Saturday, September 25, 2010

Layer 355 . . . SATs, Assessment, Gove, Free Schools and Academies, Young, Springsteen, Fry and Wagner

Year 6 Stress

Children like being tested, they just don't like Sats

Really? Shouldn't this say children like learning and achieving, and having their achievements recognised?

A survey of 1,000 children carried out by the Wellcome Trust shows that children are surprisingly positive about assessment, but they don't think Sats are the best method

A significant new report published today by the Wellcome Trust and seen exclusively by Education Guardian points out that the Sats debate has never canvassed opinions from those at the heart of the matter – children. The trust commissioned academics at Queen's University Belfast to rectify that, carrying out an extensive survey polling 1,000 children, plus parents, on their views of how key stage 2 assessment takes place in primary school.

While the report shows overwhelming support from both children and parents for primary school assessment, it records a strong preference for non-Sats testing.

"Children are more sophisticated than we often give them credit for: the survey results show that they understand why they need assessment, but they also understand the difference between a test that simply measures their ability, and one that gives them feedback and helps them learn."

In the survey, 95% of students said science assessment was "useful", but only 10% said Sats were the best method for finding out how well they were doing in the subject. The reason for that disparity, according to the Wellcome research, was that children liked tests that give them feedback and a consequent chance to improve, but they didn't associate those benefits with Sats.

"Kids get no individual feedback with Sats – just a mark. The tests are not about individuals – and our research showed that children know this, and they know it's not very good," says Bell.

Another concern flagged up in the Wellcome report is the burden placed on children to perform. The researchers highlight one child's comments in the survey that Sats "make you less confident because there is a lot of pressure".

That is a real concern, says Bell. "Schools know that Sats can have a huge effect on their ranking, so many put significant effort into ensuring that the measuring of their kids on Sats day goes well. But it just brings more pressure on kids, and all that time spent doing revision means schools end up losing the richness of the curriculum because Sats dominate everything."

The report also recorded the "largely negative" impact of Sats on children's home life, with year 6 and 7 pupils reporting "feeling stressed or nervous, being made fun of or bullied over their marks, and even talking of assessment causing break-ups between friends". One year 6 child admitted: "My family push me too much and my friends get all nervous and angry and don't want to be friends anymore."

The Wellcome report concludes that children know the value of assessment, but that it makes them stressed and they would prefer it to be broader, including investigations, projects, presentations, and end-of-topic (rather than end-of-year) testing. Bell is now sending the findings out to policymakers, including those involved in the current curriculum review, as well as teachers and education ministers, hoping to bring about change.

"It's not a case of throwing Sats out completely, but designing them more carefully so they're testing what we want to be testing – individuals," he says. "The current system makes pupils stressed, there's too much pressure on producing particular results. We need to remember that we are dealing with children, who need support and help."

Pardon? After all that's said in the report - it's bleeding perverse to say that SATs should continue, rather than being scrapped in favour of proper tracking systems that make use of formative assessment backed up by a certain amount of in-school testing.


Why I oppose free schools and academies

The coalition government's education policy is incompatible with the basic principles of the Liberal Democrats

by Peter Downes

The academies bill was rushed through parliament in July with a speed and urgency normally reserved for anti-terrorist legislation.

The substance of the act we now have on the statute book is potentially a very significant threat to the stability, fairness and viability of our educational system.

Gove's educational vision is based on a number of fallacies. I want to concentrate on just five.

First, he is very keen to liberate schools from "local authority control". Local authorities do not "control" schools. They used to.

It is the head and governors who make the vast majority of the decisions as to how the school functions. The LA is there to provide a whole range of services and support, including: curriculum advice and challenge;
coordination of admissions; and the cost-effective provision of enough school places for children coming through the system.

Clearly some LAs perform these functions more effectively than others but there is no justification for dismantling a structure that has an essential and invaluable role.

The greatest interference in schools today comes not from local authorities but from central government: a highly prescriptive national curriculum and shelf-loads of guidance; an oppressive inspection regime; an obsession with targets and putting schools into categories; and a never-ending stream of education acts and hundreds of regulations.

Gove's accusatory finger of excessive control should be pointed at central not local government.

The second fallacy is that there needs to be a massive upheaval in the school system because of parental dissatisfaction with schools as they currently function. This is simply not true. The latest DCSF survey of parental views on the schools their children attend shows that 94% of parents are extremely satisfied, very satisfied or fairly satisfied with the school their children attend. A very small minority have serious reservations. These need to be addressed, but there is no widespread demand for schools to be revolutionised.

An Ipsos/Mori poll recently reported that 96% of parents want their children to go to a good local schools within the local authority family.

