You are a mother. Your son is how old? 8? 9?
Can you honestly, hand-on-heart, stand here right now and tell me that you think it is beneficial for him to be able to tell you what a fronted adverbial is? Is it useful for him to be able to identify an exclamatory sentence amongst a whole host of others? Does this make him more intelligent than the child who cannot explain it but who writes fiction which rivals that of J.K.Rowling? Or poetry which matches the imaginative genius of Michael Rosen?
I think we both know the answer. And I think if you stand here and say that, yes, knowing these things at the expense of using them effectively (i.e knowledge at the expense of application) is for the good of our children’s education then I have to suggest you are not being entirely honest. (Don’t worry, I’ve not forgotten that you’ll be testing our six year olds in the application of their exclamatory sentences too – out of context and without purpose or meaning – but testing their application all the same). Id like to point out here that I know Nick Gibb is also responsible for a lot of the things I am writing about here and for a blind, unfounded enthusiasm for academies so feel free to share it with him. I just feel that writing to him is a bit of a lost cause. In this instance, I most emphatically DO NOT agree with Nick.
I am a primary school teacher. I have been for ten years now, with short breaks from it whilst I had my two children. My eldest starts school in September. And you know what I spent yesterday doing? Researching and ransacking the internet for where I stand legally on refusing to let him sit the SATs tests.
I don’t agree with them on so many levels. But, putting aside my professional stance on this (which I will get to – don’t worry), as a parent I am becoming increasingly anxious about the wellbeing of my child when, at the age of five, he is subject to a ‘phonics screening’ which assesses only whether children can decode words – real and nonsense ones (but few, if any, of the high frequency words which appear most repeatedly within our written language i.e the ones which help make our reading more fluent and coherent – go figure). I understand the idea behind decoding. But, again, it is a meaningless, purposeless activity administered completely out-of-context. Ok, so you give them an alien to denote that the word they will read is a nonsense word but that is a hardly a context for reading for meaning. And is that not what teaching reading is? Because one year later (when my August-born son is only six), you will expect him to sit with a reading booklet in front of him and answer questions which demonstrate his understanding of what he has read. For him to be decoding every word correctly will not be enough.
But the problem with the environment of education you have now created is that teachers are not trusted and are made accountable for everything. So what will happen is that year one teachers will focus so hard on decoding that they will not focus on comprehension. And then the year two teachers will be so concerned with comprehension and bridging that gap that all they will focus on is comprehension without extending decoding skills and without, here’s the best part; teaching children to enjoy reading. And here’s the craziest thing; all us teachers want to do is teach children to be confident individuals who are motivated, enthusiastic and enjoy learning. What the government is intending to introduce is completely and entirely at odds with our basic principles of teaching.
The goalposts are continually moving. Children who have been exceeding expectations in their year group are now ‘average’. So what are those children who were struggling to reach expectations? And when are we supposed to bridge the huge gap you have created? Delaying the introduction of these things is not a solution – children will still need to catch up on at least a year’s worth of work with no additional year given to do it. Children are not emotionless little robots. They know where they are achieving within their class, especially at the higher end of primary school and beyond. Do you remember what it was like to be a ten year old girl? Imagine what the crushing blow of being told you are automatically a year behind in your academic ability would do to your self worth.
I am a successful teacher and I have studied to GCSE, A and degree level without having any primary school SATs to endure. I did sit the Key Stage 3 tests which have now been abolished (if they don’t work in Year 9, why are we still so adamant that they work in Year 2 and 6?). But even with this wealth of qualifications behind me, you know what the best part is?
I don’t have a clue what a fronted adverbial is.
And I have no hopes that my six year old will be able to tell me in three years time.
So please. I’m not going to beg because I have too much respect for my self and my profession to make desperate pleas to people who have no practical experience of my job. But I am going to ask very nicely for you to really look at these tests and ask yourself:
Would my son’s education be better for these tests? Would his self esteem and well being be boosted?
I hope you can see what most professionals working in education can see. And I hope the answer to the above questions is a resounding no.
And I hope this means you and your team can do the right thing. Not just for schools. Or for teachers.
But for our children.
A Concerned Parent and Teacher