Friday, 29 February 2008

Political correctness is spoiling childhoods

The Daily Mail reports that parents believe political correctness and bureaucratic red tape are ruining childhood. A Government survey has found that children's education is being fundamentally damaged and communities undermined by ludicrous rules and the "everyone must have prizes" mentality. This has led to school sports days being cancelled because the grass is wet, and pupils being sent home for wearing the cross of St George in case it offends other children. Talented pupils are not praised or encouraged and are paired with "klutzes" in school plays and dance classes as part of policies to include every child.

Parents blame schools, local education authorities and the Government for the "political correctness gone mad". But they say childhood is also being damaged by growing materialism and the celebrity culture.

The findings come in a report, Childhood Wellbeing, which was commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families after a recent Unicef study found British children were among the unhappiest in Europe.

Teachers Toolbox

Teachers' Toolbox has a range of motivational resources for primary schools. There are some really original display borders and some good reward pencils. I really like this site.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Testing times for education

The Daily Mail reports that education standards in primary schools have slumped because of Government meddling and an obsession with testing, warn leading academics. They add that New Labour's influence in the classroom has introduced a centralised "state theory of learning".

The largest inquiry of its kind into primary education found that today's children spend too much time preparing for "batteries of tests" in English and maths. This has come at the expense of a broader education in other subjects. While test scores have risen, educational standards "may actually have declined".

The findings, which form part of the Cambridge University-based Primary Review, are a huge blow to the Government after it invested billions in primary education. A report by Dr Dominic Wyse, lecturer in primary and early years education at Cambridge University, says: "Government control of the curriculum and its assessment strongly increased during the period from 1988 to 2007, especially after 1997. The evidence on the impact of the various initiatives on standards of pupil attainment is at best equivocal and at worst negative. While test scores have risen since the mid-1990s, this has been achieved at the expense of children's entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum and by the diversion of considerable teaching time to test preparation."

Drilling pupils to pass tests does not help their longer-term learning and is resulting in a narrower curriculum, poorer standards of teaching and lower quality of education. The quality of interaction between teachers and pupils in the classroom has not improved and could have become worse as schools try to boost their test results. The focus on national English, maths and science tests for seven- and 11-year-olds is "driving teaching in exactly the opposite direction to that which research indicates will improve learning".

Instead of using a variety of classroom methods, including teaching children in small groups, schools often do little more than hold whole-class lessons to prepare pupils for tests. Dr Wyse says that National Curriculum test results "seem to bear out this analysis". The proportion of children reaching the required standard in Key Stage Two English tests sat by 11-year-olds have risen from 58 per cent in 1996 to 80 per cent last year. The figures in maths rose from 54 per cent to 77 per cent over the same period. However, results in both subjects have plateaued in recent years. This is likely to be because teachers "learnt very quickly how to coach for the tests, hence results improved, but any benefit to be squeezed from the system by such coaching has long since been exhausted".


Teachers-Take-Away has a range of colourful well-produced resources in many curriculum areas, some of which are available to buy on CD, some as PDFs. If you register to become a member there are some free resources.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery for Kids

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery for Kids is a very child friendly website where you can find out about Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, the Romans, the Victorians and learn how Birmingham was affected during World War Two. I will find this site really useful for our World War Two project.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Classroom Displays

Classroom Displays is interesting blog with lots of displays, some of which are appropriate to Year Six. But any website that is passionate about displays is good in my book!!

Monday, 25 February 2008

Memorabilia Pack Company

The Memorabilia Pack Company produces history packs full of paper replicas which are ideal for use as primary sources for history projects. Ideally suited to Britain since 1948 and the 1st and 2nd World War projects, the packs are quite reasonable. Packs include Victorian housefolds, 1960s childhood, World War 1, the Blitz, Home Front, Home Guard, the RAF at War, 1950s household, British seaside holidays, golden age of steam trains, golden age of cruise liners and suggragettes.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Hot topic?

After a discussion on our residential this week, and after reading a report in the TES, topic work is something on my mind.

The TES writes that their survey last year revealed that four out of five primaries are abandoning traditional teaching and reintroducing 'themed' lessons, which were popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Researchers from Manchester University found that junior children in 2006 spent almost half their week in English and Maths lessons, and two hours on science. This leaves only an hour for each other subject.

They also found that the focus was shifting away from teaching traditional subjects separately towards a more combined approach in order to cover all aspects of the curriculum. English, they discovered, was being combined with other subjects, such as history, for four-fifths of the time.

Our school will be looking into revamping our curriculum by introducing more topic work. How do other people do this? Is every single lesson part of the topic, or are some subjects still taught discretely, like Maths for example? Any thoughts?

