Right, a very small number of primary schools are seeing the evidence-based light and switching to knowledge-based curricula; hopefully this trend will continue and then we will be rid of this ‘Let the kids bumble their way through life not really learning, so long as they’re happy doing things that interest them’ nonsense once and for all. We’ve also got good things happening in maths and English (eg. phonics, proper SPG lessons, practice of standard algorithms and learning maths facts off by heart) in those schools where management are similarly enlightened.
It’s time to start thinking about some kind of simple, yearly national test so that everyone, including parents, really knows how a child is doing (IMO = how much effort they’re putting in). What would it look like and what would it test? First off, it would be MCQ style which is easier to mark (use the technology!) and could also test for misconceptions at the same time. All the children would need is a bit of extra paper to do their maths calculations on and this could, I guess, be attached to the paper as evidence with an additional box marked ‘Used formal algorithms’ for the teacher to fill in. Ah, they’d need a pencil too and to learn how to either tick/cross/colour in boxes. Then all the papers would be sent off to be fed through some kind of machine with the results winging their way back to schools and parents in no time at all. Too much paper? Let’s make it an online test then.
What’s in the test? Everything, hopefully, except extended writing. Certainly we could have science, maths, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, reading, history, geography, music theory, R.E…….all the knowledge. It would all take a couple of hours (in different sittings) and most children in primary schools do regular tests anyway in every year group, not just SATs year groups, so why not do this test instead? I would save the teachers hours and hours cross-referencing birthdates with standardised scores and creating enormous spreadsheets for the half termly progress meetings!
Now let’s deal with all the potential problems:
Child can’t read? Read the test to them then.
Child can’t hold a pencil? Have the TA fill in the test for them then.
Child doesn’t like tests? Tell them it’s a quiz, promise them a biscuit after and use positive language rather than making them internalise adult worries about mental health issues.
Child won’t sit still and be quiet? OK, this one’s a tough one because I think all children, with training, can learn to sit still (they do when they’re engrossed on the iPad, for example). We all, according to the science stuff I have read, have frontal lobes and can therefore learn the habits of inhibition. Child still won’t sit still and be quiet? They can do the test by themselves then, before or after school in smaller chunks of time.
Child prefers to play outside and would rather do ‘kinaesthetic learning’? Tell them that life isn’t about doing whatever we want, whenever we want.
Child might get distressed about results? Now, I don’t understand the fuss about KS2 SATs on this one either because children aren’t actually told if they’ve ‘passed’ or ‘failed’; the results (which, by the way, mention nothing about passing or failing, rather a scaled score and whether they have achieved the expected standard) go to the school and the parents and it is for the parents to decide what information is given to a child. If there are educators going around telling children that they’ve ‘failed’ a test, then these educators need to be reported. Anyway, back to my MCQ test: the results (raw percentage correct for each subject area and total ‘points’ score) should go to the parents with information about the national average so that they can get some sense of where their children are in relation to this. Then, the parent can choose whether to give their child their score accompanied by a piece of their mind as to how proud/disappointed they are.
Sure, some parents would end up getting an almighty reality check as to how little their child has chosen to learn, but some struggling parents might also feel good about how, despite working long hours for low wages and still struggling to pay the gas bill, all those tired moments spent reading with their child or assisting with homework have really paid off. Trust me, if your life is a bit shit and you feel ground down, finding out that your child is doing well is one of the most glorious and joyful moments for a parent. Further, we should never forget the impact that a father’s ‘I am proud of you, son,’ has on a young lad who is tempted to try and gain the ‘respect’ of peers who only want to see him act like a clown.
Parents really are an untapped resource and, contrary to the opinion of some educators who have rather low expectations of certain kinds of families, they all want their children to do well; over the past few years I have had to turn away many parents who wanted to find out the exact results of tests we administer in class as they were so desperate to know exactly how their child was doing. Why do we deny them this and what are we so afraid of? That they might find out the truth? A no-fuss test like this incentivises parents to take more of an interest in what their child is learning if they actually knew which subject areas children were being taught in that year (and would stop them from assuming that the purpose of a school is to only teach children to be happy). I’m sorry, but cross curricular topics like ‘The Seaside’ or ‘All about me’ on a school website tell parents nothing at all about which exact areas of history, geography or music theory they would be learning, especially if the accompanying spiel is all ‘Children will be using their skills of collaboration and creativity to evaluate their design and technology projects, incorporating their understanding of how different materials sourced from the local environment work together to recreate a famous landmark while discussing key science themes‘ rather than ‘Children are going to use loo rolls to make the leaning tower of Pisa and hopefully learn about structural integrity and gravity in a fun way‘.
So, let’s have a yearly test.
Who’s with me?