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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Age and Circumstance

End of term is here. Most of us teachers are in denial, drunk, look like ragged hobos, delirious with tiredness. We know that you resent us for having six weeks off but rest assured we are really grateful for having it. However, I challenge you to not only 'babysit' 30+ kids but actually teach them, for more than one week and then tell us we don't deserve a break. 

This year i've been teaching Year 2 in a big academy school. In a nutshell for those that don't know, their teacher abandoned them, they were off the wall, I came in as supply, ended up becoming their class teacher, taught them how to chill out...and now it's end of the year.

As we all know by now, in most schools there is an outrageous push for data and progress regardless of the children's age or circumstances. I don't need to bang on about that, it's happening all over the country and we all know it's bloody ridiculous. As i've just stated, my class are Year 2 and have had an extremely unstable start to their year, as well as a stream of teachers leaving throughout their school lives so far. Year 2 (age 6-7) is a SATS year group, which means they are tested and given a level that will predict what they will achieve in Year 6 (age 10-11). Of course, when you're say, 30 it seems perfectly reasonable that you could take a test and that could predict what you would score in a similar situation 4 years later. Of course, life wouldn't change at all in those 4 years. You wouldn't move house, no one would die, you wouldn't get sick, you wouldn't have relationship changes. It would all be a direct upward curve into you getting exactly what you are predicted, right?

Of course it bloody wouldn't. Life changes, sh*t happens, and for a child who is less able to control these factors it seems exceptionally unfair to put them under these pressures. For example, if your parents separate in-between Years 2 and 6, your life can change dramatically. In many cases with little ones I've worked with, it doesn't change for the better and this will obviously affect what the government mean by 'progress'. More simply, a child's hamster could die on the day of the test, leaving them distraught. Then the result is awful and we all get it in the neck. 

  • These results are not showing us what the children excel in or enjoy. What about those who aren't academic? Where are we going to get out designers, artists, musicians, actors from? These guys will never have the confidence or skills to succeed in these areas because they are taught from a young age to pass tests in maths and English that mean sod all. I haven't taught the arts this year, because i've had to get the little blighters through exams. 
  • The results from primary school are generally ignored when they get to secondary. Most secondary teachers will tell you that they largely re-assess using their own judgements in the children's first year anyway. So, can anyone tell me what the point is?
  • Oh yes. So we can have league tables and all judge each other on the performance of the schools.
  • Wait - these aren't accurate though because data is largely fixed. I, as a class teacher made judgements on my children on what levels they were on, having worked with the kids every day - I know what they are capable of. This however, didn't fit in with the data profile the school wanted to meet - so on my day off, my levels were moved up.  You may as well have put a jacket potato at the front of the class, because if you are going to make my levels up at the end of the year, then what the bloody hell has been the point of me working my arse off to teach the children for the past 10 months.

Top quotes from management this year:

"But if you don't move put the children at that level our data won't look very good."

SLT - "I need your predictions for what levels the children would have got on the new curriculum."
ME -"Ok, but we haven't taught them the new curriculum, so...it won't match up."
SLT -"They are the levels I need to show your pupil progress."
ME -"So why have I been under so much pressure to make these levels if YOU'RE NOT EVEN USING THEM NOW? Might as well have rolled the old jacket potato out again."

No response.

*and breathe*

"If the moderators come in then we'll just have to blag why we've put them there."

My personal favourite:

"Just leave the SEN ones on the back burner, don't worry about them, they won't make it anyway so we'll focus on the group who can make a level 2." 

Sure. I'll just ignore the SEN kids, chuck them on the back burner. They don't matter do they - I mean, it's not like they're humans, or have feelings or anything. They're 'stupid' so they don't count. Right?

I will NEVER discount a child in my class, and don't you dare ask me to do so. Every single child in that class deserves the same amount of education, love, care and respect as the next. They might not be able to 'make progress' in the eyes of the government. However, if they can do well their own eyes, and believe in themselves, not because of a test result, that is what's important. That stands for all my children. All of them.

My headteacher told me that my data was disappointing and that I needed to send her an urgent action plan with what I was going to do to improve it. Here are some suggestions: Come and meet my class, get to know the kids. Understand that most of them come from broken homes. Understand that a lot of them are unfed or unwashed for days. Understand them some of them have gone into care. Understand that 23 kids in my class are spring and summer born children. That is why they are not making the same grade as the national average. Age is important to remember in teaching, really important. Two of my dearest friends have had babies this school year, one in September and one in June. September baby is crawling, communicating, dancing, eating with his own hands, causing havoc and requiring cupboard locks. June baby is still very much being breast fed, a gorgeous little 7 week old, choosing between laying down in a cot, a buggy,  or in someones arms. Imagine if I asked them to both perform the same action - say, crawl from one end of the room to the other. September baby would smash it, whereas June baby quite rightly, wouldn't be able to achieve it at the moment. She will be able to, in her own time. Please don't get me wrong, I understand that there will be exceptions here and things change as children get older. However when 74% of your class are significantly younger, yet asked to achieve the same thing, the likelihood is the results won't be the same. 

Needless to say, (the urge to quote Alan Partridge here is phenomenal but I shall hold back) my children DID achieve great things this year. They have all learnt how to relax and be mindful. They are all able to tell me what makes them happy and that the good things about themselves. They all understand that in life they will have to do things they don't enjoy at times. They all know the following, as I made sure they could all tell me what our motto was before I left.

'Be kind and try your hardest.'

If at the end of the day you can say you did that, then you're doing a good job.  I'm aware that life isn't all roses and they do need to learn maths and English! If I was allowed to I would teach the children about the real world, and prepare them for that instead of for a silly test. But for now, I remember that they are children. 

Kindness and hardwork will get them further then a SATS paper, any day of the week.