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Animal Adaptations display

As part of our science unit on Animal Adaptations the children made paper mache animals and researched to find out how they are adapted to their environment. The practical aspect brought this unit alive and the research they completed was excellent as a result.
Over the next year I will be buying lots of stuffed animals to avoid the long process of making them. The display will be just as effective!

Friday, 22 February 2008

Le Chateau du Broutel

I have just returned from a brilliant residential visit at Le Chateau du Broutel in Rue, France. What a brilliant week! This is the second time we have held this residential and on both occasions it has been truly worth it.

We toured the local village, tasted chocolate at a Chocolatier, held baby goats at a goat farm, explored Amiens cathedral, visited the underground caves, used our French at Abbeville market, tested our nerves in the blind trail and looked at sea life at Nausicaa.

If anyone is looking for a safe location for a trip abroad then I would wholeheartedly recommend this.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Ice Cream Display

This is a display that I should have put up some time ago when we visited an ice cream factory in Crewe.

We held an ice cream day and this display was the cumlination of the day's work. It includes ice cream haikus, ideas for our own ice cream designs, data handling results of our ice cream favourites and some history of the factory.

Stressed out

After visiting wedding fayres for the day I was too late to buy a paper today. As a result I ended up slumming it with the NOTW. Not ideal, but there was one interesting report.

Stressed teachers took more than half a million days off work last year - costing the taxpayers £84million. More than 200 teachers, in fact, were off sick for the whole of last year.

The Freedom of Information Act suggests that teachers took a total of 546000 'sickies' for stress across the country. Seven of the 90 LEAs which supplied statistics admitted to losing more than 10000 teaching days, Lancashire being the biggest with 16098.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Pass marks in new tests lowered

The Daily Mail reports that pass marks in the revamped Sats tests are to be lowered to prevent a surge in the number failing. Officials announced the changes after pupils performed worse than expected in trials of new-look English and maths tests for 11 and 14-year-olds. Whitehall said the move would align standards in the new tests more closely with the existing system. The decision to reduce pass marks had already been taken by the time the trials started late last year, they insisted.

But the Tories accused the Government of "fiddling" the figures. Ministers have signalled that the new tests could replace existing Sats within two years.

The revamped regime gives pupils two chances a year - in December and June - to move up a level in the National Curriculum system. Currently, children must wait until they take Sats at the end of a Key Stage to discover which level they are working at. In trials of the new system in 411 schools in December, "unexpected patterns" emerged in the results. Officials said these trials awarded pupils a "level four" - the standard expected of 11-year-olds - only if their answers were judged to be "securely within" the grade level. But for the next tests in June, children will be given a level four if they just scrape over the grade boundary. This will bring the new tests into line with the existing Sats.

"We have not lowered standards," The Department for Children, Schools and Families said.
"As before, pupils will need to reach level four in order to attain a national curriculum level four.
"We made a technical change to the pilot, which is that for the next round of tests in June pupils will need to have reached or be working within a level, rather than having completed or be working securely within a level. This is the same standard as is used in the current national curriculum tests. We are simply running a pilot, part of which is testing out different assessment models.


Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Just say when...

The Daily Mail reports that parents will be able to choose when their children take Sats tests under proposals outlined yesterday. Exam watchdogs want to reform the system so pupils can take a test when they are ready to do so - on any day of the school year. They are currently required to take exams in English, maths and science on fixed dates when they are 11 and 14.

The move by chiefs at the National Assessment Agency would give parents a greater say in the speed their children progress through school. But head teachers warned that parents intent on "hot-housing" youngsters could try to rush them through. Under the radical plans, teachers would be able to draw test questions from a stock when they believe individual children are capable of moving up a level in their national curriculum rating.

An alternative reform would be for teachers to mark the tests themselves instead of external examiners. A sample of papers would still be marked outside schools to check national progress. This is unlikely to find favour with ministers, who have indicated that external marking must stay.

The NAA is an arm of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which oversees national curriculum tests and advises ministers on future developments. David Gee, NAA managing director, told a London conference yesterday: "My view is that testing should be when-ready, on a daily basis." Ministers have already moved to make testing for 11 and 14-year-olds more flexible by introducing two chances a year in December and June - instead of just one - for pupils to move up a level. The system is currently being piloted in 484 schools. But Mr Gee called on the Government to go further. He said: "There's no reason why, in the longer term, we should not move towards some form of assessment when ready. But in the pilots we are having to work to a specification which is twice a year." He added: "The teachers choose when to test the pupils. It has to be when the pupils are ready, not the whole cohort being entered at one time to see how many we can get through."

Monday, 11 February 2008

Time Management tips

I plan for this post to re-surface occasionally as I will add to it if I acquire any more time management tips. Please feel free to add comments with ideas.

