Posts filed under ‘SATS’

Lembit, SAT’s and picnics pot pourri

You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Lembit Opik who so unexpectedly lost his seat in the election. But only a bit. Whilst I am sure it is no picnic for him, I have no doubt that when he has finished crying on a Cheeky Girls shoulder he will pick up some tasty work, Portillo like, in the media. He is quite high profile already, as though preparing for just this moment. He has already been on ‘Have I got news for you’ just hours after his fall and this morning on breakfast TV, not just once, but on two different slots.

Michael Portillo’s political demise all those years ago has, it seems, been voted as peoples’ third favourite moment of the 20th century. By his own admission his notoriety at the time has enabled him to reinvent himself and carve out a very nice, and no doubt lucrative, career in the media. If we’re not very careful we are in danger of even calling him a ‘national treasure’ (although on reflection perhaps a step too far).

Lembit does not have the same level of notoriety although his high profile womanising will do him no harm. He is sufficiently known, though, I think to be a prime candidate for picking up some very nice media jobbies, thank you very much, not to mention the autobiography, the diaries!!)

Whilst Lembit has been replaced as MP for Montgomeryshire, it is also no picnic for many head teachers of primary schools who are facing the ignominy of being replaced, at least temporarily, if they boycott the KS 2 SAT’s that are due to be taken this week. Those heads who are participating in the boycott are doing so for very sound, deeply felt educational reasons. The nub of this as one primary head interviewed this morning put it is that she simply did not feel that a 45 minute exam in any way reflected a child’s achievements over their previous 8 years schooling.

Any child that does not do well in their SAT’s knows it, and starts their secondary schooling with that blot on the landscape. This can’t help but affect that child’s confidence, the position they occupy in secondary school, and the view their new teachers have of them. Where there is setting at a secondary school the SAT’s results contribute to what set a child might be put in.

If they are put in top set they will probably feel quite good about themselves (as will their proud parents) although their can also be pressures on them to maintain that position. If they are put in the set below top set, well they are not quite good enough really, are they? If they are put in bottom set, then that means not up to much really, pretty worthless.

We do not literally believe those judgements, or at least we would not admit to it, but a child does. This leads to hundreds and thousands of school children starting the very scary and life changing journey into secondary education already with a chip on their shoulder, already disadvantaged, already with lowered expectations. No picnic at all.

It is in recognition of this, and of the fact that scrapping SAT’s does not mean scrapping ‘assessment’ as such (there are very many robust means of assessing a child progress) that those heads participating in the boycott are doing so. Rather than analysing the legal position of a boycott, or threatening to replace participating heads, it seems to me that the government would benefit from listening properly to the very cogent arguments being proffered.

One reason, I suspect, that the boycott appears to be somewhat patchy is that there seems to be no real political strength apparent in teachers unions. This is typified by a ‘laugh out loud’ moment when I heard on the news this morning that the NUT was holding a ‘protest picnic’ on the issue of KS2 SAT’s. Well, that will show them, won’t it!!!

So no need to worry Ed Balls, Michael Gove, or David Laws (or whatever combination of the three wins influence over the coming days) when it comes to dealing with the NUT, it is a picnic!

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May 10, 2010 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

Education! We just gotta get radical.

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This is a rather long blog post, after some absence from posting to this blog due to pressures of work, (filling a senior sales position at Vivid) and as you will read, a great holiday in the USA. After this it will be back to ‘business as usual’ with more regular and shorter posts to come. Thanks for sticking with it.

Holidays are often a time of reflection and the gaining of new perspectives. No more so for me following my family holiday in California with my partner and two children (aged 14 and 12). This was a touring holiday taking in the diversities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Death Valley and Las Vegas (in the same day), the wonders of the Grand Canyon, snow in the boiling heat of Mammoth Lakes, chilling in Santa Cruz.

Aside from the time we all spent in the car (we covered around 2,500 miles in just under 3 weeks) we also all lived in one room in different motels around the place. So this was quite intense. Mum, Dad, and the teenage kids in such close proximity 24/7. Although Diane and I had been to various places in the US prior to this visit, many of the places we visited on this occasion were as new to us as they were to the kids. So for much of the time there was a shared sense of discovery in all the places we visited and experienced.

For example, nothing prepared any of us for the 118 F heat or the eeriness we experienced in Death Valley, or the contrasting glitch and glamour and madness of the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas when we first walked through the doors, the breathtaking first sight of the Grand Canyon, the sheer vastness of the Redwood trees in Yosemite, being at the centre of simulated flash floods at Universal Studios, discovering a tarantula as big as a fist sidling up to us at a restaurant in Seligman (on Route 66).

