Assessment, alopecia and the alternative

Primary Assessment Conference, More Than A Score Conference, Institute of Child Health, London.

Author:  Katie, a classroom teacher from the South of England

Once upon a time, I was interviewed for a teaching position.  I remember the head teacher asking me what I thought about SATs.  I spent some time decrying the whole assessment and accountability regime which had been imposed on primary schools.  A regime imposed without a thought about the needs of the children.  I talked about the need to assess children, to ensure that their needs were being met.  I even talked about the need for the public to understand that schools were not wasting their tax payments.  I spoke for some time.  I realised that the interview panel had stopped writing and were just looking at me.  I felt that I’d gone too far.

That was in 2006 and I was appointed to my first teaching post in spite of (or because of?) my response.

Although my response may have seemed a naïve and optimistic at the time, my fundamental belief that children are more than a score has not changed.

Over time, I have seen SATs become more and more stale yet more and more important.  I have seen Year 6 children suffering from hair-loss alopecia as a result of exam stress.  I have heard teachers tell Year 6 children that they are the “only hope” a school has of leaving Special Measures.  I have heard parents offer their children financial rewards for doing well in their SATs.  I have even heard of schools offering Easter revision classes, during the school holidays, for Year 1 children to boost their chances of passing their phonics screening test.

To what end?

These tests are not about the children.  These tests are designed to find out which schools have been able to fill children with the right facts, enabling the children to answer the right questions in the right way on the right day.  Schools which have not been able to do this are deemed to be failing.  The children are labelled as being “behind their peers.”

As a qualified and experienced teacher, I know which of my children are working within a range for their age, which are working significantly below and which are flying high.  I have worked with other professionals to ratify our opinions (or not!).  We have always known that there are better ways than testing, but trying to take down the system has proved impossible.

The More Than A Score event, on 3rd December 2016, offered me a chance to find out about how teachers, parents and academics could find an alternative.

I had recently been asked to create a new assessment policy for our school and, as we had just moved from Good to Requires Improvement, I knew that my head teacher wanted something focussed and precise.

The conference took my breath away.  Not only were there teachers, of all backgrounds, saying enough is enough, but there were parents, mental health professionals, academics and more.  These people had come together to defend children and their right to be just that.

I realised that, if I wanted change, I had to do what was right.  I needed to stop engaging with pointless assessment tasks, designed only to tick boxes and please someone else.

After a day with passionate and articulate people who feel as I do, I created a draft assessment policy for our school.

I have yet to hear what the head teacher thinks of it.

At [SCHOOL] we believe that children will achieve well if they are nurtured, cared for and challenged. We believe that assessment is an integral part of the teachers’ craft and will be undertaken at all relevant points during the teaching and learning cycle. Assessment will be undertaken for the sole purpose of improving access to the learning experiences which will allow each child to make good progress. Good progress will look different for each child because each child is different.

Teachers will use their skills and experience to judge whether or not a child is making good progress and adjust their planning to support all children appropriately. We understand that a child’s academic achievement can be affected by any number of external factors and we will make it our business to understand each child’s needs at any moment in time.

Teachers will use their professional judgement to decide a child’s next steps in learning and will never expect any child to make progress in a linear fashion.

We will not force any child take part in any unnecessary assessment activities, particularly those where the teacher deems that a child is not ready, for any reason, to undertake those activities. This includes all external assessment.

Katie has been teaching in primary schools in Reading for eleven years.

More Than a Score’s next event is the launch of the alternative for primary assessment. This event is taking place in Westminster on Wednesday 29th March 6-8pm. If you would like to book free tickets to the event please follow this link.

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