Sunday, 10 February 2008

Testing times

I'm wondering if the government actually knows what happens in schools like ours. We serve an enormous council estate and many people living there are 3rd generation unemployed. The children have very limited vocabulary, understanding, imagination or ability to concentrate. Many have seriously disfunctional home-lives, are poorly nourished and present as very needy individuals. But they also have plasma screen TVs.

I have taught in hundreds of schools during my career and the staff here are the best I have come across. They are dedicated and talented. Every teacher is of a high calibre. The headteacher has a high respect for each one. She also loves and respects all the children. She is loved and respected by each in turn. Of course no-one is perfect but this is certainly a very good school in my opinion.

Last year a team of OFSTED inspectors came to inspect. They had in their heads the low attainment shown by the SATs results and put the school into 'Special Measures'. This means they failed the inspection. The staff were devestated and all the other professionals who knew the school were incredulous.

All the staff acknowledge that we can all improve and so have taken steps to implement the suggestions made by the team. We have had various professionals in to help us improve. All have agreed that this is not a failing school but nevertheless have helped to improve the teaching and learning. The staff are continually being monitored and have all been graded as good or outstanding in some lessons.

So here we go with the testing again. The results show little or no improvement. I observe children in my class not using the maths strategies I know that they understand and use in lessons. What they are not doing is applying their knowledge in different situations.

Some children are picked out and sat with a person individually to do the questions they missed out during the test. Amazing that they know the answers to them. They just could not concentrate on the test in a room full of other children.

I walk past the year 4 classrooms where the teachers have finished marking the tests at 5:45pm. They are in tears. They feel failures. What else can they do?

Go to France on the Fairy

Our topic is transport. We had discussed the definition and, after talking with their partners, the children each gave an example as I moved around the room. They were surprisingly imaginative and I was pleased with how the lesson was going.

"truck,"..... "hot air balloon,"...... "ferry,"......... "double decker bus,"....... "army truck,".......... "donkey,"....... "bike," .......
....."um, Beauty and the Beast"......
"What? Oh Asma, that is a story. We are talking about transport. Something that take us to places or take things to places. Have another think and I'll come back to you."
....... 'rowing boat,'........ "train,"..... "plane,".....

"The next activity is to design a transport sculpture. You need to draw 4 designs and then choose which one you want to actually create."
Asma's paper was interesting, she had a car, bus, hot air balloon and a ..... fairy. "Why have you drawn a fairy?"
"Well someone said fairy."
"Oh, no, it was ferry! A ferry is a boat that takes people and cars across the sea or a wide river."
I'm thinking that she must have got confused when she heard 'fairy' and started thinking along the lines of fairy stories or something, in order to come up with the Beauty and the Beast contribution. Some teachers call this behaviour as 'being away with the fairies'. She has an element of that, but she is also learning English as a second language and as she sounds fluent it is easy to forget that she will find some things confusing.