And all of these experiences excited the curiosities of the kids, sparked myriad questions across a rich variety of disciplines – the origin of language,  weather systems (naturally, being brits), the solar system, politics, history, geography, and so much more.

We also all kept daily diaries (mine a series of tweets).

There were some tremendously evocative moments, like when we all surveyed the scene at Badwater Basin (in Death Valley and the lowest point in the USA at 182 feet below sea level), the salt flats stretching into the distance in the intense heat, and imagined the gold rush pioneers trudging along, no shade for miles, tired and despairing. A hugely compelling image and one that grabbed the imagination of our kids sparking loads of questions. Of course we were unable to answer all the questions they had but had wide ranging discussions in which we all explored the issues raised.

If this is not education I do not know what is. Yet, the rules are that family holidays within school terms are not allowed, or only allowed on a limited basis with the express permission of the school head. This means that because everything is much more expensive during the school holiday periods hundreds and thousands of children from families who simply cannot afford to holiday at the inflated prices demanded are excluded from the wonderful experiential and enlightening educational opportunities thus afforded.

I used to think that an answer to this is that legislation should forbid the holiday companies from inflating prices during school holidays. Or that families are allowed to take their kids out of school for holidays if they can demonstrate the educational benefits of doing so. But I now think differently because these propositions simply pander to the view, and our obsession with the idea, that education is something that is wholly controllable and measurable and can be contained within constraints established by government.

As 16 year old Michael Jones in a Teachers TV video puts it (http://www.teachers.tv/video/17058 – start at 56.00), ‘I learn loads of stuff on the streets, learning is everywhere’. And so it is. From the streets of New Delhi where Sugata Mitra first conducted his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments, to middle class holidays in the US, to messing on the streets, learning is taking place.

Change is occurring in our education system, politicians messing with stuff they know little about, but as David Warlick in his recent blog post on ‘2¢ worth’ says:

‘it seems that every time we sit down and talk about education reform, there seems to be something in the way, preventing us from what we want to do right now.  We can’t move that tile in the puzzle, until the one next to it is out of the way, which we can’t move until another one has been shifted, etc. etc.’

OK this is a blog from USA but the issue is the same. This is just messing around the edges of a system that is clearly failing with the unfortunate effect, actually, of making life increasingly more difficult for those on the ground, those who are delivering education, our teachers. And in the process the voice of the young people for whom the system is designed is completely ignored.

A new Ofsted report on progress with the new diploma system has just been published. The conclusions are that ‘teaching of functional skills, maths, English and IT, must improve’.

This, of course should come as no surprise to anyone who knew from the start that the diploma debacle was wholly misconceived. It explains why resultant qualifications from the diploma are not ‘A’ levels, truly on a par with the more ‘academic’ qualifications. This is because excellence in the so called ‘vocational’ skills is simply not valued. Just as the arts are similarly undervalued (see Ken Robinson on this), placed at the bottom of the existing hierarchy.

So it’s back to square 1. The diplomas appear to have been conceived with the crazy notion that offering more vocational subjects within a new structure to the less ‘academic’ will somehow magically make these people more academic, say in subjects like English, Maths and IT! It won’t. They will continue to struggle and will continue to be treated as second class because they are seen as struggling with these subjects.

And this will continue to happen until a new approach, a pupil led approach, to learning is developed and until we rid ourselves of the elitist view that academic prowess is the route to fulfilment.

When the worlds financial systems went into meltdown last year a great opportunity emerged to rethink the whole of that structure and to make radical changes accordingly. Unfortunately it looks like that opportunity is lost and the signs are that the financial institutions, propped up as they are by government, are simply reverting to the old greedy ways and habits, bonuses are back!!

There is a danger that a similar thing will happen with education. It would be great if holiday prices were not inflated during school holidays so more people could afford to go away, it would be great if parents were encouraged to take their children on holiday during term times with the wide educational benefits that that offers but in the end that’s just tinkering around the edges, simply moving the tiles around.

With technology there is the real potential of delivering an education environment that is truly personalised, is aimed at self fulfilment, and is pupil led.

Yet this potential will come to nought unless we have the courage to remove the barriers to learning, to knock down the walls around the classrooms, to trust our young people, to listen to what they have to say, and to radically rethink the whole purpose of education, and deliver for the 21st century.

August 21, 2009 at 12:42 pm Leave a comment

More Balls!

