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National Curriculum Tests

Schools up and down the land will be preparing for National Curriculum tests this coming week.

I've often wondered what the point is of SATs, even more so now I know the inadequacies of the system. 

SATs results are published annually and form an integral part of school league tables. It is to each school's advantage to perform as well as possible in the SATs, as "school shopper" parents view these tables when deciding where to educate their children. A higher performing school will be more attractive to parents. More children coming through the door means a greater budget for the school. In short, good SAT results make schools money.

In principle I agree with the idea that children across the land should sit the same tests in the same subjects. In an ideal world the data collected would show a correlation between childrens' achievement and the quality/breadth of learning they receive in their school. It does not, however, take into account the very specific circumstances each individual school faces.

In practice SATs are fundamentally flawed because so much rides on schools getting the best possible results. This causes a significant proportion of schools to play the SATs system for maximum benefit. For example, if there is a child who struggles with reading it is possible to get them extra time in the tests. Even if they don't struggle that much, some schools will attempt to secure that advantage. Some schools ensure the children's regular subject teacher, who has an obvious interest in them performing well, is present during the test to "lend a hand" as necessary. Schools are putting teachers in the unenviable position where their consciences are tested to the limit. If you're a maths teacher and you notice that your star pupil has made silly mistakes, do you really want those to be counted?

Last year I saw an experienced colleague lend a child a pencil, which they placed on the page with the point indicating towards a correct multiple choice answer. Another favourite is for the teacher to emphasise the answer when reading questions aloud. I would suggest that such antics are widespread, given the high stakes nature of the tests for the schools concerned.

The most alarming thing I have learnt is that schools are allowed to conduct warm-up exercises immediately before the tests begin. That itself isn't cause for concern, because all schools are in the same boat. However, what is cause for concern is that the test papers have already been opened and checked prior to this warm up taking place. 

Some schools, Mickley Grange included, have spotted the potential advantages of this system. When the teacher proofreads the test papers they make a note, mental or written, of the sorts of skills the questions examine. The warm up, spookily enough, then focuses on those same skills so they are fresh in the childrens' minds.

SATs are an absolute waste of time, because of the way the results can be skewed towards a particular outcome. All they do is stress out teachers and children alike. The quicker they're abolished the better.

Blogging Hiatus Reaches an End

I can barely believe it has been almost two full years since I last blogged here on Teaching Uncovered.

So what has happened in the last two years? Well, I am still employed at the same school, which I will refer to as Mickley Grange from now on. The English education system has faced significant upheaval in the wake of the new Coalition Government. Free Schools, Academies and a new Ofsted inspection regime are just a few of the new initiatives that have been inflicted at the chalk face. Locally we have a new Head. Previous readers will know that I held the previous Head in affectionate high regard, but I cannot say the same of his successor. He is a business machine, who is completely detached from the ethos of what we do at Mickley Grange. Whereas the previous Head would walk the corridors and cheerily chat to the children every single day, this one robotically strides the corridors once a month and people ask "who is he?"

It is astounding how much change has happened over such a short space of time. Equally astounding is how little benefit it has brought.

Mickley Grange, along with thousands of other schools across the land, has recently completed the process of converting into an Academy. The staff were understandably apprehensive at the conversion process and it's fair to say the majority were opposed to the idea, despite the oft-mooted financial benefits it could bring. The Governing Body and Head were dead set on the idea, so everyone else just had to fall into line and accept it. After all, as we were frequently warned, it would be difficult to balance the books with a staff the size it was if we didn't. In other words, people would lose their jobs if we didn't become an Academy.

The spectre of redundancy had been dangling like the sword of Damocles ever since the new Head moved in. Mickley Grange had always been the sort of place people longed to work. Delightful children, supportive colleagues, beautiful surroundings and a relaxed pace of life. It had a homely feel and was the sort of place people could happily begin work as an NQT and see out their days until retirement. People took pride in their work and there was a real sense of identity and belonging.

Sadly that all changed when the new Head took post. Now everything has a price and has to progress with regimented speed. It's all "blue sky thinking", "curves of responsibility" and similarly pointless business babble. David Brent would be cringing with embarrassment at some of the initiatives they come up with. The sort of ideas people say to sound good, which also serves to mask their self-inadequacy. People are getting battle fatigue as we watch our school transform into an emotionless, cold husk of its former self. Colleagues who bounded with energy and enthusiasm two years ago now shuffle with their heads down and eyes glazed. 

We work hard now because the whip hand threatens us, not because of the satisfaction we get from the role.

Times are bleak at Mickley Grange.

Induction Complete

My first full time year of teaching has come to an end.

After 960 lessons, some of them I'd rather forget, my induction paperwork has been signed off and forwarded to the Appropriate Body. Better still I was also able to send off my Golden Hello paperwork, so there should be an extra £3500 (after tax) lurking in my September pay packet. After negotiation I should also be progressing to point 4 on the Main Pay Scale, so I will be able to live quite comfortably come the new school year.

It's been a hard year, although not as hard as my PGCE. I take some consolation from the fact that a lot of work I've prepared this year can be used to lighten the load next year. There have been days when I've thought "why am I doing this?", which have thankfully been outweighed by the days where I've delivered good lessons and been surrounded by brilliant kids and supportive colleagues.

For now I'm going to enjoy my summer holidays. I don't plan to go into school too often, but I will be working at home in the last couple of weeks.

Staffroom Politics

As an NQT I vowed that I'd steer well clear of the inevitable staffroom politics that blights most schools.

My school is no different. We have those who work hard and comply with management instructions and we have those who do their own thing and couldn't care less. As much as I try to focus on doing my own job effectively I am distracted by senior colleagues who are quite happy to drift along in the slow lane, putting in the bare minimum of effort. Their blase attitude is doing our children a disservice.

You'll probably know the sort of people I mean - those who give their lessons completely off the cuff because the previous night they were in that much of a hurry to escape they couldn't be bothered to prepare anything.

I'm also noticing how rude some of my colleagues can be. I would never dream of turning up late to a meeting or playing with my phone, laptop or pile of marking when I got there but that is endemic behaviour in some people who should really know better.

I would never dream of yawning in the face of or talking back to a member of the SMT, but a culture has developed where some people see that as acceptable.

I would never dream of berrating or talking down the Head or Deputy (both of whom I have the utmost time and respect for) to my colleagues, but internal (and Hard Federation) power struggles make subversive conversations an everyday event.

To me these examples show poor manners and a serious lack of professionalism, yet as the new teacher I'm not really in a position to do anything other than sit frustratedly in the background.

What needs to happen is the subversive and workshy few are gripped firmly by the bollocks and hauled back into line or shown the door.