Thursday, 29 May 2008

All I Have To Do Is Dream...

The Daily Mail reports on the results of a study. It reveals that children actually do better at school if they stare out of the window instead of focusing constantly on the teacher.

Despite appearances, they are concentrating hard on their work or trying to learn something, it found. Teachers are being asked to check whether youngsters are staring into space often enough to consolidate their learning. Those who look away from others at points during a lesson are likely to have a better understanding than pupils who do so less often, say University of Stirling researchers.

They observed more than 230 children, aged from five to early adulthood, and found that apparent daydreamers did better in tests and problem-solving tasks such as balancing a beam with asymmetrical loads. Youngsters aged four to six, for example, were more likely to avert their gaze when carrying out a task they found difficult, or that was new, but looked away less if being tested by someone they knew. For older children, so-called 'gaze aversion' was linked to the complexity of the task in hand, rather than familiarity with the tester.

This result held across a range of different tasks, the researchers said. 'These results are important because they show that children avert their gaze when they are trying to carry out a task which is difficult or with which they are not yet familiar,' said Dr Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, whose research was financed by the Economic and Social Research Council. 'That means that gaze aversion is a useful thing for teachers, carers and parents to know about.'
From the point of view of teachers, gaze aversion can be a 'positive sign'. Children who used it were more likely to be termed 'improvers' by Dr Doherty-Sneddon. By contrast, children who were not improving their performance, or were going backwards, used it less often.

The researchers believe paying attention distracts children because their brains are too busy trying to interpret visual cues from the teacher. They believe the findings can help teachers understand the mental state of pupils with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Six week Summer Break is Impacting on Standards

The Daily Mail reports that schools should switch to five-term years to stop children losing ground over the summer. A report by the Institure for Public Policy Research claims that the six week summer break is hampering efforts to raise literacy standards. It calls for the school year to be divided into five eight week terms with a fortnight's holiday between each and four weeks off in the summer.

I actually think this makes sense. Does anyone have any thoughts?

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Txtng mks u clvr

The Sunday Times reports on research that says children should be encouraged to send more text messages because they can improve literacy. Professor David Crystal believes that sending frequent texts helps children’s reading and writing because of the imaginative abbreviations needed.

The finding is in stark contrast to fears that texting’s free forms and truncated words herald the abandonment of traditional grammar. “People have always used abbreviations,” said Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. “They do not actually use that many in texts but when they do they are using them in new, playful and imaginative ways that benefit literacy.” Crystal’s views will appear in his new book, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8.

In one study due to appear in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, researchers asked 88 10 to 12-year-olds to compose text messages for various social scenarios. Beverly Plester, a senior lecturer in psychology at Coventry University, and her colleagues found that using “textisms” – abbreviations such as “2nite” for “tonight” – was “positively associated with word reading, vocabulary and phonological awareness”.

John Humphrys, the BBC presenter, has described text messagers as “vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours 800 years ago”.

Obsessed with League Tables

The Daily Mail reports that Labour's obsession with league tables is damaging children's education. A damning international report has found that headteachers are overloaded with bureaucracy and their intense competition for high rankings is having a 'negative' effect on many pupils. Some schools are suffering worsening results as poor league table rankings send them into a 'vicious' downward spiral.

The preliminary findings from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development are a blow to the Government. They come shortly after the Commons' schools select committee warned that 'teaching to the test' is endemic.

The report looks at school leadership in 22 of the 30 developed nations that make up the OECD. It says that schools in England strive for a good reputation in order to attract 'gifted and high-achieving pupils'. The ranking by exam results is therefore 'extremely important to establish and protect'.

But the report notes the consequences of these league table rankings 'are often negative' for both the school and its pupils. While the tables favour schools that are already advantaged, less successful schools have to battle against a 'vicious circle'. This includes, a 'bad reputation, worsening atmosphere, decreasing identification of the pupils with their school, decreasing number of pupils, reduction of resources, decreasing job satisfaction and motivation among staff, lack of applications of well-qualified teachers, worse quality of lessons, decreasing pupil achievement and worse results in the league tables'.

The report adds: 'Different studies show that most headteachers disapproved of the great competitive pressure open enrolment and league tables had produced.'

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Pip Davenport on Facebook

After his 'guest appearance' on the English writing SATs last week, it seems that Pip Davenport is working hard on creating a bit of publicity for himself!

The 19th century fairground ride inventor was the subject of the biography the Year Six children were asked to write in the long writing paper. Now, somebody has created a Facebook page for him! Ironically, he has joined the "It's Time to Stop SATs" group!

