In the spirit of #teacher5aday, being freelance, I managed to work my diary so that I could take a week in France, in the garden of my “very small” house in the Limousin region, to spend three, very solid days of cutting trees, either pollarding, taking out the tops at around two metres height, or coppicing, reducing the tree to ground level to encourage multiple stems. Travel day was heavy rain, as was the first morning at the house, so that was devoted to some food shopping and visiting a local neighbour to look at his work schedule. We both sat and moaned about the weather, in true British style. At 2pm, I donned my wet weather gear and bot out the hand tools, at least to make a start on the process and to feel that the journey had not been wasted. It was not a holiday for sitting and drinking the wine and that’s not really a good habit with power tools anyway.
Since I became a teacher, I have had an affinity with gardening. After a particularly hard day, to spend an hour turning the soil would ensure a relative relaxation and time for the brain to calm.
The alternatives to this have been long walks and discovering new places, which have been the features of this second week, with M, as the first week of the school holidays. To walk, with the only sounds being the birds and to experience wild boar running across your path, are significant memories.
It is the doing something different that makes the difference.
Whereas last week I had no real contact with the outside world, as I have no TV, radio reception is poor and, despite having a fixed telephone for emergencies, I have not gone for the internet, this week, we have had the pleasures of the TV news and the latest political wranglings during what seems to be an interminable election already.
SATs resits have hit the news. Goodness knows who thought this would be a “good idea”, but, whereas I anticipated Grammar Schools becoming a hot topic, I didn’t anticipate the reverse. Perhaps because UKIP has already flagged up the Grammars, someone in the Tory office thought “Let’s offer the alternative.”
What was strange though, to me, was the announcement that followed hot on the heels of the first, that pre-school groups should have graduate teachers, to ensure high quality language and reading before school.
Let’s start at the beginning. Not all children are born equal, as a result of many factors. Some will have significant disadvantages compared to their age equivalent peers. Up until now, these children have proceeded with their age cohorts, with adaptation within lessons for individual needs. Some may have what we have defined as special educational needs and addressed with specific supportive interventions.
The SATs resits, if accepted as policy, will come into effect at the point where the current new National Curriculum takes hold. The descriptors associated with the assessment proposals see children as either side of a line that defines “National Standard”. It would appear that the SATs proposal sees those “not at National Standard”, to be in need of more of the same to ensure that they are “at National Standard” by the end of year 7, except that they will still be behind their peers, who have moved on a year, so that doesn’t quite make sense.
Any good EYFS teacher, after a short period of time with children, could give you a very clear picture of the strengths and areas of concern for each child in the class. This pattern could be seen throughout a child’s career in school. You could probably see children early who for one reason or another may not “make the grade”. Sadly, schools are already beginning to use similar terminology in school reports, in other year groups.
Now, I agree with the premise of “Learning without limits” and growth mindset, and teaching well, but we have to keep in mind and understand each and every individual well, not just because they are the data fodder, but because we owe it to each of them to ensure they get the best chance of succeeding.
If I was feeling generous, I might like to think that the SATs suggestion was made to provide a focus for schools on ensuring that the needs of the lower achievers were being met. However, with other agendas running at the same time, eg Mastery grades, I think the whole system may fail children at both ends, neither end being challenged appropriately.
As for the pre-school proposal, if the suggestion was that staff in pre-schools should provide language-rich environments and appropriate support to parents to fully develop a broad language, with a wide vocabulary that can then be harnessed in reading and writing, the sense, to me, would have been greater.
We are in the season of sound bite politics. Nothing quite makes sense, as it’s always a part, an unthought-through story.