Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Cancellation of KS3 SATs

Some interesting letters in the TES regarding the cancellation of KS3 SATs.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Cut the clutter and instil a love of learning

Sir Jim Rose, the leader of the Primary Review, is due to make his interim recommendations in the next few weeks. But he has already told the House of Commons seclect committee on children, schools and families that his key goal is to instil a love of learning in children - and increased specialist teaching could help with this.

When asked how creating a more balanced curriculum would square with teaching to the test that is common in Year 6, he answered that the tests were not the only issue. The key, he said, was to create a system that would bring out the best in fast-developing 10 and 11 year olds. He hinted that one of the most important ways to do this would be to bring more specialists into primary schools.

He said: "The problem in Year 6 is more than that [teaching to the test]. It's the dgree of expertise you need to keep up with lively 11 year olds who are on the march to good quality work in secondary. Eleven year olds are terribly underestimated in what they can achieve. If you have a class teacher system hanging on in there, you are asking a lot of the class teacher. Look at what they are capable of in music when they have a specialist teacher or someone in PE who really knows their subject well."

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Poetry being 'frozen out' by schools

The TES reports that the teaching of poetry is being undermined by the free market. Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, has warned that the decline in the children’s poetry market could no longer be ignored and said only one major publisher, Macmillan, now publishes new poetry for children.
As fewer primary teachers appreciate verse, the diversity of the form is not being taught, so demand for new books has dwindled, he said.

“I would argue over whether the market knows best in this instance,” he said. “There are ways booksellers could discover and promote poetry more proactively. The best advocates are poets themselves. While reading is seen as an individual activity, poetry is a social activity. There also needs to be a demystification of poetry. There is an assumption that poetry is difficult, not just among booksellers but among teachers.”

He called for more support for teachers in gaining children’s interest in poetry, and for poets’ status to be raised through a high-profile Man Booker-type prizes. People probably know and love poetry already - through lyrics, rhymes or the text of children’s picture books,” he said. “Adults see it as a niche thing and project that on to children, but children don’t have those hang- ups. If children are not turned on to poetry, they will lose the opportunity to engage with literacy in a way that enriches them, and in the long term there is a danger for the entire poetry infrastructure because we are not growing a new generation who like poetry and who want to read and write poems.

“Poetry has sat at the heart of British experience for thousands of years. It would be very sad if it shifted from that position.”

An Ofsted report on poetry in schools last year found that poetry was the worst taught part of the English curriculum.

Michael Rosen, the famous poet, said, "Poetry is being frozen in the ice of the national literacy strategy. What is needed is needed is a specific poetry curriculum."

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Bad handwriting can limit exam success by up to 40%

The TES features an interesting report about handwriting. It writes that bad handwriting isn’t just hard to read - it can limit exam success by as much as 40 per cent. Pupils with bad handwriting are less likely to do well in written tests and composition exercises than their neater classmates. And boys are particularly likely to scrawl, which may explain their continued underachievement in writing tasks.

The assumption in British schools has always been that handwriting is an issue of neatness, rather than something directly related to the process of composition. But academics from Warwick University argue that handwriting is more than the transcription of ideas; it is directly related to how we generate and process those ideas.

“Handwriting is not just about training the hand,” they say. “It is about training the memory and hand to work together to generate and correct mental images and patterns of letters, and translate these into motor patterns of letters, automatically and without effort. Handwriting is … a language act, rather than just a motor act.”

When pupils can write fluently, the process does not interfere with other mental processes. But if they struggle, they have to devote large amounts of memory to the task, leaving them with less capacity for generating ideas, selecting vocabulary or planning what to write. “It may be that handwriting can crowd out the composing processes we value,” the academics say.

This idea was reinforced when they tested the handwriting speed and ability of 198 Year 6 pupils from three schools. A high proportion of results for composition reflected pupils’ results in separate handwriting tests. Boys’ handwriting scores were significantly lower than girls’, and they were more likely to be in the lowest category of handwriting ability.

This reflects national concern over boys’ underachievement in key stage 2 writing tests. This year, only 60 per cent of boys scored level 4 in the writing test, compared with 74 per cent of girls.

“At a time when improving composition … is a national priority, this suggests that intervention to improve handwriting … may be of benefit to boy writers,” the researchers say. “Early intervention is desirable - this is not an issue that improves spontaneously.”

They conclude that children with average or poor handwriting have only a 40 per cent chance of achieving level 4, the expected level for 11-year- olds, in national tests. So ignoring poor handwriting fails to address a significant and continuing obstacle to pupils’ achievement. “UK national testing does not assess handwriting speed or fluency, and addresses only writing style and neatness,” they say. “We may be failing to assess an important aspect of writing.”