His first friend was a certain Citronella Garnet, whose name is made up of two characters from the SATs reading paper!

Very funny!

Friday, 23 May 2008

Transition for high school

The TES magazine reported on some of the methods of preparing Year Six pupils for the transition up to high school.

"It's busier than the rest of the year," says Ruth Kirkup, assistant head and Year 6 teacher at Dallow Junior School in Luton, Befordshire. "This idea that SATs have finished and that's it is wrong. But it is a good time."

The activities included teaching pupils how to tie a tie and preparing schoolbags, both vital skills in many high schools.

Other primaries cram in extra school trips, a creative arts week, an enterprise challenge, a show, a leavers' assembly and, increasingly, a school prom.

Lessons continue, with some schools using transitional units that pupils complete early in Year 7, some continue themes from earlier in the year, while others do entirely new work, or ensure any remaining gaps are plugged before the pupils move on.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Price of school lunches to rise

The Daily Mail reports that the future of healthy school meals is under threat because of the rising cost of food. The soaring price of bread, eggs and cooking oil has left many councils struggling to maintain the subsidised lunches. It is feared that some may stop providing them.

Figures from the School Food Trust show that 43 per cent of English councils made a loss on their school meals last year. The average price to parents was £1.64 - but that conceals an average subsidy of 43p a meal. Many private firms fear that if they pass on rising costs then parents will tell children to opt for cheaper, less healthy alternatives.

Parents have already been told to expect a 10 per cent rise in prices for meals at primary schools. It will mean an annual bill of £390 per pupil.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

SATs marking fiasco

The marking of England's national tests is in disarry because of administrative blunders. Many teachers say that they have quit as markers in protest at organisational mistakes surrounding the KS2 and KS3 tests.

It seems that ETS Europe are to blame for this. The TES forum has been flooded with 1500 comments posted by markers. They are angry that crucial training events have not been completed yet. Many said that they had not been given information about the location of the training, or had been asked to travel hundreds of miles at the last minute.

Markers also said that they were frustrated by ETS Europe's inability to respond helpfully to requests for information. One marker said she mad never seen such problems since the introduction of the national tests. "We all deserve better than this fiasco," she said.

Andy Latham, ETS vice-president, said, "I apologise to all the markers who have experienced frustration with the training and the standardisation process. We remain firmly committed to our July 8 deadline for the delivery of the results."


Saturday, 17 May 2008

'Teachers on the cheap' threaten strike action

Classroom assistants (are we allowed to call them that any more?) are threatening a national pay strike, saying schools are using them as 'teachers on the cheap'.

Jim Knight, schools minister, was accused of sacrificing teaching assistants' pay and conditions when he attended a support staff union conference in London this week.

Unison, which represents morfe than 200000 support staff and classroom assistants, agreed to ballot for a one-day national strike in July over a pay offer of 2.45%. Assistants say they are expected to do the job of teachers, but starting pay under £15000 compares unfavourably to teachers' £20133.

Mr Knight announced to the Unison conference that a new pay negotiating body for school support staff would be set up by September, with an independent chair.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Pick Up A Penguin...

The TES writes about the Science SATs papers. There were some awkward contexts for some of the questions, including cleaning fish tanks with magnets and getting babies to sleep. But the question that has appeared to cause most confusion in the TES forums is a question about the features of penguins.

Many children answered, "fur". The SATs discussion on the forum began to buzz with complaints about 'the infamous penguin question'. On teacher wrote: "I am beginning to regret showing my class the April 1 BBC prank video about the flying penguins."

Another question that irritated teachers asked what scientists could measure or observe to find out how well babies slept. One pupil proposed looking to see whether the baby was snoring. Another answered: "Mummy says my brother never sleeps and she is losing it." Donna Thomas, a Year Six teacher in Chichester, West Sussex supervisied her class, despite having had a baby girl seven weeks ago. She said, "It was not the best question on the science paper because it was about using a bit of common sense rather than testing curriculum knowledge. But it said babies sleep better if they have more daylight, so I'm now taking mine outside to play!"

Maths Test B

So that's it - all over!

I thought that Maths Test B was slightly easier than Test A. The questions were all do-able. I didn't like the way that the Peaches question was asked. The number of times I read this out to children was incredible. It was a shame that 'perpendicular' turned up. This is a word you tend to use just a few times over the year, but it was worth 1 mark in the SATs. Rotational symmetry appeared for the second year in a row. But no ratio, and no co-ordinates - this is rare!