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This is another post about SATS. I really don’t want to give the impression that I am obsessed here but I believe that what happens with SATS is a good indicator of how things may pan out in the shorter term future particularly in relation to issues around assessment.

A boycott of SATS next year by the NUT supported by the NAHT would in my view be extremely positive and help forward the end of these unnecessary tests. However, the signs that this will happen are not good. For a moment on Saturday I was rather more optimistic when the NAHT meeting here in Brighton appeared to have voted to support the boycott. In fact it turns out that they had voted to ballot their members in respect of their support of the boycott. Somewhat lily livered I’d say.

I have already heard noise, also, that the NUT were potentially backtracking on the boycott in light of the possibility that the government will be willing to make some compromises, although what compromises could possibly be acceptable if the tests still remain is a mystery to me.

Ed Balls has said that he doesn’t want ‘pupils and teachers overly stressed by the Year 6 SATS’. Well, part of the problem is that teachers and pupils do get stressed by the SATS so he should scrap them.

He also has said that ‘a boycott of the tests would set a bad example to children.’ Absolutely right if you think that the only example that should be set to children is to never question government wisdom, that faced with universal unpopularity amongst parents, teachers and children alike government policy should always go unchallenged.

Perhaps that’s the example Mr Balls is setting for his children. I’m not setting it for mine.

May 5, 2009 at 2:23 pm 1 comment

SATS – the elephant in the room?

The government’s response to the NUT threat to boycott SATS in 2010, supported by the headmasters union, is to say that this would be illegal. No looking at the issues wondering if they have a point, no concerns that if such a rather wishy washy union as the NUT are proposing action this may reflect some serious concerns.

The basis of the teacher’s discontent is their reality that they spend too much time preparing 10 and 11 year olds for their Year 6 SATS at the expense of a great deal other of the teaching they should be doing.

This isn’t a new criticism of the SATS but I suspect this issue is rather coming to a head (pun unintended) because there is no sign that Ed Balls and his lot have any intention of doing anything about this (aside from saying that the tests are ‘not set in stone’ which has created great excitement amongst many of those who wish to see the SATS scrapped).

The great opportunity to have scrapped the Year 6 SATS at the same time as the Year 9 SATS were scrapped has been missed and only strengthened the view that the overriding reason for scrapping the Year 9 SATS was to take the weight off the massive marking task that has proved so controversial. So all this leaves things kind of in limbo.

In a recent discussion on Radio 4 Today programme about the proposed boycott some interesting things were said which pandered to some myths about the tests. Here are just three of them.

  1. ‘We need tests because we want young people to be able to read and write’. WRONG. You have to have good teaching in order to maintain standards. Tests ain’t teaching.
  1. ‘You have to have SATS in order to have some measure of a child’s progress’. WRONG. There are all sorts of means of assessing a child’s progress. It is often mistakenly believed that to be against SATS is to be against any forms of measuring progress.
  1. Young people need to get used to taking tests for later on when they take their GCSE’s and A levels etc.. WRONG. My view is that all exams should be scrapped, but given that that is unlikely, certainly in the medium term, there are many ways of preparing for later exams that do not have to start 5 years in advance.

In my mind there is no doubt that the SATS should be scrapped forthwith. One of the things that is holding things up, though, is the fact that this would send out an extremely significant signal that real change is afoot, that the old obsession with testing and league tables is coming to an end.

For politicians who generally can only see 5 minutes ahead and who fuel such obsessions in the mistaken belief that this addresses accountability, taking an action that in fact points the way towards a new world that may exist the day after tomorrow is extremely uncomfortable.

Yet, there is a growing feeling of inevitability in this. How long can Ed Balls and his colleagues ignore the elephant?

April 22, 2009 at 9:41 am Leave a comment

SATS make you stupid!

Here’s another interesting angle on the debate about SATS. According to an article in the Economist I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told research at Pennsylvania University and Cornell University has shown that children of poor families learn less well than children of middle class families because their working memories, critical in learning, have smaller capacities.

This is not put down to poverty per se, but to stress, presumably induced by being poor. I know some high achieving children who come from poor families. I also know some children of well off families who undoubtedly undergo a great deal of stress, nor because they are poor but for a whole variety of other reasons.

So if stress is the issue as is suggested then one would imagine that this would permeate the whole spectrum of wealth.

And if stress is the issue this would be a very strong argument for ridding our kids of the stress of sitting SATS tests, which, if the research is correct, can only get in the way of their learning.

April 14, 2009 at 3:18 pm Leave a comment


Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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