It's that time of the term again here in the Aspland household. Tests!
One week every term is handed over to testing what my children know. Now, I am not against tests per se, but I am yet to be convinced that the level of testing now in schools benefits our children.
I also know many teachers who feel the same. Teachers with years and years of experience and knowledge. Great teachers, who are in this to make a difference. Sadly, their opinion doesn't appear to be taken into account. As in many areas of our lives, it would appear that experience really counts for nothing.
Every term I know we will have a week of one child having sleepless nights, being stroppy, being angry, being tearful and displaying behaviour we rarely see. I don't even need to ask them if it is assessment week, I just know. The other child just withdraws and try to cope with the stress alone. It's a different home during this time; not one we enjoy.
One of my children has a real anxiety of failing. They know they are different to a lot of their school friends and want to do all they can to fit in. They are also at the age where they are starting to think about the future and having hopes and dreams. These hopes get knocked when the results of the assessments arrive. We don't think they are a failure and and I am sure (or I really hope) their teacher doesn't either but in my child's eyes, they think they have failed, they believe they aren't good enough.
So then we spend another few weeks trying to build up their self esteem again and dealing with the fall out of them feeling bad about themselves. Even when we feel progress has been made, we know we will relive the whole thing the following term.
I know my child tries their hardest. They are not the child unengaged in class, or the child who couldn't care less. This is a child who brings their homework home every week and sits down without any prompting to struggle through it. This is a child who hates letting people down and wants everyone to be happy with them.
They are in primary school. I want them to love learning. I want them to be like their parents and enjoy reading, I want them to think of learning a new subject with excitement. Even though I am over the age of 21 (by quite a few years), I still love learning. I love working out how something is done. I love learning a new skill.
I love that my teachers gave me a genuine passion for learning.
Teachers make a difference - if they have time:
When we look back on our own school time, I can be pretty certain that we don't look back and think "wow, thank goodness Mr/s X was Education secretary at that time" In fact I have just had to google who held the post of Education Secretary throughout my school life. I also asked my mum (an educated lady) and she struggled to name more than one.
However, I (along with my mum) can name many teachers who made a difference without any effort or googling.
- Miss Plumpton - who had inspiring posters around the classroom and gave us the belief that we could be anything we wanted to be if we worked hard;
- Mr Calderbank who taught me how to use acronyms as memory prompts;
- Miss Kimberley who taught me that "statistics prove nothing" and to question everything (do you want to bet how many people are grateful she played a part in my life?);
- Mr Bennett who encouraged my passion for literature and language;
- Mr Fletcher (the most amazing head teacher who knew how to get children to do what was needed without any threat of punishment - the cane was still a real option when I went to school);
and the list of my inspiring teachers could go on.
Many teachers are their own experts by experience. They are people who know how to get the most out of children. True co-production with these people is what needs to be happening.
I am not talking about the teachers who only think of differentiation as a mathematical concept - you know the ones who photocopy the same page of a text book as homework for the whole class?
I mean the real teachers, the ones who know that children are individuals; the ones who know if you can find a child's trigger to want to learn, you can change their life. What an amazing feeling that must be and how frustrating it must be when you just don't have the time to do this because of all the hoops you now have to jump through.
The impact of tests:
Does teaching a child how to pass a test teach them anything of value for the real world?
Some children have amazing memories but being able to transfer that knowledge into a real life scenario, well that is something totally different. Just being able to read 100 pages of a book doesn't mean a child will understand a word of it. Just being able to recite your times tables won't help you to get on in the real world. I can't think of anyone who is successful in their chosen career just because they were able to recite their times tables. Ask Nicky Morgan. She managed to become Education Secretary without being able to.
When asked on tv, "what is 8 x 7?", Nicky Morgan couldn't answer. The irony of this was not lost on anyone.
Ms Morgan's reason for not responding was that she wouldn't answer (not couldn't) as she thought she may end up answering the same thing all day. Maybe our children should try the same argument: "Sorry Miss, I'm not answering that. I can answer it but I may be asked the same thing again today so I won't". Well, it's a good enough
excuse reason for the Education Secretary, so why not give it a try?
If you choose to lead, it should be by example; especially if you want to be a respected leader.
More seriously however, if the tests constantly knock our child's self esteem, will they even consider applying for a job or will they believe they are not good enough?
If they believe their value is based purely on grades, without providing any real focus on emotional development and resilience, will they have any confidence if those grades are poor?
If they spend their time learning how to pass a test, rather than how to use initiative, socially connect and have self worth, will they be able to sit in an interview and respond appropriately to questions about themselves?
With the level of testing due to increase at the same time as the level of funding for CAMHS seems to be decreasing, well something is going to have to give. Sadly, it will probably be our children.
I will leave you with this final thought.
In order to help my children, I have changed the way they think about the assessments.
I have told them that the assessments are actually an assessment of how well their teacher is doing.
If my children know they have tried their best and they still don't do well in their test, then they now know this is due to their teacher not teaching them in a way they were able to understand.
I am all for my children taking responsibility for their own actions and I am all for them having a real passion for learning.
However, I am also all for them knowing that on occasion some adults make really silly decisions just because they can.