I never thought that it would something from Nicky Morgan that would kick start my blogging again but as I sit here this afternoon, reading more about the idea of testing for 7 year olds, rigourous and robust testing at that, I am compelled to put fingers to keyboard…
My two are now past 7 so this suggestion that even more testing is needed won’t directly affect them. I do however, have my daughter in Year 6 who will be ‘robustly tested’ in her SATS in May 2016.
From the beginning of Year 5 she has been forced to attend school for an extra hour per day – for the ‘extended day’ curriculum. She now does 8.50 – 4.15 – with the concession this year that they don’t do Fridays (they did all last year). All the ‘fun’ subjects – art, music and PE are shoved to the end of the day allowing them more time during the day to do the academic stuff. In the last half of the summer term this year, she followed her extended day with an hour of extra maths tutoring – she did a longer working day than a large proportion of the adult workforce. This will apparently improve her results in her SATS at the end of this year – which will mainly benefit her current school rather than her secondary education or long term employment prospects.
She hates the extended day. She sits in her bedroom and writes letters to the head with rearranged schedules to mean that it could be cancelled. She’s calculated the savings to the school in that they won’t have to feed them biscuits every day. The highlight of extended day for her is when you get the custard cream or the chocolate digestive rather than a rich tea.
Golden Time has gone from a Friday afternoon. That blissful final 45 minutes of the week where their hard work was rewarded with them being allowed to chose their activity. The time used as a consequence for those who have not done their homework – the time used to motivate the class through the last few hours of the week to keep up their learning momentum and maintain behaviour.
Oh, golden time is now ‘old fashioned’. Instead she does an ‘investigation afternoon’ promoting team work and problem solving – personally I’d prefer she did art and music and came home earlier. My son, he spends the last lesson of Friday doing Latin as this will apparently improve his English SAT results when he gets to sit them in Year 6.
She has already done one set of mock SATS – she will sit another set, in exam conditions, every half term until the ‘real’ ones in May. They have a chart to record their improvements. She is under the impression that if they (that’s the whole class) do not do well enough in their SATS they will not get their end of Year 6 treats and leavers barbeque. She will have been robustly tested into submission, her final year of primary school focussed solely on fear of failure, of letting her peers down.
There is no way that a 7 year old should be subjected to this kind of pressure or judgement. This is not a political statement, it is a statement that children should be children and have a childhood – not one that is judged entirely on their ability to write, spell or calculate. Yes, these are key skills, but they are not the be all and end all. Those children should be learning through experiences, play, experimentation and enjoyment – not through externally marked exam papers.
I am not adverse to assessing the children regularly – progress is important and perhaps if my daughter had been assessed a little more thoroughly and my concerns had not be dismissed as being those of an over protective mother, she would have received the support she needed with her writing and spelling in Key Stage 1 rather than having to play ‘catch up’ now (in Year 6). It just can’t be all about results, about schools being seen as successful or failures based on the achievements of 7 year olds.
What has happened to ‘every child matters’ – the child as an individual – with their own interests, passions, quirks and personalities? What has happened to every child aiming to be the best that they can be? Whether that child has additional needs, external factors or just something else that impacts on their education. Their progress and achievement might not fit with your boxes to tick, the attainment that every unique and beautiful child should have made according to your set standard at the age of 7. Ignoring the avid reader who struggles with maths, or the human calculator who just can’t spell. What about those who will become our future Olympians, technology experts or world changers? What will ‘robustly testing’ them at the age of 7 do to their confidence? Forcing them to conform, taking away their free time, tutoring them after their extended day to try and improve their results further.
This is not healthy. Children should be playing with their friends after school, enjoying the extra curricular activities out of a school environment, playing in the mud, cooking dinner with a grandparent or just having some down time. Learning to work as a team, interact socially and have fun are more important than the results of any test.
I am quite sure that some Year 6 pupils enjoy the extended day, that some are blissfully unaware of the pressure that there is for them to achieve. My daughter isn’t like that – she’s smart, responsible and feels the pressure immensely. She is desperate to go to a secondary school where personal achievement is recognised – where you are responsible for your own work and rewarded as such. She’s 10. She is terrified of failing – of not being good enough and letting her classmates down.
Ms Morgan – more rigourous and robust testing is not the way forward. Encouraging independence, integrity, thoughtfulness and creativity is. These children are the future of our country, regardless of their backgrounds or where they live. Let their teachers encourage their uniqueness, develop their skills and get them ready to cope with the outside world without that fear of failure at such a young age.