Sunday, 28 September 2008

SATs question was an 'own goal'

The TES includes a report about one of the SATs questions in this year's short writing challenge.

How was your last year at school, asked the Sats paper? The tests were the worst thing about it, came back the answer from the 11-year- olds. Key stage 2 pupils used this summer’s reading assessment to complain about the exams, with one moaning: “I hate Sats week.” Another wrote: “Everyone was dreading Sats, including me. We worked ever so hard and I was fed up by the end of the week and could not look at a test ever again.”

The responses came after the writing test asked pupils about their memories of the school year, including their “most fun activity” and “biggest challenge”.

The National Association of Head Teachers, which wants to scrap the tests, collated the answers. It called the question an “own goal” for ministers who defend testing. It asked for the answers after noticing that heads were commenting on them on an internet message board. Some six schools wrote back with details of pupils’ responses.

Another pupil wrote: “The best thing about this year at school will be the end of Sats. No more worrying. Sats are horrible, aren’t they?”

“You might get bullied if you get a bad score or even if you get a good score people will call you nerd, geek and beano,” said another.

While the association admits the seven responses are a tiny fraction of this year’s 600,000 answers, they come at a time when heads are fuming about the admin difficulties surrounding this year’s tests, which prompted hundreds of complaints.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokeswoman said: “We aim to help all children do their best. Testing is here to stay, but the system is not set in stone.”

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Let's Grow and Box Tops

Believe me, as an ex-employee of Morrisons I know how tight they can be. Therefore I was very surprised that they are actually giving something away! The Let's Grow voucher scheme is the latest voucher scheme to hit the supermarkets, specifically aimed at squeezing every last penny out of their customers whilst making themselves look generous!

I sound a bit cynical but actually I'm all for these voucher schemes. I realise that it's a way to get free marketing and that the amount they actually give away compared to the amount they take in during the scheme doesn't sound particularly grand. But at least they are giving away something! It allows schools to get their hands on some useful freebies and it gives our Year Sixes some responsibilities (counting the vouchers). As a reward for their hard work counting the vouchers they help me to choose what we spend the money on. The lads love this role and they take great pride in telling others, "I chose that!"

Let's Grow from Morrisons allows schools to collect vouchers towards gardening tools and plants. I have also finally registered for Nestle's Box Tops for Books scheme. I don't mind giving a little free publicity if it means we get a few free donations!

Lifestyle lessons could cut amount of subjects taught

The Daily Mail reports that lessons in healthy lifestyles and sex education could replace traditionalacademic subjects in a shake-up of primary school teaching planned by Ed Balls. Pupils could even be assessed on their ‘personal development’ as well as the three Rs.

The Schools Secretary has ordered an inquiry into primary school lessons to consider whether pupils are currently studying too many subjects. Now the team behind the review has said heads and teachers agree there should be reductions both in the ‘number of subject areas’ and the subject content pupils cover.

Instead they want pupils to study ‘concepts and skills’ that cut across traditional curriculum areas and a stronger focus on personal development, including healthy eating, ‘self-esteem’, sex and relationships, drugs and philosophy.

The demands are being considered by former Ofsted boss Sir Jim Rose, who is conducting the primary review on behalf of Mr Balls. e is due to publish an interim report next month with final conclusions due next year.

As part of the review, officials conducted 60 seminars across England, involving 1,500 heads, teachers, classroom assistants, governors, parents and pupils. he report on the events claimed participants viewed literacy, numeracy and personal development as having equal importance. spects of personal development considered vital included ‘healthy lifestyles, sex and relationships, drugs and alcohol, philosophy, self-esteem and helping children to understand multiple cultural identities’.

Participants felt these areas should be the ‘central driver’ behind the curriculum. According to the report, personal development should build on existing lessons in ‘social and emotional aspects of learning’, which cover happiness and respect for others.

The report, published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which is assisting Sir Jim, raises the prospect of a threat to the teaching of distinct subject such as history, geography, music, art and technology. It follows a warning by academics yesterday that the review threatens the prominence of science.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘Subjects don’t come in boxes. Our geography affects our history and putting these together in a topic-based approach seems to me absolutely sensible.’

But Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb said: ‘This approach was tried in the 1960s and 1970s and failed, and it will fail again. 'We need primary schools to focus on maths and English and give childrenan introduction to the history of our country and the geography of the world. The way to raise self-esteem is to ensure children are fluent readers by six or seven, and through sports days and team sports.’

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Welcome to high school - By the way you've got a disease!

After my post earlier this week about the ways that high schools are trying to ease the transition to Year Seven, I was shocked yet amused with the stroy that Year Sevens in one school were told they could have a deadly disease and could be placed in quarantine...

Fortunately, the typhoid epidemic was a fictional scenario made up for a lesson in creative writing. But that news came a little too late for some.

