Amy Teacher

The school has bought into the Rising Stars test scheme. Teachers looked at the test for this half term and saw there are several things in it we have not taught our classes yet (we will teach them later in the year, but the test doesn’t match the maths scheme we use). We were told we had to give the test anyway, despite already knowing most children would score 0 on a number of questions, not because they were incapable of answering them, but because they had been taught other things which did not appear in the test.

Children we know are not working at, say a Year 4 level, but are in Year 4 have had to sit the Year 4 test and some have scored 0/20 as a result. The test has told the teacher nothing they didn’t know already and can only have been bad for the self-esteem of those children.

Nigel Utton Former Chair Kent Association of Headteachers

When I was a primary Headteacher in Hampshire all of my children were well prepared for the move to secondary school.  The vast majority went to Amery Hill Comprehensive which shared its facilities and even provided some teaching, particularly in modern languages from reception right up to year 6.  The Headteacher and I had regular meetings and our staff worked with colleagues in respective departments to ensure the children went up with confidence and enthusiasm.  They already knew the building, staff and other pupils well and had a very positive transition.
Moving to the selective model in Kent was a tremendous shock.  My school fed into at least six different secondaries; two grammar schools and four secondary moderns with some children being shipped further afield when the place planning went wrong – which it regularly did.  Until the children had the results from their 11+ exams none of us knew where they would be going.  The curricula, especially the languages learned were different in each school.  Preparing our children for transition was a cumbersome affair with the secondaries offering sporadic activities mostly to years 5 and 6 to try to tempt the children to their school.    On these grounds alone we should resist a return to a selective education system.
The argument that grammar schools somehow increase social mobility is frankly a lie.  Comprehensive schools do that – as I know from my own experience.  I was the first from my family to go to university because my comprehensive school had that aspiration and provided me with the broad education to get me there.  Working in Kent, where, due to political cowardice, selective education has continued unchecked, I have seen first-hand how aspiration is stifled almost at birth.  Parents of preschool children have often already decided which of their offspring are ‘grammar’ children and which are not.  This goes very much along class lines – with the parents’ own educational experience being a key factor.
My educational philosophy is that all children should be educated in local inclusive schools.  My preference would be for a curriculum based around children’s individual needs both emotional, physical and academic.  Kent’s model is based in segregation.  Children with impairments are largely educated in separate ‘special’ schools; children who fail the Kent Test are sent to secondary moderns at age 10/11 and those who pass are sent to grammars.  Where the model fails is that children do not fit into simple categories.  The Kent Test is divided into language and mathematical components.  To go to a grammar school children have to achieve above a particular score in both.  Hence children who may only have exceptional mathematical or language ability are denied a place at the ‘best’ schools.  Every year I watched extremely talented children being rejected by the system.  The knock on effect on self-esteem was tangible.  I was horrified talking to adults in Kent who had failed the Kent Test who actually still remembered their scores decades later.
What I hated most was seeing how divisive the system is in social terms.  Right from reception class adults and indeed classmates refer to children as having grammar or non-grammar potential.  Enough educational research on teacher/parental expectation shows us that these early attitudes have potentially devastating long term effects on a child’s learning and actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The best comprehensive schools educate all the children, building on their strengths and developing areas where they may struggle.  Children learn with their local peers creating a positive cohesive community.  Parents and the local community work together to ensure that their school is a place which contributes to a common cause.  Bussing children around to different areas, as happens in Kent and other selective authorities, at best renders difficult and at worst destroys this essential function of education.
A child’s ability is not fixed at the age of 10 when the tests are administered.  Surely the key task of education is to develop children beyond where their abilities seem to hold them.  Putting in a glass ceiling is anathema to an educator.  Segregating children into different types of school with different aspirations is everything that many of us have been fighting against.
The fact that some comprehensive schools, particularly those in areas where deprivation, lack of aspiration and generational underachievement, do not seem to provide the same levels of education as those in more affluent areas with a different demographic, is not an argument against comprehensive education per se.  It is an argument for putting massive educational and financial investment into those areas to raise aspiration and provide hope through building coherent communities.  Creaming off a small elite of children into a grammar school merely creates social division and a hierarchy of worth.
Sir Keith Josephs visited my comprehensive school when he was Secretary of State.  As Head Boy I was asked to welcome him to the school.  At the time he thought that assisting bright children into private education was the way forward.  To a standing ovation I told him that those of us in my school were totally opposed to his scheme and were proud to be at a comprehensive school.  Having been a teacher for 23 years, I am even more convinced that I was right.

