What follows is based on the English (not British – this aspect of leadership is devolved to member countries) education system. It would be interesting to hear how my experience compares with that of people in other countries, though.
A friend has recently transferred her nine year old son from the private to the state education system. Her comments surprised me.
“I’m amazed,” she said, “how much this state school involves parents. I’ve been sent a pack of information about what they will be teaching my son this year and how I will be expected to support him in this. In the private sector, you just pay your money and they get on with it. You have no idea what they’re doing.”
Having spent all my working life in the state sector, this difference had never occurred to me. It might go some way to explain how a succession of government ministers and their staff (almost all privately educated) know an embarrassingly minute amount about how children learn, what they need to learn and generally, as a headteacher friend remarked, ‘where the children and childhood are in all of this’.
So why am I off on another rant? Well although I washed my hands of the system some seven years ago, I’ve been tutoring individual boys and girls ever since. I basically teach what their parents ask me to. If they are home-educated, I work on open-ended projects that interest the child, along with skills they will need in everyday life. If they are in school, I help them to catch up with or understand whatever parts of the curriculum they are struggling with.
Duncan (10 years old) is already stressing out about the SATs tests he will be made to sit next May, before transferring to secondary school. He’d asked me to tailor this year’s lessons to help him get through the tests.
My heart sank. I taught Year 6 (age 10-11) for many years. Loved the kids; hated having to spend so much time teaching to these tests, rather than allowing the wonderful, vibrant, enthusiastic young people in my care to make discoveries, to explore different viewpoints and to find their passion. Still, I owed it to young Duncan to help him cope as best I could, so I decided to update myself on the way SATs work these days.
The mental maths test has gone. At first I was pleased for Duncan – rapid mental calculation is not one of his strengths. Then I thought on. Surely being able to work out how much two or three items will cost in a shop or whether the ‘special offers’ on display will save or cost us money is a useful life skill… so teaching and even testing it makes some sense. No, there are now three long written papers.
There used to be one paper that tested mathematical skills, while a second (calculator permitted) checked the ability to use those skills in more inventive or open-ended ways. The calculator is now banned. Well obviously. Although almost every member of the population carries a mobile phone which includes a calculator, our children are being trained not to use it. Oh dear.
I turned to the English tests. These are being changed for the coming year. All I could find were some sample questions showing the type of thing they will now be asked. Here’s one for your consideration: (aimed, remember, at children of 10 and 11 years old)
Tick one box in each row to show whether the word before is used as a subordinating conjunction or as a preposition.
Sentence subordinating conjunction preposition
We left the cinema before the end of the film.
The train ticket is cheaper before 9:00 in the morning.
I brush my teeth before I have breakfast.
I’m in my sixties; I’ve been a teacher all my working life; I’ve held posts as Head of English, English Co-ordinator, school librarian and so forth… and I have NEVER needed to identify a subordinating conjunction, far less compare it to a preposition. I’ve yet to find anyone who has.
In case you’re clinging to the hope that my country’s government still has some semblance of a grasp of what education is about, and has just made that one rather glaring mistake… sorry to disappoint you, but here are some more extracts from the same document:
Fill in the gaps in the sentence below, using the past progressive form of the verbs in the boxes.
Rewrite the sentence below so that it begins with the adverbial. Use only the same words, and remember to punctuate your answer correctly.
Which option correctly introduces the subordinate clause in the sentence below?
Which option completes the sentence below so that it uses the subjunctive mood?
I could go on.
I spent much of my time as a teacher, trying to help children cope with the very complex spelling patterns in a language with so many roots, dissuading them from using text speak in their written work and explaining that ‘we was‘ or ‘could of‘ were not standard English. This was in one of those rare areas of the country where almost all the children had English as a first language.
I can imagine the increased levels of stress that parents, children and teachers will suffer to jump through this latest set of ridiculous hoops. What I can’t imagine is what goes on in the minds of the people who set such an inappropriate, boring and irrelevant curriculum.
Depressed now. Need some light relief. Please don’t watch this video if you are offended by bad language or simply don’t get the English sense of humour; otherwise go ahead and laugh or cry, depending on your mood.
Video of Fascinating Aida’s Ofsted song