New pupils at Bower Park School in Essex were told there had been a deadly outbreak of typhoid to 'liven up' a creative writing lesson. The lesson on the fourth day of term at Bower Park School in Romford, East London, left several of the pupils in tears. One mother whose son was in the class said: 'His teachers had told him they had to stay in school and be tested. If they had red spots or felt sick they had to report to the nurse straight away. Then they were told it was all a joke - it was a lesson in relaying emotions and writing about how they dealt with it. I'm horrified.'

The 11 and 12-year-olds were first told by their teacher there had been an outbreak of typhoid in the school. They were then told there would be a 48-hour quarantine, before the teacher explained that the set-up was a role-play exercise to stimulate creative writing.

Typhoid, which is caught through contaminated food or water, kills up to 30 per cent of sufferers if left untreated. Symptoms include a high fever, diarrhoea and sometimes a rash of rose-coloured spots and internal bleeding.

The lesson plan, entitled School Under Siege, was devised by a London-based teaching centre and has been used in at least one other school, in the Havering area of Essex.

Since it was taught at Bower Park School, the headmistress has had to meet with several concerned parents and explain to them that the lesson was part of a push to re-vitalise creative writing classes. Mary Morrison said in a statement: 'There is a massive push at Bower Park School to eradicate "passive learning" and replace it with exciting, creative lessons where students are active participants and wholeheartedly involved in their learning. The English Department introduced a dramatic approach to their Year 7 lessons with the outcome being that the students captured their feelings and translated them into a piece of dynamic creative writing. Unfortunately some of our Year 7 students believed the storyline that there was a local epidemic in the community, even though our less able students were told that the activity was role play prior to the start.'

She added: 'Lots of the children found it a very stimulating class. There were very few who were upset by it.'

I think there was an overreaction from some pupils and parents, but nevertheless, I guess it's a rather unusual way to break the new pupils in!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

I wudnt bovva wiv it

A language 'expert' has said we should stop worrying that 'textmessage speak' is creeping into general usage. John Wells, president of the Spelling Society, which campaigns for spelling reform, claimed that the informal language of texts, emails and chat rooms is the 'way forward'. The academic, an Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London, also called for the apostrophe to be abolished.

He said that reforms were necessary because the confusing English spelling system is placing a 'burden' on schoolchildren. He said: 'Let's stop worrying if people sometimes spell "you" as "u"; "your" and "you're" both as "ur"; and "whose" and "who's" both as "whos". Nowadays we often see "light" written as "lite" and "through" as "thru". Let's not hold up our hands in horror - people should be able to use whichever spelling they prefer.'

He added: 'Let's rationalise the use of doubled consonants. If "ballad" has double l, why should we not be allowed, if we wish, to spell "salad" with double l too? We should no longer fetishise the ability to sort out "their", "there" and "they're". There are more important things to life.'

Professor Wells also said it was time to dispel the idea that correct spelling was a mark of being educated. Instead of forcing school children to memorise irregular English spellings, he said that teachers should adopt a phonetic approach. He added: 'The teaching of literacy in schools is a major worry. It seems highly likely that one of the reasons Britain and other Englishspeaking countries have problems with literacy is because of our spelling and the burden it places on children. There are lots of other things that are neglected in class because so much time is spent on spelling.' He pointed out that in other languages, such as Italian, Spanish and Finnish, spellings are phonetic.

Professor Wells also said the apostrophe was 'a waste of time'. "Have we really nothing better to do with our lives than fret about the apostrophe?" he added.

Surely this guy isn't serious? Sadly, I think he is...

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Developed countries have smaller class sizes

The Daily Mail reports that British primary school classes have a fifth more pupils compared to other developed countries. An international study has shown that only Japan, Korea and Turkey have more five to 11-year-olds in the same lesson. There are almost 26 pupils to the average class in state primaries here - despite widespread concerns over disruption and youngsters receiving less attention.

Pupils in Slovakia, Mexico and Hungary all benefit from smaller teaching groups. And our crowded classrooms come despite above average spending per pupil, according to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development. The Government invests £3,610 per child at primary level, against an OECD average of £3,549.

The group said Britain has 'one of the largest average class sizes at this level of education' out of 31 countries examined in its report. The average state primary class size for OECD countries in 2006 was 21.5, compared to 25.8 here. Its report said: 'Only Japan, Korea and Turkey have larger classes, while in 14 OECD countries there are 20 or fewer students per primary level class.'

At secondary level, however, Britain fares better, with 23.7 pupils to a classroom, compared to the average of 23.8.

But the study also shows the gulf between state and independent schools here is wider than in any other country. In primary education, there are 13 pupils more per classroom in state schools than there are in private ones. Across OECD countries on average, class sizes between the two sectors differ by just one or two students per lesson.

The study - Education at a Glance - said smaller classes are 'often perceived to allow teachers to focus more on the individual needs of students and to reduce the amount of class time they spend dealing with disruption', although it conceded the evidence for this is not conclusive.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Moving up to big school

Already this year a few of last year's pupils have been back to school to let me know how they are getting on in high school. A wonder how many other high schools use the principles used in Loreto High School in Chorlton and Monks' Dyke Technology College in Louth...