Richard

A group of head teachers attended a school improvement meeting to discuss values-led educational development. They were asked to consider the potential beneficial effects for their schools of actions to support the flourishing of play, learning, teaching and relationships, rather than directly on a narrow range of attainment outcomes. One of the heads present was clear that this way was not for him. He had just moved into his school, was determined to drive up standards and said he couldn’t risk spending the time on an approach that might yield greater gains in the end but might not produce results fast enough for the next inspection. It was suggested that he was talking as if he would do anything to make sure that attainments improved even if he knew that what he was doing was unsustainable by which time he would have left the school. He responded: “well, that is the game we are in”.

Greenginger37

A lot of teachers don’t want to talk about performance related pay because of the shame attached to not getting an increment. A lot of people don’t even talk to their colleagues about it for fear of being seen as a bad teacher. Often they don’t make an appeal when they should. Being a teacher is an integral part of who you are, it’s not just a job. If you’re told that your lessons aren’t of a high enough standard or you haven’t got the grades to fulfil the targets and you don’t get your pay progression then you’re going to want to keep it very quiet. It can be very demoralising.

Rupert

I was at a primary school, supporting an initiative based on the Index for Inclusion
(indexforinclusion.org) to help young people develop ‘values literacy’. They were choosing from a range of headings for inclusive values, and illustrating some of those words, onto a ‘values shield’. It was a Year 2 class engaged in a lovely activity which I had been invited to join. The teacher said to me: “I’ve split the values into groups for our lower ability and higher ability children”. The ‘low ability’ children were illustrating ‘love’, ‘joy’ and ‘trust’, while the ‘high ability’ children were illustrating ‘compassion’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘non-violence’. As a visitor with an eye to encouraging the activity, and the school’s wider participation in the initiative, I felt I had to bite my tongue at that point – but my heart sank to see inclusive values divided up and allocated in this way. Developing skills in spotting the gaps between the ideals and reality was at the heart of the initiative.

Jill

Last week I met a friend who teaches in a primary school and asked him whether he would be willing to contribute anything to this website. He said that he already knew about it and thought it was a good thing, but he was fearful about writing anything for it even though it was anonymous, because he was worried that somehow, someone might trace it back to him. It wasn’t that he didn’t have anything to say, he said there were numerous ridiculous things happening in the school for him to choose from. This is a man who is active in the trade union, normally confident and outspoken in his views, supports others in the community and is passionate about social justice. In spite of this, his workplace, a primary school is so repressive that in this instance he was frightened to tell the truth about the things that are happening there.

Tony Booth

I visited a school recently where Ofsted inspectors had commented with disapproval on the small amount of progress the children made in their tests at end of key stage 1 (age 4-7) and end of key stage 2 (7-11). This is a school with very high pupil mobility so that only a minority of the children took both tests at that school. The inspectors were uninterested in this information yet the comparisons they made were entirely invalid.

Tony

A village school of 28 pupils in an Eastern County was inspected by Ofsted. One of the recommendations in the report was that the school should make more use of middle management. It could not make sense to call for more middle management in such a small school with a maximum of three staff and was possibly made by a tired inspector using a drop down menu of comments. But it was more worrying that the requirement remained unchallenged and uncorrected even when brought to the attention of the Local Authority advisers. In their fear of standing up to Ofsted, they said nothing to help the school cope with such a silly report.

Mel Ainscow

Last October an urban primary school admitted a girl of Pakistani heritage into year 6. She had previously lived for four years in Poland, where she had learnt the language. She has now picked up English, and is doing well academically and socially. However, she struggles with full attendance as her journey to school relies on two bus routes. In so doing she passes three other schools that refused to admit her, because they were ‘full’. Teachers told me that this has happened before in their district.  Their explanation is that some schools don’t want newly arrived migrants in year 6 because of the tests!

Stories like this illustrate the complex and sometimes perverse ways in which national policies impact on what happens in our schools. In particular, they point to how the pressures to raise standards through the publication of test scores and inspections can distract teachers from their instinct to do the best for all of their children.

Rupert

A governor at a primary school questioned the school’s new behaviour policy, which started with a stern statement in bold capital letters on how poor behaviour would not be tolerated under any circumstances and how action would be taken against perpetrators: “how does this policy reflect our school values of peace and love?” The reply was, “Oh, we have separate policy for our values”.

Sophie

Year 6 children, who are 10 or 11, undertake externally-marked tests in grammar, reading and maths, but the writing is teacher assessed. Schools are chosen at random to be moderated to check the teacher assessments are being made according to the criteria. The moderators agreed with all the teacher’s assessments, except for the children he put forward for the highest mark as they did not find the precision they were looking for. An example of the lack of precision they gave was a missing y from the end of ‘they’ in an eight-page autobiography. She had made one slip, which was not a misspelling since there were numerous examples of the word correctly written in the rest of her book. Her writing is interesting, imaginative and enjoyable to read and its quality is evident when compared to writing by her peers.