, the Teach100 Team sent out an online questionnaire asking about communication between parents and teacher and what the most effective method was.

It was apt timing as this week I was to experience the first time that I would have ever come into contact with a large amount of parents – Parents Evening. As I had been away for two weeks on paternity leave I was to conduct my first Parents Evening on my own in the school, under a casual eye by the Heads and my mentor who popped in occasionally to make sure I was not cowering in the corner surrounded by a multitude of older looking versions of the children in my class.

Although, this was what I imagined. As the evening begun, I found that this experience that I had been having a little anxiety over was not unpleasant; in fact, it was quite enjoyable! To have 30 odd adults come to you, with at least half asking how my newborn daughter was doing and a quarter or so stating that their child had really missed me whilst I was away, was extremely fulfilling! Not only that but when discussions about their darling child began and I highlighted areas that they as parents could help with, they were more than willing to accept!

As I was due to begin work, I remember seeing this picture posted by someone on Twitter:
image

Thus, I was a little nervous come the evening. However there was no need for the nervousness. All the parents were extremely easy to get along with. The only slightly ‘scary’ occurrence was a father asking why his daughter’s handwriting was so bad and then got better later on… So all in all not bad 😉

It got me thinking however: what IS most effective way of working with parents. It was really good to get some face time with the parents so little plans could be put in place. However, 5mins really isn’t enough time to effectively impact a pupils entire year of learning at home and school. I have initiated a class blog with my class which is starting to become effective at providing more learning opportunities at home – i now need to encourage parents to comment and see children’s work. I’ve still note had to attempt a call home yet… I hate phone calls with friends so imagine my reluctance to call parents!! However that will be one I imagine I’ll have to overcome at some point! We tried an Open Day after school once – I had one parent come!

The aforementioned questionnaire mentioned several ways schools can interact with parents and I will probably base next week’s Teacher Voice Weekly Poll on that. It must be vital to build at least some sort of connection with adults at home. After the Parents Evening I had, I feel even more confident teaching in the knowledge that most parents are phased with what is happening at school. Now I look forward to spotting parents in the playground rather than dreading their approach! Of course, I recognise I was probably lucky, but it has certainly helped!