This is my amazing boy, he is bright, funny and curious about everything – current favourite topics are The Romans and how babies are made (eeek). He is 7 years old and in year 2. You may be aware that this year there are new assessments for year 2 children that are significantly harder than they have been in the past.
The government wants you to think this is to raise standards but it’s a bit like saying, “We want all children to learn to ride a bike so we’ve entered them for the Tour de France.” It doesn’t make the children any more likely to learn to ride their bikes it just makes them stressed and feel like failures. It also it gives less time for actually teaching the children the basics of bike riding because they need to learn about the procedures for the bike race.
Raising the bar dramatically like this does not raise standards. Empowering teachers raises standards, reducing class sizes raises standards, listening to academic researchers raises standards. This is quite simply setting a whole cohort of children up to fail.
We moved house in December and so E is at a new school. It seems to be a good one (it’s actually really difficult to tell!) He still likes going and he comes home excited about the fun things they’ve been doing – at the moment they have caterpillars in class. So in theory I’ve got nothing to worry about. He isn’t stressed by the tests and generally feels successful. He isn’t going to ‘pass’ these tests but as long as he feels like he is I couldn’t care less about the results.
But in spite of this it still bothers me greatly. He left his amazing year 1 teacher with the skills he needed to really become literate. He’s reading fairly confidently now and has developed legible handwriting. What he needed to spend year 2 doing is to really develop as a writer; to write in proper sentences for extended periods in a way that vaguely reflects his spoken ability and his knowledge and understanding. He should be introduced to more and more books that he can read to himself so he develops a love of reading.
What he should not be doing is practising answering test booklets. One of the problems with formal tests is children need to be taught how to do them. Test technique just isn’t obvious to children so if you don’t teach them how to do the tests, you’re not going to get results that reflect their ability. When I was first teaching, a 9 year old drew a beautiful picture of herself at her desk in the box that said “Show your working”. It was funny at the time and it was so long ago that it didn’t really matter. But in these ‘high stakes’ tests that years 2 and 6 are doing it certainly would matter. Schools and teachers are judged on these results.
So, even though he isn’t stressed and even though the creative parts of the curriculum are still being held on to, it still matters. Every hour he has to spend learning how to answer test booklets is an hour he could be spending developing his writing skills (or being excited and enthused by something else entirely). And of course, what breaks my heart slightly is that every hour he spends practicing is another hour where he may realise he can’t answer all of the questions.
On Tuesday there is a ‘kids strike’ to support teachers and schools against this ridiculous waste of our children’s time. I fully intended on taking him out for the day in support of this but he doesn’t want to! He said to me today that tests help teachers know what he needs to learn (I think I told him that!)
So this is my small stand against the current system. I’m not prepared to explain in any more detail to my 7 year old exactly what is wrong with education and the moment and how people are using his only chance in year 2 as a political football because I want him to continue to love school and to trust his teachers. But it’s clear to me – and to everyone I know that knows about child development – that it is most definitely wrong and our children deserve so much better than this.