The report is based on: The Links Between Handwriting and Composing for Year 6 Children’ by J. Medwell, S. Strand and D. Wray.

Friday, 17 October 2008

No more KS3 SATs - but what about KS2?

The Government has decided to scrap the Key Stage 3 SATs with immediate effect. Unions, opposition political parties and newspapers all showed their support for the decision.

But primaries are left bitterly asking why the Government has decided to retain KS2 tests. David Fann, chair of the NAHT primary committee, said, "From what I hear, the announcement has caused complete and utter devastation in primaries."

It seems that the KS2 tests provide some sort of accountability function at the end of primary school.

The child in my class are gutted!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

KS3 SATs are scrapped... What about KS2? :-(

The Daily Mail reports that SATs tests for 14-year-olds have been scrapped in a humiliating U-turn by Children's Secretary Ed Balls. And school exams in other age groups will be radically overhauled, he said.

Mr Balls told the Commons today that the key stage 3 tests taken by pupils at 14 were 'not justified' and would be dropped with immediate effect. Tests for primary pupils will remain but the high-stakes examination for 11-year-olds leaving primary school could be scrapped by 2010. The assessment of seven-year-olds will be downgraded.

Mr Balls's announcement cuts a swathe through the controversial testing system embraced enthusiastically by five previous Labour Education Secretaries after its introduction by the Tories 15 years ago. It follows a marking fiasco this summer which heaped misery on thousands of pupils after results were delayed and inaccurately recorded. The overhaul also comes on the back of criticism from teachers and parents of the high-pressure examination regime.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity

As I read this inspirational book I want to blog my thoughts and what I've learned.

Chapter One seems to set up some of the ideas for the rest of the book, regarding setting up new practices for your workload.

Basic Requirements for Managing Commitments:

  1. If it's on your mind, your mind isn't clear. Anything you consider unfurnished in anyway must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what the author calls a collection bucket, that you know you'll come back to regularly and sort through.

  2. You must clarify exactly what your commitment is an decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.

  3. Once you've decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organised in a system you review regularly.

Why are things on your mind? Most often, the reason something is on your mind is that you want it to be different than it currently is, and yet:

  • you haven't clarified exactly what the intended outcome is;

  • you haven't decided what the very next physical action step is; and/ or

  • you haven't put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system you can trust.

Most to do lists are merely listings of stuff, not inventories of the resultant real work that needs to be done.

New curriculum to focus on skills

The TES reports that the new primary curriculum now in development is likely to have a much greaer emphasis on skills than is currently the case, it has emerged. The document - to be adopted in 2011 - looks increasingly likely to highlight skills alongside content, according to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The authority is supporting the review of the primary curriculum being led by Sir Jim Rose, the former chief inspector for primary education. The interim report is due out at the end of this month. The QCA has submitted evidence to Sir Jim from surveys with pupils, seminars with heads and other stakeholders, analysis of Ofsted reports and research.

Mick Waters, director of curriculum at the QCA, said: “I think one of the challenges (of the review) is to stop arguments about what is in and what is out, petty arguments over poets, painters and battles. We want to help children understand big ideas behind knowledge to understand the difference science can make to society and the benefits of learning about science for an individual. We need to give them an appetite for more knowledge, the belief that they can make a difference. That is a really different outlook on the primary-age child from the one existing 20 years ago.”

Emma Payne, deputy head at Hillcrest Primary in Bristol, has worked with other schools in the area and the QCA on innovating the school’s curriculum. She said: “We need a new national curriculum because the current one was designed in a different time. I have been shown one of the drafts of a new curriculum and was really excited to see a focus on skills. One of the main problems with the curriculum is there is a big focus on knowledge, and it is too easy to cram children’s heads with stuff, rather than the skills they need to apply with any stuff.”

Paul Jackson, joint head of Gallions Primary in Newham, is part of the Open Future scheme run by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, which offers a skills- based curriculum. He said: “Jim Rose has been to visit our school and I’ve taken the children to meet Mick Waters. The idea that seems to be coming through is freeing up time, allowing schools to take their own direction.”

Sir Jim’s remit, set out by Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, calls for the introduction of languages, less prescription of content, and potentially developing areas of learning rather than subjects.

The primary curriculum’s content is now organised by subject. There are also subject-specific skills and thinking skills, but these are embedded in the curriculum as attainment targets. In the summer, Sir Jim told a meeting of educationists that it was likely the primary curriculum would remain subject-based.

