Education

What a load of b******s this is!

children's writing

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the new KS1/2 assessments; the most common complaint is that the tests are simply too hard and the teachers haven’t been given adequate time to prepare the children for them. Next week the current Year 6 will be tested on a curriculum that they have only been taught for half of their KS2 career. The Government will tell you that these tests are necessary to raise standards. If by raising standards you mean more children will be able to identify subordinating conjunctions then yes, standards will have been raised. It will have been at the cost of teaching science, history, art, music, PE and anything else not being tested but trust me these children will bloody well know what a subordinating conjunction is.

In most schools KS1 have only ever known the new curriculum as it was introduced at the beginning of their time in Year 1. With this in mind, in my opinion the KS1 Maths isn’t too unacheivable and even a school such as my own, where the starting point is well below national average, I think we can get them there. The SPaG test has famously been cancelled so we won’t worry about that for now. My problem is with the writing assessment. For those not familiar with the new framework – this is the new assessment framework. It will beforever burnt into my retinas.

writing assessment

At first glance it looks straight forward enough: a list of criteria that children have to meet to be working towards, at or exceeding the expected standard. However this document is not to be used as “best fit” guide – a child has to meet ALL of the criteria for “working at” to be graded as such. If there is just one area lacking evidence then they cannot be “working at” they are “working towards”. I might have been able to accept that until I looked closely at some of this criteria. I’d like to draw your attention to point two on the “working at the expected standard” list:

Using sentences with different forms in their writing (statements, questions, exclamations and commands)

We’re all familiar with these different types of sentences and we’ve been teaching children to use them for years. At this point you need this additional piece of information. I present to you: The DfE Exclamation Sentence

exclamation sentences

So let’s unpack this a bit. To be judged as MEETING National Expectations children have to have to use sentences that begin with “what” or  “how” that include a verb and end in an exclamation mark. This is what the DfE has decided National Expectations are. I challenge you to open up ANY book on your bookcase at home and find just one example of a DfE Exclamation Sentence. You won’t because that’s not how writers use exclamations. I spent quite a lot of time looking for “real life” examples of DfE Exlamation Sentences to share with my class and, other than Little Red Riding Hood, I failed to find any. Whilst searching I did a quick assessment of the writers on my bookshelves and Shakespeare, Dickens, Sue Townsend and Richard Dawkins were all graded as “Working Towards National Expectations” because of the lack of DfE exclamation sentences in their work.

Now I have some incredibly talented writers in my year groups. Writers who at just 6-years-old can draw a reader in with their story telling. Some of these children will still be told that they are below National Expectations unless I can prove that they are independently using DfE Exclamation Sentences.

Those of you that follow this blog will know that I recently wrote a post about weak English teaching in primary schools and how important it is that children are actually taught how to write. I believe we should be teaching children how to structure sentences and how to link clauses from a young age. This isn’t about having low expectations my issue is that we are assessing children’s ability to follow grammar rules that have been made up by the DfE. I’ve not even tried to convince the children that this will improve their writing or make it more interesting for the reader – I’ve just started being really honest with them.See Figure 1.

Figure 1

My most able writers will absorb everything you tell them and sure enough after a lesson on exclamation sentences they started shoe-horning exclamation sentences into their writing. Their writing is now considered to be meeting/almost exceeding National Expectations but it’s clunky and awkward to read. We’re now in a situation where teachers are having to spend time teaching made up grammar rules which leaves them very little time to teach the things that might actually improve children’s writing.

As always I shared my frustrations on Twitter and I believe this exchange best sums up the situation.

tweets exclamations

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23 thoughts on “What a load of b******s this is!

  1. Thanks for highlighting this. I like your honest slide! But it’s teacher-assessed and the DfE are wrong about the What/How necessity. I think I’d just ignore that bit and give credit to all appropriate use of the exclamation mark. That’s how I’d treat a scientific inaccuracy at KS3 or 4. What would happen then?

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    1. Hello! Thanks for stopping by! You’re right, ultimately teachers could just ignore that criteria. If your school isn’t moderated you’d be fine to do that. If you’re one of the unlucky schools that gets moderated then you’ll be accused of inflating your data and your grades will be adjusted to reflect the how/what rule…

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      1. Really tough choice. In that scenario at least children and parents have been told they can write – just standing in league tables suffers. But jobs and reputations are at risk if people start being accused of cheating or malpractice. If the criterion is actually wrong, however, and detrimental to writing style, I don’t really understand why it is being taught by teachers everywhere. Perhaps ‘science’ has more of a clout to it, but I think significant numbers of science teachers would ‘know best’ and refuse to teach a dodgy criterion. Is there a lack of confidence in subject knowledge; a feeling that they might be right? A wide boycott of just that bit would make moderation impossible.

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  2. Is the DfE aware of the difference between exclamatory (any sentence or phrase with an exclamation mark) and exclamative ( ‘How/’What’ plus exclamation mark) mood?

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  3. Frighteningly true. I’m a 65 year old bloke that was educated in classes of more than 45 pupils at primary school and about 30 at Grammar school. We learned some things by rote (times tables, etc), but we were taught to explore and to enjoy learning. I did, and I still do. I still meet up with some of my Grammar school teachers once a year, because I feel privileged to have such inspiring people to guide me in my formative years, and I look back on my education with great affection. They were wonderful times. Who’s going to be doing or saying that in 50 years time?