Loreto High School in Chorlton, Manchester, is attempting to make itself more like a primary school. Pupils aged 11 to 13 are taught by the same teacher, called a personal learning tutor for every lesson - just as in primary.

A specialist teacher then joins classes for subjects such as maths, English, science and languages so there are two members of staff for 70% of the curriculum.

Headteacher Luke Dillon, a former primary headteacher who started at the school a year ago, says the school is trying to combine the best of the two. "We have appointed a few primary teachers, and they have gone down really well, crossing the big divide for teachers as well as pupils. Our personal learning tutors get to know the pupils' strengths, so when the maths specialist comes in, they can say that somebody is really strong on multiplication but struggles with subtraction, for example. They have an intrinsic knowledge of children's learning styles and aptitudes. If pupils are jumping around from ten to 11 teachers, you wouldn;t necessarily have that information. The children really appreciate it and enjoy it. It means that students are really in situ for a lot of the time. They're not spending five to ten minutes between lessons, and they are settled."

Lessons are a bit more fluid as well, says Dillon. "They can run over a little bit, without pupils having to make their way to another class. It's also a little bit like a primary school classroom as they can put artwork up. It's their space."

Meanwhile, Monks' Dyke Technology College in Louth, Lincolnshire, has come up with a novel way to tackle the problem of transition. Head of Year Seven, Steve Armstrong, has set up an e-buddies scheme, which allows younger pupils at 35 neighbouring primaries to e-mail older students with their queries and worries.

"When pupils used to arrive in September, they were still worried about the same things they were when we visited the primary schools months before," he says. "It was clear we weren't getting the message across and we thought, 'who do kids take most notice of? It's the people around them, not parents or teachers."

The scheme has been a great success, with about 40 children this year visiting primary schools and establishjing e-mail contact with older pupils they meet. Each student e-buddy has around six or seven younger pupils to look after. "They can e-mail the children directly and exactly the same things come up as they will around the country. They're worried about older children because they will be the youngest and the smallest; they're worried about getting lost and relationships because they're coming into secondary school where their classes and teachers change. There isn't the same familiarity on an hour-by-hour basis."

Mr Armstrong said, "We find that our e-buddies scheme does allay children's fears. Previously, children might have had their induction days in July and then worried for ten weeks. But now they can e-mail the children right through to the end of term. The feedback we get is that they feel more relaxed."

Monday, 8 September 2008

Could this be the last year for SATs?

The BBC reports that Schools Secretary Ed Balls has hinted that the SATs tests could end next year. They may be replaced by assessments tailored to the ability of each child, he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

The national tests are taken by about one million children aged seven, 11 and 14 across England each May, but this year's marking was a "fiasco", he said. A five-year contract with ETS Europe was scrapped after it failed to get papers marked in time, and the next contract will be for one year only. "The current system is not set in stone," said Mr Balls. "We are looking currently at a way in which we could assess progress child by child with individual level tests where the tests would be chosen in a way which was right for the child, rather than everybody doing the same test on the same day. For 2009, we are going to do the same kind of tests as in previous years before the problems with ETS, but for the long term I am really keen to get this right, to listen."

The new exams would still be marked externally, Mr Balls added, at least for children leaving primary school.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Children should be allowed to use mobiles in class

A study by researchers at Nottingham University suggests that children should be allowed to use their mobile phones in class because they can serve as 'learning aids'.

During a nine-month experiment involving classes aged 14 to 16, pupils either used their own mobiles in lessons or the new generation of 'smartphones' which allow internet connection. They were used to create short films, set homework reminders, record a teacher reading a poem and time experiments with the phones' stopwatches.

The smartphones also allowed pupils to access revision websites, log into the school email system or transfer electronic files between school and home.

Although the study was based on use in high schools, I wonder whether some of the ideas could be adapted for primary schools. For instance, in the days of the credit crunch, could children use the calculators in their phone rather than buy separate calculators? Could they be used to take photos of work to show parents?

I'm curious to know if any primary teachers have already embraced the idea of using mobile phones in school...

Monday, 1 September 2008

Poor teachers are too hard to sack

The BBC reports that the chief inspector of schools has warned that weak teachers can put children off learning and are too hard to sack.

Christine Gilbert, head of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), told the Sunday Telegraph pupils were being let down by inadequate teachers. She said "parents should not have to put up with it". However, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said: "The vast majority of our teachers are doing an excellent job."

Ms Gilbert said teaching rated as "satisfactory" was not good enough, especially in deprived areas.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families In the newspaper interview, Ms Gilbert called for schools to be able to fire underperforming staff more easily and criticised a "revolving door syndrome" which enabled poor to teachers move from school to school. She said: "As I go round the country heads tell me how difficult it is to get rid of weak teachers. They say they start the procedure and they might be 18 months down the line and the teacher will move... we need to be thinking of ways of preventing that. That isn't Ofsted's role but I sympathise with head teachers about that."