Thursday, 28 April 2016

Letter to me from teacher about SPaG test

"It occurred to me that although there were 49 questions [50 if you include one question with two distinct parts (Q21)], many questions have several elements, all of which must be correct to be awarded the mark - and then some. The cruellest question in this regard is Q39. Not only do the children have to think of five suffixes, they then have to spell every new word correctly. That's ten elements for one mark. Just one letter out of place...and the whole question is a big fat zero, even though the child understands what suffixes are and how to combine them with nouns albeit with a silly (sincerily??) slip.

We counted nearly 80 separate elements in a '49 question' test for 50 marks."

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The test-crazy regime is based on treating our children as if they are machines.

This is about the teach-test regime where the tests are used to measure schools and not to help teachers to teach and children to learn. It's the input-output method (or theory) of measuring schools and it comes from technology, business and some science.

The input-output model of measuring performance works on the basis of measuring output as a way of measuring how good the input is.

Imagine, for example, a racing car test on petrol. In a test, you could change nothing apart from the type of petrol : same, car, same driver, same pressure on the accelerator, same amount of lubrication, same wear on the tyres but in one run you use one kind of petrol, in the next run you use another kind of petrol (same amount in the tank, each time), same weather, same track, same route. In these circumstances, you could measure the difference in performance and draw conclusions about which petrol is better.

The measure of performance would measure the input.

What is going on in education is based on this principle.

So, the Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation tests for Years 2 and 6, were brought in specifically because it was claimed that they give right and wrong answers. This means that on the basis of the performance of the children in these tests, the relative worth of the 'input' (ie teachers' teaching) could be measured. It's the input-output model.

So, why shouldn't we use this method?

One reason is because the output (the tests themselves) are unreliable. There are too many ambiguous features in the tests. Multiple choice can be done without any reference to knowledge (stick a pin in and you get a one in four chance of being right). Some things that are being marked as wrong, are in fact right.

The other reason - more importantly is that children are not cars. They are not machines. This is an argument about education itself.

We have to ask ourselves, what kind of person do we want to develop and grow within education? If we want children to be responsive, thinking, interpreting, inventive,  flexible people aware that what they say and do can affect materials, language and other people around them, then we shouldn't treat them as if they are empty receptacles waiting to be filled up and measured.

We will want them to express choice in what and how to learn; express ideas that can change things around them, things that they meet. We will want them to learn how to discuss things, to swap ideas between adults and children around them. We will want them to learn how to question things.

These are not add-on skills. They are not add-ons that you stick on in the sixth form or at college or in adult life. They can be part of how we enable children to investigate, choose and discuss.

Needless to say, this is much harder to measure in ways that the government wants. But if the way the government wants to measure teachers and schools is against the interests of our children, we should say so. If we think this input-output method is constraining our children's growth as thinking, choosing, reflecting, inventing, developing people, we should say so.

I think we can say that we reject the 'Top Gear' way of treating our children.

PGCE student writes about how trainee teachers are feeling

"I am halfway through a Primary PGCE at one of the UK's leading institutions. When asked recently what our short-term (5 year) plans were, only a third of my tutor group anticipated that they would still be in the profession. This is before they have even set foot in the classroom as an NQT. 

Teaching has become so degraded as a profession, with every element of it prescribed by government mandates, that new teachers feel inadequate from the outset. The expectations placed on us to perform within a system that often doesn't reflect the pedagogy we have learnt (as skilled professionals) or the experiences we have had in the classroom, leave many of us confused as to what exactly our role and purpose is. We are left with the choice to 'play the game' or to leave. 

When so much of the research indicates that a good, effective teacher has the biggest positive impact on learning, why is this exodus of teachers not treated with a greater sense of urgency? (of course, I already know the answer to this question.)"

Unqualified teachers in senior roles; principals on 2x head-teacher's salary...

(This comes from someone who visits schools constantly.)

"I've been into schools where senior roles (ie Head of House) are filled by staff without a teaching qualification, Principals are being paid 2 or 3 times a head teacher's salary, students who would previously be given extra support being permanently excluded for relatively minor incidents, and a lack of resources for anything non-academic (sex & relationships or drugs & alcohol for example). 

Good staff are leaving as teaching is no longer the career they signed up for. Sad, but completely avoidable results of this hideously misguided policy which already seems to be falling apart - after a lot less than the duration of a 125 year lease!"

10 points for you to use or discuss for a meeting on education

If you're doing a meeting on education, here are some points you might want to make as part of the meeting.

1. When schools become academies, that means that they stop being directly in public control. They go onto 125 year leases. We have already seen that this means that the management of the school can use the school for all kinds of shady financial goings-on, the salaries of management can go through the roof.  Here's one example:

2. The government say that becoming an academy gives a school autonomy and improves schools.

Autonomy: this can't be said for schools in academy chains - in 'MATs'. These are run and controlled by a management outside of the school. This is a new bureaucracy that has no direct accountability to parents or the public.

Improvement: there is no evidence for this. In other words, this is not about bringing in something that the government and educationists know will make schools and education for all better. It's being done because the government wants to end public control of education.

