I’ve tried to put off the urge to blog about assessment in the primary curriculum because I was brought up being told, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” Bodes well when you start a blog with this doesn’t it?
Let me set things straight, it’s not that I don’t have anything positive to say about assessment as, believe it or not, I think it was time for levels to go, it was time to look at how children were assessed and it was time to address the balance of tests within our education system.
It was not time, however, to remove levels without being certain about what was replacing them. It was not time to add more tests into an education system already too full of tests. It was not time to release information about assessment so slowly that, 3 months before children take the new tests, it is still not available tests(and even then update it 30 times in a month so no one can keep track!) It was definitely not a time to increase the standards in writing by such a huge amount that very few children will feel they can succeed (don’t get me started on spelling) nor was it time to remove the dialogue between class teacher and moderator.
I am in the most fortunate of jobs which sees me visiting schools, work with children and support staff all over the North West. I love my job and I love being involved in improving education. I do not love hearing about teachers who feel they are on a spinning hamster wheel not knowing when they can slow down or get off. I am told by every school I go into that many children are struggling to reach the new expectations (that were apparently based on the old 4b). I am asked by every school if what they are using to assess is ok, if their trackers make sense, how to show the yearly progress from one curriculum to another, they want to know if they are being too lenient or to harsh in their marking. If there is any more guidance. If Ofsted will be ok with what they are doing and if I can reveal the secret of all secrets – what do the DfE plan on doing next!
I explain that all primary schools, up and down the country, feel the same. I explain that it’s fine to show Ofsted, or anybody else, that children are making progress in a format that works for the school. I tell them that they are great practitioners doing the best for the children in their care. I explain that the children are learning (huge and huge amounts) and I explain that everyone is in the same boat.
They still tell me they are worried, that they hope they have worked hard enough and that they hope the assessment system is ok. They discuss how they work evenings and weekends. They explain how the children come first and they talk about how tired they are. They discus how the amount of work they are doing isn’t sustainable. They talk about how they just want to know that they are doing it right. One young teacher said, “I’m getting better with work my life balance. I work half of my weekend but I don’t work in the evenings anymore. I go to work for 7am, I work through my lunch and I work until the caretaker throws me out, around 6.30pm.”
That’s a 58 hour week plus another 12 hours during the weekend.I shared this comment with several other teachers, all of whom nodded and explained they do the same thing. “We need to do the best for the children. I am tired though and not sure I can do 70 hour weeks for my whole career.” Said one teacher.
“I’m going to become a TA,” said another teacher, “three others in my school have already done it.”
The profession is losing a huge amount of talented, knowledgable and skilled teachers because to be the teacher they strive to be would mean having no life outside of work, working 6-6 then at the weekends which, when you work out the hourly rate, is less than minimum wage.
I asked what would help, what would make them feel less worried and make them want to stay in the classroom. The response was the same from so many different schools – to know what is expected of them as teachers and for the teachers to be allowed to get on and do the job they are so highly skilled in.
My own personal worry is, if we don’t get it right soon then more highly skilled teachers will leave the profession and it will become very difficult to replace them. Not only is this a shame for the teachers but it is a massive worry for the schools, the children, the future.
Here’s hoping the next academic year brings clear, concise changes which let teachers do what they are so skilled at doing – inspiring children by teaching!