  1. Give yourself an evening cut-off point. The best-planned lesson will be terrible if you are too tired to deliver it - better to be alert enough to improvise.
  2. Balance your day so you have a mixture of lessons that demand a lot of teacher input and lessons that are more student-led.
  3. Check your pigeonhole twice a day, respond to emails quickly, don't ever miss a meeting and always be early for lessons.
  4. Use your day effectively - don't waste PPA time and lunchtimes.
  5. Set up your classroom for your next lesson before you go for a break.
  6. When marking work, put it in a rough order first, and work backwards. If you start with the A* pupils it will only get depressing.

Sue Cowley

Sue Cowley writes a regular column in the TES magazine sharing ideas for good behaviour management and discipline. She has lots of good ideas. Her website has links to her Teachers TV videos and lists of possible rewards and sanctions. Very interesting.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Children start school too soon

A report in today's Daily Mail says that English children start school too young and are tested longer and harder than anywhere else in the world. Primary schools in England are more obsessed with tests than in 20 other countries and pupils still perform no better than their European counterparts.

Researchers from the Cambridge University-led Primary Review also found that English children find school "stressful" as they are subjected to academic lessons in maths and English at the age of four. But in countries such as Sweden and Finland, where children do not start education until seven, they outperform English pupils by the age of 11.

Research spanning 21 nations including Germany, Italy, Spain, the US and South Korea found that England was 'uniquely' obsessed with high pressure exams. Children here also attend larger schools than counterparts in many other nations following a reduction in the number of primaries by 3,000 over the past 40 years. The report added that other distinct features of the English system included a national obsession with exam standards. Primary pupils were given baseline assessments at age five, followed by national tests at seven and 11 and optional tests at eight, nine and 10.

"What distinguishes assessment policy in England is the degree to which it is used as a tool to control what is taught, to police how well it is taught, and to encourage parents to use assessment information to select schools for their children," the report said. "England is unusual in its high incidence of assessment and is exceptional in its emphasis on statutory external standard assessment for children at ages seven and 11." Testing in England "begins at a younger age" than in other countries, the report added. "In summary, formal assessment in England, compared to our review countries, is pervasive, highly consequential, and taken by officialdom to portray objectively the actual quality of primary education in schools."

Results shouldn't be everything

Bill Ball was head at new Manton Primary in Nottinghamshire. His work was praised by the NCSL and has wonderful support from parents and the community. When he took over the school was the worst-ranked primary in England.

Unfortunately he has now resigned because, although they have doubled since 2004, the school's SATs results still place the school sixth from bottom in the league tables.

The chief executive of the NCSL, Steve Munby, praised Mr Ball for his work in rebuilding the community. But John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, said, "Maybe it needs a new headteacher, maybe new governors, maybe new funding, maybe all three - but it is not acceptable for a school to consistently underperform."

Whilst I appreciate that SATs results are important as a measure of progress, surely a primary school head has to develop the whole child and it plays a role in structuring the community. It's just like a football manager - results can't improve overnight. Allow the headteacher a few years to build firm foundations for lasting success.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Primary pupils who fear transition

One in six pupils feels unprepared for the transition from primary to secondary school, with many of them worried about being bullied. And their fears are justified: a quarter are likely to be bullied at their new school. Secondaries share their apprehension, rarely trusting information from feeder primaries. But pupils' anxiety largely disappears by the end of their first term, helped by several initiatives.

Researchers from the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education project found many pupils worried whether they would make friends or keep up with work at secondary.

Bullying was the key obstacle to transition. A quarter of Year 7 pupils had some experience of bullying at school, and a third of pupils with special educational needs said they had been bullied. Pupils from disdvantaged backgrounds found it hard to settle, with three-quarters struggling to get used to new routines.

Measures such as information booklets and open days helped to ease anxiety. Many schools used the same work books in both Years 6 and 7 to create a sense of continuity. Some schools ensured that the new Year 7 began a day before the rest of the pupils.

However, researchers said, "Secondary schools do not appear to trust the data on children provided by primary schools at Year 6 level, and this leads to a system of baseline re-testing of all children at Year 7."

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Stress Busting

Tips for reducing stress:

  1. Exercise: It will get your heart pumping and can be a more effective anti-depressant than prescribed drugs.
  2. Diet: Replace sweets and chocolates with carbohydrates, fresh vegetables and oily fish to combat lethargy.
  3. Plan something to look forward to: Book a holiday, pursue an interest or plan a treat - anything that you will look forward to.
  4. Sleep: try to get eight hours a night and avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed.
  5. Natural daylight: Walk to work or eat your lunch outside to boost serotonin levels.
  6. Spring clea: De-cluttering your life will give you a sense of well-being.
  7. Resolutions: Teaming up with others who share your goals will help keep you motivated.