In a break with the usual weekly routine, I spent the best part of 75 hours last week in North Wales with 50 children. We had left school behind in the glorious sunshine on Tuesday morning, departing on the schools annual residential trip with a group of eager 9-10 year olds. I must admit I was apprehensive. Not knowing the year group I was leaving with, I had observed them around the school in the weeks leading up to our exodus. What I observed was less than encouraging.
Arriving in Wales, my opinion varied little. As we congregated for our first meeting I looked around the room. Some of the kids were eating plastic bottles; some appeared to be licking imaginary objects floating by their heads; some were unable to remember a number and recall it in order; some were unable to simply pay attention for longer than a minute or two. When I enquired with teachers who had previously imparted knowledge on this year group I learnt that some of the pupils in the group had terrible grammar; some weren’t able to string a sentence together; some were incapable of completing simple calculations; some had a very low reading age and some had communication skills that would barely surpass a mute. In short, there was a sizable proportion of this group who will struggle when they enter Year 6 and complete their SATs.
Throughout the week spent on our residential there was a carousel of activities that challenged pupils in a range of different ways. There were physical and mental challenges, individual and group activities and a plethora of opportunities for pupils to display their skills and talents. What I observed only strengthened a view I have had for the past 18 months.
I watched as pupils terrified of heights took on a climbing wall, determined to reach the top despite obvious anxiety. I saw pupils, unable to punctuate a sentence, pick up a bow and send an arrow straight into the bull’s-eye. I observed as pupils who don’t know basic number facts work within a team to achieve a common goal. I saw pupils who sit at the back of PE and suffer their way through lessons solve problems I struggled with myself. I watched pupils go out of their way to ensure nobody was left out and help others around them in whatever way they could to complete tasks. I saw pupils who struggle with the laws of basic spoken English pick up plates and spin them on the top of sticks effortlessly. I saw pupils who sit quietly and insecurely in the classroom flourish and become pupils bursting with confidence and joy. In short, I had an opportunity to see that, in a variety of different ways, every single child on that trip was skilled and talented.
And so it pains me to know what lies ahead for these fantastic kids. Some will return to the school system and flourish. They will work their way through different exams testing their reading, writing and arithmetic skills. If they have these desired skills they will be deemed academically able. Those are the lucky few.
Unfortunately, more will return to school where they will be repeatedly told they are failures. The only skills that will be assessed will be the 3Rs. The diverse, creative and flexible curriculum they need in which to flourish diminishes by the day. It will soon be narrowed further by grammar exams and a linear curriculum which will require the acquirement of knowledge through rote learning. These pupils will largely have their talents overlooked. They will not be praised for their fantastic artwork; nor for their ability to run the fastest or jump the highest. They won’t be rewarded for their determination or their bravery. Instead they will be told that if they aren’t able to identify the main clause in a sentence, underline the adverb and circle the preposition they are not performing satisfactorily in school. Their confidence will burst. They will believe they are stupid and worthless and, most disgustingly, come to accept that there is no alternative to this.
The education system we have in this country is wrong. Change is needed. Unfortunately, Michael Gove is making all the wrong changes. He is dragging the system in a completely wrong direction. Another generation of pupils are going to be lost thinking they are unintelligent. They will fail to realise that intelligence can be measured in an infinite number of ways. In school, we look only at one.
Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Ooprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckenburg, Steven Spielberg, Henry Ford. Not one of these people graduated from an institute of Further or Higher Education. Even Albert Einstein failed to acquire the required grades needed to get into his school of choice. I fear that we in this country test our pupils on the narrowest of criteria. We ignore the gifts that so many of our pupils encompass.
I’m only a class teacher. I’m a small cog in a massive machine. Realistically, I can’t change the system. However, I have one year to make an impact on a group of kids. From this day forth I will look for those hidden skills. I will praise and recognise different achievements in my classroom. I will do my utmost to avoid giving the impression that the only thing that matters is test scores (In the current educational system that wont be easy, but amid everything else we must go back to the start and remember why we all became teachers- the kids). The year group will probably remember this week for long to come as their first trip without their parents, their first taste of independence. I will forever recall it as the week I remembered that every child is a genius, if only you look hard enough.
Tagged: education testing SATs