Back in April, I was so fed up with the DfE’s constant chops and changes to assessment. Knowing that it wouldn’t really have any particular effect, I wrote to Nicky Morgan to express my feelings and to ask just one question. This is what I wrote:
Friday 22nd April 2016
Dear Mrs Morgan,
I am writing to you today at the end of an incredibly embarrassing and turbulent week for the Department for Education, during which it emerged that the Key Stage 1 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test had been mistakenly uploaded to the internet by a government official. The 28 wonderfully unique, creative and curious children in my class were due to sit this standardised test next month and I could not hide my joy when the Schools Minister confirmed that the test was to be cancelled.
This academic year, the six and seven-year-olds in my Year 2 class have enjoyed a creative and balanced curriculum, full of exciting opportunities and lasting memories. We have gone hunting for mythical creatures on the beach, we imagined that we were the rescuers of an entire nation that was at risk of being invaded by an evil monster, and we will soon sing songs around a campfire while we cook marshmallows. These aspects of the curriculum, however, do not completely correlate with the National Curriculum. In order to cover the objectives of the National Curriculum, aspects of the learning journey my children have taken this year have been narrow, arduous and downright dull. I am a linguist and, quite sadly, get excited by grammar. Yet, no amount of my excitement and enthusiasm makes teaching the four types of sentences in English anything beyond bearable. Indeed, I recently prefaced a lesson with a disclaimer: language and grammar are exciting because they are organic and ever-changing. It is a pity that the narrow curriculum forced upon our future leaders fails to recognise the complexity and evolutionary nature of language. A rich educational experience, like the one I have given the children in my class this year is often to the detriment of test results. In order to achieve the very best results in these tests, too much time must be devoted to a very small range of performance indicators. Test results are only one aspect of children’s educational achievement.
Our children are not robots that need to be programmed with a series of rules and strategies, as dictated by the knowledge-based curriculum currently in place. Today, a boy in my class climbed onto my knee to tell me all about his favourite cartoon character: Ralphie from The Magic Schoolbus. I had never heard of Ralphie or The Magic Schoobus, and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever need to know much about them, but I listened intently to what this child wanted to tell me because it was important to him that I should know. At that time, I could have been drilling him on finding fractions of numbers in preparation for the national tests he will take in a few weeks’ time, yet I didn’t. Education is about more than that. You constantly tell teachers this, however your ministerial actions and those of the DfE do little to support your quasi-supportive statements.
It is my statutory duty to administer Reading, Writing and Maths tests to the children in my class over the next few weeks. I anticipate that a large proportion of my class will be absent on 3rd May as part of the Let Kids Be Kids campaign, so I will most likely avoid administering them on that date. As quoted in The Telegraph on 22nd April 2016, Nick Gibb stated that “schools will still need to submit a teacher assessment judgement based on pupils’ work in the classroom as has always been the case.” In order to make your reply to this letter easier for you to write, I will pose only one question: if my teacher judgement, based on pupils’ work in the classroom, is reliable enough to meet the spelling, punctuation and grammar sections of the National Curriculum, why must I subject the children in my class to further tests in Reading, Writing and Maths? I presume that my teacher judgement in these subjects is just as accurate, so I fail to comprehend why the DfE has decided that some aspects of English assessment must be supported by the results of standardised tests, while some do not.
At several points during this academic year, I have been close to leaving the teaching profession, along with thousands of other dedicated and talented professionals who already have, having become disenchanted following government edicts that do not put children’s interests first. However, on each occasion, I reminded myself why I do this job: for the children. They deserve more than what the government dictates. They deserve more than a narrow, knowledge-based curriculum. They deserve more than being given a label about whether they meet arbitrary and incredibly exclusive standards that do not take individuality into account. I will continue to give the children in my class a well-rounded education because I care about them as people and I value the wide range of contributions that they will make to our future society. Unfortunately, ministers and their colleagues in the DfE see these children as no more than UPNs. That is a very sorry state for our education system to be in and I implore you to do something to combat this.
I am copying this letter to my local MP and to the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, in the hope that they will support the points made above and that they will continue to fight for a well-balanced and rounded education for our children, free of ridiculous testing regimes, favouring instead the professional judgement of teachers.
In anticipation of a prompt and personal reply, free from cut-and-pasted statements about (artificially) raising standards, I thank you for taking the time to read this letter.
cc. Ian Mearns MP, Member of Parliament for Gateshead
Lucy Powell MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education
Yesterday, I received this reply from Michelle Boyes, who works at the Ministerial and Public Communications Division:
I must admit that I was disappointed. I asked one question and I don’t feel that it’s been addressed. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any reference to my letter at all and this is clearly a cut-and-pasted reply from the DfE.
To be continued…
Featured image credit: Ceressa Bateman