There is no popular support for a root and branch reform on the scale envisaged by the academies act.

Fallacy number three is that changing the structure of the school system raises standards. The idea is that you call schools by another name and re-organise them and standards will somehow rise. The academic research on pupil performance gives a different finding. Dylan Wiliam, from the London Institute of Education, says it's not the school you're in that matters, it's the classroom. So our national efforts should be focused on improving teaching and learning rather than on an expensive and distracting administrative re-structuring.

Fallacy four is the idea that academies and free schools are part of the localism agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth. I quote from the DfE website: "The Young People's Learning Agency will fund, monitor, regulate and handle complaints about academies." This isn't localism – it is a massive centralisation of our school system.

The most dangerous fallacy of all is the idea that the principles of the market place can be applied to state-funded education. "Good" schools are expected to expand; "free schools" will provide competition so that under-performing or failing schools will have to improve their performance or wither and die.

Just as the supermarket drives the corner shop out of business, so it will be with schools.


Simon Jenkins:

Another middle-class escape tunnel parents don't want

He may see them as a way of saving children from local politics – but Gove's free schools are just a blackboard Tea Party


Britain's Youngest Boarders

Brilliant. Shocking.


The BBC's Battle of Britain programmes continue to be superb:


Culture Corner

Neil Young: Le Noise

Neil Young's latest is frightened, confused, and a bit of an effort. All good signs, says Alexis Petridis

Le Noise demands more effort than some listeners might be willing to put in, but at its best, it repays that effort pretty handsomely. In that sense at least, it pretty much sums up Neil Young's entire career.

Brilliant album, Neil's best since Sleeps With Angels and probably my favourite of this year.


Bruce Springsteen: 'People thought we were gone. Finished'

Hobbled by legal wrangles, a frustrated Bruce Springsteen turned Born to Run's optimism on its head – and Darkness on the Edge of Town was born.

Springsteen is in Toronto, where The Promise, a documentary about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, is receiving its world premiere at the city's film festival.

The notion of "authenticity" will always attend Springsteen, owing to his espousal of the basic human values of community and civility in tandem with material wealth, a paradox that coalesced around Darkness on the Edge of Town. Consequently, The Promise offers a valuable insight to Springsteen's motivation at a key moment in his life.

As work proceeded throughout the second half of 1977 and into 1978, Springsteen's conception for the new album hardened. He had become influenced by the film versions of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, and John Ford westerns such as The Searchers, whose themes of essentially decent men assailed by external forces resonated on a personal and increasingly political level with this shy product of working-class New Jersey. He began posing himself Big Questions: "How do you make a way through the day and still sleep at night?" "How do you carry your sins?"

"I veered towards music that I felt would speak of people's life experiences."

"Thirty five years staying connected . . . That's why I think the band continues to improve. You can't be afraid of getting old. Old is good, if you're gathering in life. Our band is good at understanding that equation."


A Bit More of Fry and Wagner

Stephen Fry's at it again with his Wagner obsession. (see also Layer 346)

You can't allow the perverted views of pseudo-intellectual Nazis to define how the world should look at Wagner.

All of us who love Wagner are familiar with another argument, where people will say: "It's too powerful, there's something wrong with music that can have that much effect." Is it earned? Is it too much? Is it manipulative? Is it unfair for music to have this unbelievable ability to make one shake in quite that way? There are those who disapprove of Wagner purely on that aesthetic ground.

There are those of us who "disapprove" on the grounds that there is FAR more enjoyable music available, and life's far too short to waste it on bombastic, germanic, martial bollocks like Wagner. Is it earned? Is it lovely? Is it too little? Is it pretentious twaddle? Is it mad posturing? Is it squawking, screeching, twittering tish tosh twattishness?

Perfect music (Ride of the Valkyries) for a mad murdering US Air Cav commander like Kilgore in Apocalypse Now to play loud as his Hueys bombed, rocketed and machine-gunned the shit out of Vietnamese villages.

Stephen's ambition is to produce, at enormous expense, an animated version of The Ring.

Not a cheesy cartoon, but a truly serious animated Ring. Because – let's face it – in the last five minutes you've got a Valkyrie getting on a horse, galloping into a flaming funeral pyre then being covered by the river Rhine, while the palace of the gods crumbles into dust in the background.

Think what you could do with beautifully and properly presented animation. So my ambition is to one day meet a Russian oligarch billionaire who has a passion, because it would cost a huge amount of money. But wouldn't that be fantastic?

Er . . . no. That would be a fucking huge waste of money that could be far better spent on far more worthwhile projects and causes. Best keep those fantasies of Valkyries, galloping horses, flaming funeral pyres and palaces of the gods crumbling into dust right there in your head, Stephen dearest.

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