Please take time to read, share, print and retweet the following to as many people as you know as the following is from a current Primary Headteacher in England who supports the action we are taking as parents but has asked to stay anonymous…
I am the headteacher of a single form entry primary school on a council estate. I am writing to give my support to your campaign and to explain why.
For some time I have been disillusioned by the high stakes testing regime in our schools which acts against an effective primary education.
In our Nursery and Reception Classes children are full of wonder and show determination and resilience. Children in our Early Years spend the majority of their time outdoors. They confidently choose the resources they need and solve their own problems. Having achieved this level of curiosity, independence and love of learning, we then seem to spend the next six years doing our best to reverse this and turn them into exam machines who are able to churn out correct responses to test questions without being able to use their learning in new situations and without the love of learning that they originally had.
Having been aware of this for some time, we try our best to rectify this situation within the constraints we have. In years 1,3,4 and 5 we plan an exciting and very broad outdoor curriculum based more on what our children need than on the national curriculum if the truth be known. However, in Years 2 and 6 we practise for the SATs. I am ashamed of this but it is necessary in order to retain our “good” Ofsted status so that we will be left alone to provide a proper education in all the other years. If we didn’t practise test techniques we would not achieve the results necessary to avoid intervention and narrowing of the curriculum in all years.
We do our best to ensure that the children in Years 2 and 6 do not become stressed by the tests. The culture in our school is that the whole staff is responsible for the whole school. Teachers in SATs years are no more responsible for the results in those classes than anyone else. The culture of collective responsibility is an attempt to mitigate teacher stress and to ensure that all the teachers build up a relationship with all the children. However, the workload in these classes for teachers and children is heavy.
Obviously there is a necessity to test children in order to ascertain their level of understanding and to decide upon next steps. As professionals, we are quite capable of managing this within school without causing stress or undue workload. It is the high stakes testing where hard working and effective professionals are afraid of losing their jobs which causes the stress. This is passed on from leadership to teachers and thus to children. Is this why there are such concerns about the mental health of our children?
Another worry is that the content of the tests is inappropriate and in the case of the latest SPAG tests, actually incorrect! We are expected to teach our children incorrect grammar and punctuation so that they will score highly in the tests. This is ludicrous!.
Children’s writing is also adversely affected by the guidance given in order to assess their work. Last year I was teaching a Year 6 group with an extremely effective writer. I told him to include different constructions in his writing, such as beginning a sentence with a prepositional phrase, in order to attain the level I knew he was capable of. The conversation went like this:
- Boy: I don’t want to use that punctuation or begin my sentence that way.
- Teacher: Why not?
- Boy: Because it won’t flow properly and it won’t sound good. Anyway you said I’m a Level 5.
- Teacher: Yes but other people need to know you’re a level 5, the people that come to check. They have a list of things they need to check your work against.
- Boy: But you don’t check my writing against a list and you know it’s a Level 5 so why don’t they?
- Teacher: They aren’t clever enough so they need a checklist.
- Boy: So who made up the checklist?
- Teacher: People who work for the Department for Education – The Government.
- Boy: Oh so they all used to be headteachers then?
When I told him that this was not the case there was an uproar from all the other children who thought that this was ridiculous!
I want children to write with excitement and from the heart, not based on using the correct language construction to get a particular mark, even if it doesn’t fit with their writing.
I would like to see the end of high stakes testing in our primary schools so that children are excited and engaged in their learning in ALL year groups. I would like to see them writing for pleasure. I want to have time to speak to them at length and make them feel valued. I want them to internalise language so that their language acquisition is sound and they are confident in its use in many different situations, not just in narrow test questions.
The White Paper is another nail in the coffin of state education. It will see funds being removed from children and put into the pockets of high flying CEOs who may not even have a background in education. It will see school buildings and grounds being handed over to private companies and it will see the removal of regulatory financial controls opening the door to the misuse of public funds. Above all it will see the beginning of the end of state education for all and I cannot contemplate that.
I cannot put my name to anything that is published on your website because I am afraid of repercussions for my school and my staff, who incidentally feel the same way as I do, but we are in total support of your campaign and hope that it is successful.
With thanks for your energy and commitment
If you are a headteacher and want to also share your opinions via our web site anonymously please contact us here and also speak to NAHT or your local NAHT president. We have also contacted NAHT directly to show them parents will support them but are awaiting a response.