    I’m also proud to have an amazing lady as one of my friends who is a primary school Head teacher….. well, until the summer. She has resigned after 20 years teaching for exactly the reasons you have outlined. I fear for my granddaughter’s future.

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  4. I wouldn’t agree that its awkward to read. Pointless, yes. A sentence that reads, “How ridiculous it is!” seems more colloquial than formal. The thing with grammar and vocabulary is that its like notes on a piano. You don’t have to hit every one to prove you can play. How bad it is when its made up!

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  5. “Whilst searching I did a quick assessment of the writers on my bookshelves and Shakespeare, Dickens, Sue Townsend and Richard Dawkins were all graded as “Working Towards National Expectations” because of the lack of DfE exclamation sentences in their work.”

    That is one of the most depressing sentences I have ever read. :/

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  6. This is precisely what is happening to teachers in the states as well. Our GOP has been very successful if assuring that teachers be unsuccessful at actually teaching.

    It’s seems so diabolical it must have an endgame. But I, for the life of me, can’t figure what it is.

    Thanks for sharing your posts and your life while you teach. I get that you’re done with the game but your efforts are appreciated. Even from across the pond there are some who realize that education is imperative everywhere.

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  7. I’m looking at this from a professional writer’s point of view, not anything remotely academic – I did well at English “A” level but didn’t even go to university, although I did qualify in advertising writing in what would now be a degree-level course.

    OK. I think this nonsense from HMG is very high-handed and confusing both for pupils and their teachers.

    However, what makes teaching English difficult whether you’re talking Y6 pupils or adults (I give workshops on business writing, branding, blogging for business, etc.) is that the language is evolving all the time. That makes it hard to establishing what the hard facts are, unlike – say – geography or history.

    All the same I always advocate basically “correct” grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax (GSPS) to my workshop participants and clients not because I’m picky and pompous, but because getting any of those wrong can, in the workplace, make you look unprofessional and even lead to potentially expensive misunderstandings.

    Within those constrictions we have to be realistic and incorporate acceptable changes that evolve – e.g. “any more” becoming “anymore” – because the whole point of learning to write is to enable learners to communicate clearly and well, in a way that everyone else understands now.

    Certainly that’s what is required in the workplace for which you teachers are preparing these children, and for which I and my colleagues are helping adults work better. But basic GSPS is essential: you have to know the rules before you can break them effectively.

    Not being a teacher, I don’t know how you should incorporate the above GSPS into teaching children, but one thing is for sure: drilling grammar jargon into a 7-year-old’s head ain’t going to do it. The way I believe you used to teach children – learning GSPS within the context of creative or nonfiction writing – I reckon is the only way that could possibly work, because that’s how they will use GSPS in real life.

    Good luck in your efforts and keep up the great work. Oh, sorry- !!

    Suzan St Maur
    www,HowToWriteBetter.net

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  8. It’s so depressing trying to explain to Man in the Street what this government has done to education. I liken it it driving – you don’t need to know how a car engine works before you can drive. Likewise, you don’t need to know what a subordinate clause is or a modal verb is or the subjunctive mood is before you can read, write and express yourself in English. The basics, i.e. verb, adjective, noun, adverb are more than adequate. The rest is totally unnecessary unless or until the children choose to study English as an academic subject. End of rant.

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    1. Hi Trudie – Hear what you say, but as far as I can see from my own (rather long) experience is that the sad reality is most governments try to gain brownie points by stamping their imprints on the vulnerable, and vote-catching, elements of our society …especially education, as we’re seeing, and also the health service in which I work about 20+ hours per week as a volunteer. I’m not sure that this government is any worse than previous ones: they all seem to use education, the NHS and sometimes the emergency services as political footballs. Depressing, huh.

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  9. Wouldn`t presume to tell Teachers about teaching, but I am surprised to see that “What/How” is accepted without comment and “criteria” is accepted as singular. When I were a lad, “What or How” would have been correct and each component of a set of criteria was a criterion. Of course it`s all Greek! to me!

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  10. Thanks for this excellent blog, and for this post in particular. I am a vicar, so I write regularly as part of my work; sermons, articles, newsletters and the like. I like to imagine I have a good command of the English language, and I read widely at every available opportunity. My wife teaches a Year 3 class. I have no idea about some of the technical grammatical terms that her 7 and 8 year olds have to learn. I am sure I would not do well with the KS2 tests. I despair! (Fail.)

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  11. When I was a student in the 80s I bought Burchfield’s edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, because one of my hobbies was pedantry. He says “How awful!” and “What a nuisance!” are sentences. Commands- “Stand still!” and repetition for emphasis- “You’re only shielding her. Shielding her!” also use exclamation marks. I might use an exclamation, as a pedant, beginning with “How”- eg, “How odd!” I would not have said “How odd, to create exclamatory sentences like that!”

    What fools these standard-setters be!

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  12. Living (and teaching) in another country alltogether (Sweden) where we’ve also suffered a recent change in the education system.

    Apart from many of the things you’ve mentioned here, there’s been a change to the language curriculum; we’re not allowed to teach grammar anymore. The grading is done from grammar (a student with poor grammar gets a lower grade) but we’re not actually supposed to teach grammar or grammatical phrases. It gets even more confusing when you try to teach EFL and Spanish for beginners.

    “Today we’re going to look at verbs, and how Spanish uses…”
    “Miss? Miss! What’s a verb?”

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