3. The academy system as a whole is not responsible for the education of every single child. Children excluded or not admitted to academies are the responsibility of the local authority. But local authorities are being starved of cash and have hardly any educationists left in them. Local authorities are becoming unfit for educating excluded children.  This is putting thousands of children into danger.

4. It is becoming clear that children ARE being excluded from academies for what one report that looked at how 160 schools 'turned round being failing schools' , described as being 'poor quality students'. This is the new attitude to vulnerable and challenging children. This is a huge danger to children of many kinds including children with special needs. The White Paper says that it will be the job of the local authorities to ensure that academies take children, but the local authorities have no legal authority over academies. They can't force academies to take on children. They can only ask. And academies can refuse. One statistic: it's becoming clear that academies exclude at a far greater rate than local authority schools.

5. The test system that has come in is doing several jobs. Its first main job in primary schools is to measure teachers and schools. Our children are being used as the 'test material' for this job. They take the stress and the upset. In order to 'measure' the teachers and schools, they have come up with tests that are supposedly made up of 'right and wrong answers'. But this isn't true. The grammar, spelling and punctuation test is full of questions that have various possible and correct answers. What's more a good deal of what the children have to learn for this test is not agreed on by expert linguists, there are useless categories that neither children or adults need - like 'fronted adverbial', 'expanded noun phrase', and 'subjunctive'. Even worse, these categories are being used as a measure of what makes 'good writing'. This is nonsense. Good writing is what amazes or moves or intrigues or excites us. Teaching that good writing is writing with 'fronted adverbials', 'expanded noun phrases' and 'embedded relative clauses' is a nonsense.

Its other job is to replace the national curriculum. The curriculum will become the testing. If it all goes through, we can expect this government to impose even more testing on the system so that they can control the curriculum that way. But...

6. ...the test system is narrowing education. Children are spending far too much time just doing tests and rehearsals for the tests. And we should remember that the tests can only test the testable. Whole areas of experience and learning are not included in what an 'education for the test' covers. Think of investigation, invention (creativity), interpretation (coming up with various conclusions for things), discussion, co-operation, compassion. These vital ways of learning are getting squeezed out of the curriculum.

And remember - at the end of the day, the tests are not there to help our children. They are there to test whether the teachers have taught the stuff that's in the test - some of which is useless anyway.

7. Full academisation means the end of the National Curriculum. This will, in effect, be replaced by the test-regime. The tests will determine what is taught and how it is taught, as teachers are forced to teach to the test in order to get good marks in the tests.

8. Academies do not have to employ qualified teachers. No matter how good an individual might be, this increases the possibility of academies hiring cheap and incompetent teachers. It's probably going to be a way of forcing down teachers' salaries. This is not good for teachers or children.

9. If academisation goes through, we lose our schools to charities and sponsors. We put schools even more under the control of the test-regime.

10. The government is in big trouble with all this: they've had to cancel baseline testing for 4 year olds, they've had to cancel this year's Key Stage 1 SATs because of incompetence and unreliability. Many of their own supporters including MPs, and local councils are opposed to the White Paper on academies for all. We need to unite and fight against the tests and the White Paper.

Some people are already organising protests in advance of the tests on May 3. People are resisting forced academisations.

(You may want to get speakers from these campaigns to  your meeting)

Friday, 22 April 2016

Nicky Morgan fesses up about what all the tests are really for

Hello Nicky Morgan here. Yes, you're right, I am no good spelling and my handwriting is really awful but that's got nothing to do with all these tests we're giving children, is it? The point is we didn't bring the test in because we think all children are going to get them all right. We know that most children will get something wrong. Of course they are.

And the tests aren't really about what they appear to be about: grammar, spelling, reading, writing, handwriting. All that is just a means to an end. We wanted to come up with something that we could use as a measurement. It could have been any old thing. And we happened to land on that one. There really is no point in looking too closely at whether it all hangs together as something that makes sense. It's just little bits of stuff that you have to get right or wrong. I hardly know any of it!

But, you see we get the measurements at the end of it. Data. Performance. That sort of thing. If there are good marks, we can say, well done us. If there are bad marks we can blame Labour for all the damage they did before and how there's so much more work to do. But as for the stuff itself, god knows what half of it's about! And who cares?

Ofsted screw up as they are trying to recruit

Dear Michael Wilshaw

Below is the text that Ofsted produced as part of their instructions to people wanting to become Ofsted inspectors. As you'll see, in line 3 there is a word 'excersise'.

You'll probably know that the Ofsted inspectors sent out into schools monitor teachers and children, and make assessments of how such things as spelling is taught. This is all done in the punitive framework of league tables and forced conversions.

You'll also know that we can't force you to convert to anything even when someone in your department fails to do what your department is set up to enforce.

How much longer do you think this ridiculous mess can last?

(By the way, I am told that on the first showing of this document the word 'assessment' was spelled 'assesment' too, so you can count that in to the mess too, if you like.)

ps I'm much less bothered by this sort of thing that you and Ofsted. I can see exactly what the writer meant here. It was just a typo, I suspect. Maybe one day, you or someone else in authority, will say something very simple: 'we all make mistakes'.

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