Anyhow, now it's time to get on with all those things we've put off for a few months!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Maths Test A & Mental Arithmetic Test

I thought that Test A was quite fair really, with a range of questions on many different topics. It gets clearer each year that the test goes in order from Level 3 questions, then Level 4 and then Level 5. The children's exam technique has definitely improved by doing their best questions first (but isn't it sad that 11-year-olds can do this). It's a shame that my maths class this year are one of my weakest.

The mental arithmetic test was not too bad at all, in my opinion. How my children agreed!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Reading Test

After our delight with the choice of writing for yesterday's tests, we were brought right back down to earth today with what I thought was a difficult paper. Some very tricky questions and a not very interesting topic. How dull was that story?! I felt sorry for our pupils who used an enlarged paper - it was in black and white!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Writing Tests

I was really pleased with these tests!
The Long Writing test was a biography - Pip Davenport! Blimey, isn't this one of the first times ever that the task is actually a genre of writing that is actually studied in Year Six?! After picking genres that no one could ever guess at - finally we get one that we've studied this year! Speaking to colleagues from other schools, it would appear that some children were concerned about historical accuracies - e.g. worrying about things like Pip using a mobile phone or something similar. However, I feel this should be outweighed by their understanding of skills from our study of this style of writing.

The Short Writing test was to write a page from a book for Year Six memories! Blimey - if the children didn't have something to write about for this then they never will!! However, I'm curious to know if, when the results are published, the markers will publish the children's thoughts about their most challenging moment - the SATs!

The spellings today didn't seem too bad. I'm sure we've had a few of these before.

MPs say that SATs should be scrapped

Perhaps I am a cynic, but I can't help wonder about the timing of the reports about SATs this week. Maybe there are a few high ranking MPs have children who have taken the tests this year. Or maybe Labour MPs know this could win voters as this is music to many people's ears.

Anyhow, the Daily Mail writes about a report from MPs says that mass exam testing of pupils at seven, 11 and 14 should be scrapped. It argues that children are being robbed of a proper education by a SATs system that forces teachers to chase targets instead of inspiring pupils to enjoy learning.

The Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee said mass testing led teachers to drill pupils to pass exams instead of ensuring real gains in knowledge. It suggested ministers could ensure national standards were being maintained by requiring only a small sample of pupils to take tests each year.

And the MPs called on teachers to be given greater responsibility for tests and marking but said the results should not be collated in league tables to prevent the pursuit of results "at all costs".

More than a million pupils will take national tests in the three Rs and science this month. But the report said: "Teaching to the test means that pupils may not retain, or may not even possess in the first place, the skills which are supposedly evidenced by their test results."

The exams, however, are "here to stay", the Government insisted. "Parents don't want to go back to a world where the achievements of schools are hidden from them," said schools minister Jim Knight.

Monday, 12 May 2008

"Children don't notice hugely that they're taking national tests"

I really wish I'd watched the Panorama all about the SATs. Maybe it's time I investigated the i-player that everyone's been talking about.

It seems that Jim Knight, the schools minister, has said, "Children don't notice hugely that they're taking national tests." Yeah right! I'd really like him to go into a school and find out how much the children notice!

Science Tests

I felt that the Science Tests were not too bad today. I know there has been a lot of debate on the TES forums regarding the unusual contexts for some of the questions, but overall I felt they were fair. There was a mixture of easy and hard questions, with quite a bit of maths thrown in for good measure. Any thoughts?

Test overload

The Daily Mail reports that MPs are warning that an obsession with testing threatens to damage a generation of schoolchildren. An influential report will recommend the national testing regime be scaled back.

In its first major report since forming last year, the Commons schools select committee is expected to say tomorrow that the current system is not fit for purpose. The MPs will point to concerns that children spend too much time being drilled to pass tests at the expense of real gains in their knowledge and understanding. Under the current mass testing, backed by the Government, pupils face compulsory tests in the three Rs at seven, 11 and 14.

The Labour MP told the BBC's Panorama programme: "There's something wrong with the amount of testing and assessment we're doing, the quality of testing and assessment and the unseen consequences for the whole school culture. It is still a culture where the success of a child, of a teacher, of a school, is linked to testing, testing, testing, that is the problem." He also attacked proposed reform of the Sats system, under which pupils would be tested at any time from the age of seven. Mr Sheerman said that would put them under continuous pressure.

The all-party committee is expected to recommend a greater role for teacher assessment and a consideration of a sampling approach which would see only a percentage of pupils tested each year.

But Schools Minister Jim Knight MP has defended Sats. He said: "I look at the fact that our results are improving year on year and standards in our schools are rising, and part of the reasons for that are tests and tables."

