I know the controversial base line testing is not due to start until 2020, but believe me, parents of children aged 0-4 years old and parents whose children will be in child care before the age of 4 will be thinking about this test already. The test will come in after the education secretary has said that parents are not preparing children for school properly. And I want to talk about some of the issues around teaching after and preparing for this test.
I love teaching. At this late stage of the academic year I may be looking at the world through a rose-tinted prosecco glass, but I love the kids in my Key Stage 1 class. I love working with them, their enthusiasm and watching their progress.
I even like some of the parents and I don’t tend to grumble about pay or workload. However, some of the testing I do have issues with.
What has this test achieved? It’s shown me that a 6-year-old child, with an assessed reading age of almost 10, can get five words wrong because they are desperate to make sense of nonsense words with strange alien pictures beside them.
It has also shown me that an education system seemingly starved of money, has enough spare cash to finance a visit from an inspector to check your phonics materials are appropriately stored just in case you or the children in your class see the test prior to the launch date and memorize all 40 words. Oddly, we are trusted to teach the nation’s youth but not to have enough integrity to store a test.
At the end of the day, this is a test that doesn’t tell me anything about a child’s reading ability that can’t be gleaned from hearing them read a book to me as a professionally qualified teacher.
Those teachers lucky enough to teach a combined year 1 and 2 class get hit by the double whammy of phonics testing and the joy of SATS – another thing that parents pay attention to. Not to mention another year of a narrowed curriculum (something OFSTED acknowledges), which focuses on maths and reading comprehension.
Should a child’s performance even hint at not reaching an expected standard then, in our school, TAs, HLTAs and even the Head Teacher are taking small groups right, left and centre to work on partitioning or reading inference. Art, music, design and technology? What year 2 child would want to do those when they can be trapped in a small, sweaty office with someone sequencing the events in a story about foxes and fishermen from 1 – 5?
Hopefully, the new shift in OFSTED’s focus will at least result in the rejuvenation of foundation subjects even if this does mean further change for teachers and an even shorter summer break while we work on the extra planning demands.
Reception Baseline Assessments:
For those of us in Key Stage 1 prepared to stick it out, 2022 – 2023 could see some light at the end of the long dark assessment tunnel.
Key Stage 1 SATS are (probably) being made non-statutory when those four-year olds unfortunate enough to have been subjected to the Reception baseline assessment start to filter through the system. No matter how this initiative is dressed up, I haven’t spoken to one EYFS teacher yet who agrees with such a thing or even thinks it is necessary.
Surely it will result in those at the competitive end of the parental scale hothousing their toddlers and testing them on their knowledge of number recognition, shape and letters of the alphabet. No playing in the garden making mud pies for you until you can repeat your alphabet three times! I can see why. Parents want their children to score highly in any assessment and are prepared to do whatever it takes to make that happen. However, just as in education, you can begin to see how an assessment could narrow the curriculum at home as everyone tries to prioritise learning the knowledge of the assessment.
If you think hothousing them is a good thing and can only help us teachers, you’re probably misguided. For, in my experience, parents do not always approach education in a joined up way with the school. For example, they often tend to teach letter names not sounds. The result: many a Reception teacher will spend a year trying to get them out of this habit and learn their Letters and Sounds phases 1 – 3 instead.
Unfortunately, while primary and lower schools are fielding criticism for narrowing the curriculum to focus on statutory tests the very real danger is home could follow suit for pre-schoolers with this new baseline assessment. We have seen the impact of national assessment on curriculum at all stages of school – what will happen to the curriculum at home with this new national assessment? And if parents are thinking about this assessment that will happen in 2020 – perhaps right now they are also thinking about how they might hothouse their child to do well in this assessment.
I’m looking forward to September already, but in the meantime, I’ll refill my rose-tinted glass of prosecco and enjoy the sunshine …