The QCA, in a review of the primary curriculum in 10 countries, has found only two that organise their primary curriculum by subject rather than broader areas of learning, namely Norway and Slovenia. The latter has said it wants more cross-curricular work.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Out with the X-Factor culture

Primary schools are to receive formal guidance on how to combat the effects on their children of the rampant celebrity culture. They will be expected to interest pupils in 'real world' jobs and to discourage them from aspiring to be reality television stars or footballers' wives.

Shows such as The X Factor and Big Brother have previously been blamed for giving youngsters the impression they can become overnight successes without any hard work.

In future, primary schools will be encouraged to organise enterprise days or job talks from figures in the local community.

The proposals are expected to form part of Sir Jim Rose's review of the primary curriculum, with an interim report due next month.

John Crookes, an advisor at the QCA said, "If there are low expectations within the community and no role models from the world of work, you have difficulties. One young girl said she wanted to be a footballer's wife. Her dad is a university lecturer. He wasn't very pleased."

A recent survey of 1000 youngsters by the DCSF' Talented and Enterprise Taskforce found that just 1% thought being intelligent or good at school work meant they were talented.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Preventing stress

Back in February it was revealled which LAs had the highest stress-related absences in the teaching workforce. After feel a bit stressed myself in the last few weeks (although it could be more to do with a bug I've been trying to shake off for a while) I enjoyed a report in the TES Magazine which gives some good advice which I really need to try to follow:

  • Have a cut-off time and stick to it. Whatever you have done at say, 6pm, is enough. Go home.
  • Prioritise. Achknowledge that you can't do it all. Start with what is absolutely necessary and drop the optional.
  • Never work when you are exhausted. The quality of work will be low and make you more stressed.
  • Always stop for a drink at breaktimes. It is not a waste of time, because you can work more effectively after the break.
  • Work as a team. Always share out the planning and preparation with colleagues. never plan a set of lessons without looking at the previous years' first, to avoid duplication.
  • During the school holidays, stay off campus and and something completely different. A refreshing change makes you work more efficiently.
  • Exercies reduces stress. Take time to raise your heartbeat every day.

Without a shadow of a doubt I've been guilty of not doing every single one of these. Need to try to put myself first for a change. I've recently purchased a copy of "Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity" by David Allen for £6.99 on Amazon.co.uk after a recommendation by Mark Warner. I hope this also helps me to learn to prioritise.

Friday, 10 October 2008

VCOP Teacher

Just found this great blog written by VCOP teacher. The blog has lots of great ideas for writing poetry. The ideas are simple but really powerful and will help to develop aspects of VCOP. A really good site. It's just a shame that I found it the day AFTER National Poetry Day!!

Thursday, 9 October 2008


Further to a post about learning spellings earlier this month I discovered Spelltube.co.uk. The site has 'brings the weekly spelling list into the technological age'.

Interesting and memorable spelling videos have been created for each of the 3000+ words in the National Spelling Bank. Teachers can generate and assign a word list to their Key Stage 2 pupils. Various characters help to reinforce spelling concepts in an enjoyable way that will appeal to various learning styles.

I think I could definitely use this in class.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The Countdown Kid

The Daily Mail reports that 11-year-old Kai Laddiman became one of the youngest ever winners. Kai beat James Bruce, a 25-year-old teacher, by finding three seven-letter words, being spot-on in a numbers game and working out the conundrum in only 14 seconds.

Kai, from Broad Oak, East Sussex, auditioned for the show in London in January, beating off hopefuls as much as six times his age. He and his mother Naomi were then invited to record the show, presented by Carol Vorderman and Des O'Connor, in Leeds. Kai, who has already got a grade B in AS-level maths said: 'Although everyone else was older, I wasn't nervous at all.

He said, "I got an extra cushion to prop me up on the chair so the cameras could see me over the desk. It made the seat a lot more comfortable so I wasn't complaining. I just concentrated hard and did my best. I enjoy the Countdown letter games, such as the conundrums, the most. Numbers are a bit trickier but I wouldn't say they're difficult either.'

Kai has three younger brothers and attends Heathfield Community College in Old Heathfield, East Sussex.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Spelling Tests axed because they're distressing

Don't get me wrong - I really am a stickler for correct spellings. Poor spelling and grammar (used by adults, at least) infuriates me. But I loathe spelling tests. I fail to see the benefits of spending around 1/2 an hour each week running a spelling test, knowing full well that many of the children will spell the same words wrong in a piece of work immediately after the test. Quality teaching of word rules and spelling patterns must be the best method.

I was impressed by this post from Tom Barrett regarding good spelling resources on the net.

In the news today is a primary school that has axed spelling homework because pupils find learning lists of words 'distressing'.

