A parent writes… (Originally July 6 2015)

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When Sam started school just over 3 years ago, I’m not sure which of us was more nervous (actually, – it was me). But we are fortunate that he goes to a lovely school. It achieves good results academically, but more than that it is a great, supportive community which recognises and develops the children as individuals, with individual needs and interests.

I hoped he would make friends, would like his teacher and would behave himself. I hoped he wouldn’t feel as small as he looked and that he would get along with his buddy. I hoped he would enjoy school and happily begin a journey of learning that he would want to be on for the rest of his life. Not once during that first year did I focus on how he was doing academically.

When Elias, my 2nd child, went to school he didn’t know his letters or his numbers, but by Christmas he could read, recognise numbers and was beginning to get the hang of writing… sort of… if you turn the page sideways and squint. But my point is that his abilities changed enormously during that first term. Any formal assessment done in the first few weeks would be quickly out of date.

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What a waste of time! To formally assess children who will change massively in the next three months, who have wildly differing exposures to formal education, who range in age from just 4 years to 5 years and to gain no more additional information that a good teacher could gain though casual observation.

So, I think it’s pointless. But that’s not what annoys me. What annoys me if that this constant tinkering with testing masks the lack of aspiration our government has for our children’s education.

Instead of spending time reducing the admin burden placed on schools and providing teachers with the time, space and resources to develop an exciting curriculum which develops each child in their care, the government creates atmosphere of teaching to the test, where only progress points and SAT scores matter.

Instead of encouraging learning through self-discovery, the government has created a system which forces teachers to cover only the bare minimum before moving on to the next topic.

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And instead of trusting teachers to understand the capabilities and development needs of the children in their class, they have introduced yet another round of pointless tests, the only purpose of which is to tell us how many more checkboxes children can tick at their next pointless assessment.

Our school system doesn’t need more testing. It needs more money for resources, building repair, school trips and employing support staff to allow teachers to focus more on building the learning journey that will give children the necessary tools to learn for themselves.

The mantra I make Sam repeat daily during assessment season is ‘testing tells you something, but it doesn’t tell you everything’ – a message our leaders would do well to take notice of.

A Calderdale parent (and not a teacher!)

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