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Year Six Gladiators Ready!

Well, several weeks of SATs revision now completed, we all wait to find out what challenges will face the children next week.

The Science tests are usually fairly predictable in what will come up. It all depends on how much mathematical knowledge is required to read the tables and graphs in the questions.

The children have plenty of experience of the types of questions in the Maths papers. Now all they need to do is hold their nerve.

As for the English tests, the revision is mostly irrelevant. We have all tried to guess what the writing tasks will be, but I'm certain that the test setters will simply pick a type of writing out of thin air, rather than choose a type that the children have a lot of experience of.

Now that the revision is all over we can get back to enjoying lessons and teaching new stuff!!

Good luck to every year six pupil, and fingers are crossed for every year six teacher!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

First choice for Brown and Cameron

Despite all that has been in the news recently about primary school places, it would appear that Gordon Brown and David Cameron have had no trouble in having their first choice primaries allocated to their children.

Yesterday Gordon Brown and David Cameron revealed that they had secured their first-choice schools for their respective four-year-olds, John Brown and Nancy Cameron. One is an inner-city community school where half the children are entitled to free meals and most speak English as a second language. The other is a Church of England school in Kensington, West London, with a largely white, middle-class catchment area.

The Prime Minister’s choice for his elder son, Millbank Primary, is the nearest-but-one primary school to Downing Street. There are at least a dozen state primaries closer to the Conservative leader’s home in North Kensington than the school he has chosen.

The Tory leader and his wife, Samantha, have secured a place for their daughter Nancy at the heavily oversubscribed St Mary Abbots Church of England school. A Conservative source said that the family were delighted, adding: “This is the school they wanted for their daughter. They have gone through the same process as everyone else. They attend the church, and there was no favouritism.” The Camerons’ nearest school is thought to be Oxford Gardens.

Friday, 9 May 2008

New SATs to be redesigned

Low scores from pupils taking part in the pilot of the new SATs tests have forced the Government to have a rethink.

Pupils will be given more time to complete the higher level sections. Also, procedures will be tightened to make sure that the right students sit the tests.

More than 400 schools have been taking part in a two-year pilot of the new tests, which are expected to replace KS2 and KS3 SATs from 2010.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Parents evenings - waste of time?

The Guardian reports that parents are increasingly turning their backs on traditional parents' evenings and would prefer more informal contact with schools to learn about their children's progress. Rather than an evening a term queueing for a five-minute chat with teachers, parents want more frequent access, or to monitor their children's progress online, according to research commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

The research finds that only half of parents report feeling very involved in their children's education, with their working lives being the number one barrier to helping with homework.

The children's secretary, Ed Balls, publishing the research, said: "We know parents are increasingly involved in their child's education - and want to do even more. But for many it's a difficult balancing act to juggle work, childcare and quality family time and still be able to help their children with homework and keep track of how their child is doing at school. Parents tell us they like having informal contact with their child's school - whether that's a chat in the playground or the chance to go online and see their teenager's latest marks and make sure they are going to all their classes."

Parent evenings would always have a role but schools should keep up to date with what parents want, he said.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Lunchtimes should be social events

School lunchtimes should be a social event, not just a functional feeding opportunity, say children.

Jo Pike, a researcher at Hull University, asked primary pupils what they like and dislike about eating in school. She found their preferences have often been overshadowed by adult preoccupation with nutrition.

Few children referred to food when discussing their priorities. Instead, they spoke about the social elements. Many felt it was important to be dining with friends, as this created a sense of safety.

Most children also used meatime to decide which games to play in the playground later, or make after-school social arrangements.

Dining room displays of pupils' work help to give a sense of ownership of the eating space. Such displays should be changed regularly.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Sweets go sour...

The TES reports that parents have criticised staff who use sweets to reward pupils. Apparently the practice is common in about a quarter of state primaries, despite healthy schools being one of the big focuses at the moment.

Aound 3/4 of the 2581 parents who answered a survey on Netmums, a parenting website, said they thought it was a bad idea, and that it contradicted recent healthy eating drives. The same number said they would also prefer teachers to use other rewards.

Nutritionists and eating disorder specialists also warn about the dangers of associating food with good behaviour or academic achievement. Children who believe they only deserve treats when they have been good will feel guilty eating sweets when they do not feel they deserve them. Such guilt can lead to secret eating or disordered eating habits, nutritionists say.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Yr 6 Teachers Wikispace

The Yr 6 Teachers Wikispace is a great resource where planning and resources are shared.

I plan to create a Year Six Teacher Wikispace very shortly.