Parents’ Evening is often quite an intense affair but this year as brought with it a whole new set of challenges. Anxious parents sit puzzled as you explain that their daughter, judged as working above National Expectations at the end of Year 1 is now not meeting National Expectations because there is not enough evidence of exclamation sentences in her writing. A conversation follows:
Parent: But she uses exclamation marks correctly – look in her book.
Me: I know she does but unless the sentence begins with a “what” or “how” then, according to the DfE, it is a sentence with an exclamation mark not an exclamation sentence. Without evidence of exclamation sentences she is not meeting National Expectations.
Parent: That’s ridiculous.
Me: Yes. Yes it is.
Perhaps the only good thing to come out of the collapse of the education system is it is slowly uniting parents and teachers. Well, that, and I no longer sound like a loony left conspiracy theorist when I claim the Government is working against us not with us. In no particular order, since I started teaching just 6 years ago the Government have:
- Frozen teachers’ pay
- Introduced performance related pay (yep that’s right – the children don’t get the grades – we don’t get to progress up the pay scale.)
- Introduced SPaG tests for Year 6 and Year 2
- Doubled the amount teachers have to pay into their pension
- Introduced free schools – schools that don’t have to teach to the National Curriculum or hire qualified teachers
- Introduced the KS1 phonics check in which 5 and 6-year-olds have to read made up words in order to pass
- Scrapped NC Levels (which admittedly may be have been no bad thing had something smarter and slicker replaced it. Instead schools were left in free fall to “do their own thing” confusing parents, teachers and moderators along the way.)
- Introduced new assessments that are far more challenging than in previous years without giving schools adequate time/information to prepare the children
- Introduced no-notice Ofsted inspections
- Scrapped the reasoning-based calculator paper that previously constituted 40% of the marks in Key Stage 2 maths assessments
- Slashedsocial care funding for local authorities putting additional pressure on schools to provide for vulernable families
- Cut school budgets
- Introduced a new National Curriculum
- Removed the requirement for schools to have qualified teachers
- Announced all schools are to be forced to become academies before 2020
- Used the media to call us, the teaching profession, variously a “blob”, “the enemies of promise” and “soft bigots” with “low expectations.”
And this is just in the Primary Sector. We’ve protested, boycotted, marched and rallied. We’ve taken strike action and perhaps now the general public understand why. What we’re seeing now is an accumulation of all those changes. What’s happening this year is what we were fighting against in 2010. Now, with the security of a majority, the Conservatives’ masks are off, their plans have been laid out and parents are quite rightly as angry and frustrated as teachers.
For all those kind, concerned parents that have approached me in the last few weeks – there are a few things you can do to help.
I can imagine it isn’t pleasant being told that your, previously excelling, son or daughter is now judged as falling behind National Expectations but please try and remember that this year the bar is much higher. Not slightly higher but MUCH higher. The expectations of Year 2 are similar to what we would have previously expected in Year 3 and 4. Likewise, Year 6 are expected to achieve what was previously asked of 13 to 15-year-olds. Your child is no less capable than they were a year ago. It’s just the goal posts have shifted…no, worse than that, the entire goal has been picked up and removed from the field but all the players will still be penalised if they can’t score goals.
Be kind to the teachers
I’ve yet to meet a teacher who agrees with the changes to assessment. We’re between a rock and a hard place because our job is to get your child to National Expectations and yet that is near impossible at the moment. So what do we do? Plough on relentlessly in the hope they might get there? Or throw caution to the wind continue as if the tests aren’t looming? We have to do both and neither. With performance management targets linked to children’s attainment our jobs are on the line if we aren’t seen to be doing everything we can to get your children through these ridiculous hoops. That said, most teachers I know are determined to maintain your child’s enjoyment and love of learning during the process. As a result you may hear of some slightly bewildering lessons: sentence type rapping, adverb treasure hunts and punctuation karate to name but a few. Don’t be alarmed; this your child’s hard-working teacher’s attempt to make SPaG interesting.
We’re as worried as you are about your child thinking they are a failure and the impact that will have on their self-esteem. This isn’t why any of us became teachers and it’s no exaggeration to say that more than half of the teachers I know are currently looking for a way out of the profession. In the last month alone my fiance, sister and sister-in-law have resigned with no other job lined up.
Do lots of art at home
Yes, do the homework and yes, do the reading but what your child actually needs is a chance to do the things that are slowly being squeezed out of the school day: plenty of drawing, making things (remember junk modelling?) and running around. Take them to the library (if you still have a local library) and read them stories without asking them follow up questions, dance around your house to music they’ve chosen and play – lots of play.
As difficult as it may be avoid the urge to cram “extra” work down your child’s throat, what they need more than anything at the moment is time to be children. We’ll take care of verb tenses and spelling and if there is something else you could be doing to help your child we’ll let you know.
Bring them to school during SATs week (yes really)
There is a petition doing the rounds encouraging parents to boycott SATs week by not bringing their children to school. Whilst I appreciate the support and the sentiment you should know that if your child misses SATs week they’ll only be made to do the tests the following week. So when all their peers are on the post-SATs high enjoying all the art/music/P.E they’ve missed out on your child will be sat on their own with a senior member of staff working through the papers they missed. I don’t say this as a threat – it is just a fact.
So send them in for SATs week with a good breakfast inside them and a treat to look forward to after school. We don’t want them to have to do these tests any more than you do but unless there is boycott called by ALL the unions we are left with very little choice.
Go on marches, write emails, rally, campaign and make as much noise about this as you can. Changes to assessment are just the beginning; there is a bigger fight on the horizon. Over the next 5 years the government will take steps to turn your child’s school into an academy. This means a number of things for teachers’ pay and conditions but for parents it means schools won’t need to employ qualified teachers to teach your children. They will also be able to decide on their own admissions criteria which could see SEN pupils or pupils with additional needs losing out on school places. The fight against this will require teachers, head teachers, parents, governors and members of the community to stand together and hammer home to message to the powers that be that this is unacceptable. If that means a series of strikes then, as difficult as it may be to arrange childcare, keep in mind what we are fighting for.
And finally – you really want to help? Please, for all our sakes, when you next get the chance vote this rotten government out.