The Daily Mail reports that children at the Whitminster Church of England Primary, in Gloucestershire, will no longer be given a short list of words to learn each week because staff believe it leaves them feeling like failures.

Parents' groups called the move 'ridiculous' but headmistress Debbie Marklove, whose school has just over 100 pupils aged four to 11, has invited parents to a meeting to explain her reasons. In a newsletter, Mrs Marklove wrote: "You will notice that the children will not be given spelling lists to learn over the week. We have taken the decision to stop spelling as homework as it is felt that although children may learn them perfectly at home they are often unable to use them in their daily written work. Also many children find this activity unnecessarily distressing."

She added: "Spelling lists are sometimes just tests of memory. If children get five out of five when practising with mum and dad and then get one out of five at school it can give a sense of failure. I would like to emphasise that we are still teaching spellings at school as normal, as is demanded by the literacy curriculum.'

A spokesman for the school said no parents had complained about the policy.

But Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said the decision would come back to haunt her pupils as some spellings, particularly irregular words, needed to be learned. he said, "Youngsters will feel a sense of failure more strongly when they go into the world of work and can't produce a letter or a report for their employers," he said. "There are quite a lot of words which you essentially have to memorise. Lots of parents and grandparents will remember doing spelling tests either pleasantly or unpleasantly. But for all that, it is a necessary part of the learning process."

A report from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority this year showed that most primary school-leavers are unable to spell such basic words as 'height' and 'rigid'.

Gloucestershire County Council's head of improvement, Karen Charters, said: "It is entirely for the school to decide if it wishes to use spelling lists."

Thursday, 2 October 2008

I'm nomophonic

The Daily Mail reports that 2008 has given the English language more than 100 new words and phrases which capture modern life, according to experts. And while previous years have given us bling, bovvered, chav and carbon footprint, many of this year's most popular words and phrases reflect the economic crisis.

Credit crunch has dominated the headlines in recent weeks, but other increasingly familiar financial terms are included in a round-up of the words of the year. They include stagflation, the economic term for stagnant growth and rising inflation, and funt - the financially untouchable.
But it's not all economic doom and gloom. The list compiled by dictionary expert Susie Dent, also includes nomophobia, the fear of being out of mobile phone contact, and nonebrity, a person who enjoys status without anyone really understanding why.

Current events are also reflected in the list, including arguido - the Portuguese word for suspect - after the Portuguese police named Kate and Gerry McCann as official suspects in their daughter Madeleine's disappearance, only to clear them ten months later.

Cripes has made it in after Boris Johnson almost single-handedly resurrected the expression during his campaign to become London Mayor. Writing in Words of the Year, Miss Dent said: 'It is now rather sweetly old-fashioned and confers an air of naivety on the speaker.' Miss Dent, the resident language expert on Channel 4's Countdown quiz show, said the words and phrases were chosen because they captured the spirit of 2008. She said: 'Some are new words which have come into use and others are established terms which have been resurrected.'

From the U.S., momnesia is the term for 'a pattern of mental confusion and forgetfulness that characterises a mother's first year after giving birth', according to Miss Dent's Words of the Year book, published today.

Pessimistic individuals are doomers, while moofers are mobile out-of-office workers and scuppies are socially conscious urban professionals.

A YouTube divorce is an acrimonious marriage break-up in which a spouse airs their former partner's dirty laundry on the video-sharing website.

Miss Dent said the new words gave the English language more power. She added: 'You may hate momnesia and nomophobia but few of us could deny that when we first heard them, we weren't just that little bit curious.'

Have you heard any new words or phrases making their way into the classrooms?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

League tables delayed

Thousands of parents will be forced to choose primary schools for their children blindly because league tables have been delayed by the SATs marking debacle. Education officials have admitted that this year's primary school league tables will be published up to four months late.

The information is now scheduled for publication in March next year - beyond the deadline for expressing primary school preferences in most if not all local authority areas.

Parents will be forced to rely on last year's out-of-date information or ask individual schools for their 2008 exam scores. Even then, the scores will not have been weighted to take into account whether a school is improving children's standards between the ages of seven and 11.

The publication of tables has had to be pushed back after blunders and delays in the marking of English, maths and science SATs tests for 11-year-olds this summer, with some pupils still to receive their results.

Margaret Morrissey, of the lobby group Parents Outloud, described the situation as a 'major climbdown'. "Having built parents up to need and use these tables, they are left in a situation of having to manage without them at a time when they are making drastic decisions. Many parents will rely on this information, particularly first-time parents and those in large conurbations where there are lots of schools to choose from and you really need a little bit more information to understand what you are choosing.'

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the tables would be published 'as soon as practically possible'.