SATs: Shouldn’t Children Feel the Pressure?

Today the BBC published this story with the Headline that 90% of current Year 6 children feel pressure to do well in tests.

This isn’t news; it’s a statement of the obvious.  My only surprise was that there were 10% who said they didn’t feel under some pressure.

Of course children feel under pressure to do well in tests. That’s all part of it isn’t it? Our children also feel nervous and under pressure in many other school situations such as waiting for the whistle to blow before they start a sports fixture, standing in the wings about to perform on stage, at the top of the abseil tower being encouraged by their peers or sitting on the coach leaving for a foreign country for the first time waving goodbye to their family for a week.

Butterflies in the stomach, seeking reassurance from parents and teachers, nervous conversations with friends; these are all part and parcel of the personal growth that goes alongside a rich and varied school curriculum.  Children should be placed in situations of moderate pressure and stress in order for them to become resilient for future challenges – that’s my view anyway.

This week, there will be an unprecedented clamour about the place of testing in primary schools with many quick to portray SATs as the villain in the piece – responsible for all that is wrong with childhood in modern Britain.  Are the current testing and assessment arrangements perfect? Clearly not, but that doesn’t mean that we should jump on the bandwagon to demonise standardised assessments.

Screenshot (47)

The problem with headlines like this is that their motivation is not to contribute constructively to the debate but to stir up opinion with the end goal of hitting targets of online readers.  And when the news becomes presented like this, it stops being ‘news’ and becomes ‘entertainment’.

Our role in schools is to make sure that the level of challenge and pressure on students is carefully balanced and that we don’t pass down the unhealthy stress of accountability on adults and organisations to the children.  Trying to retain a broad, balanced and (yes) creative curriculum, treading the fine line between a healthy pressure and unhealthy stress is a difficult challenge but one we have to accept; it would be easier to acheive without the country’s news enertainment outlets stirring things up.

TR

We are Recruiting: Come and make a Dent in the Universe at Simon de Senlis!

Class Teacher Vacancies:  March/April 2016

We are looking to recruit two talented and inspiring Class Teachers to join our talented and hard-working team.  These are full-time roles (one permanent) from 1st September 2016 and we would welcome applications from colleagues at all stages in their career including NQTs.  The vacancies are not year group specific however experience or an enthusiasm to teach within Year 2 or 6 may be an advantage for one of the roles.

The successful candidates will be knowledgeable in the use, application and assessment of the new National Curriculum. They will have knowledge of planning and assessing pupils’ progress and be confident in the use of technology. They will be able to work effectively as a member of the team, have excellent interpersonal skills and consistently support the school values and approaches.

Simon de Senlis is an exciting place to work; whether it be through our work as a Microsoft Showcase School or via our involvement in the Arts, Sport and Inclusion, we continue to strive to further improve the attainment and progress of pupils within a creative and vibrant learning atmosphere.

In return, we can offer you a great team of professionals; children with outstanding behaviour and a supportive school community.  There are also superb opportunities for professional development as part of our work with partner schools in the Northampton Primary Academy Trust.

The successful applicant will be required to apply for an enhanced DBS disclosure. We are committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of our children and expect all members of staff to share this commitment.

Visits to the school are encouraged; please email pa@simondesenlis.org to book into one of the following showrounds:

Tuesday 12th April @ 3.45pm

Wednesday 13th April @ 9.30am

Wednesday 20th April @ 9.30am

To be considered for the role please email your completed application form and Disqualification Declaration to pa@simondesenlis.org

The closing date for applications is 5pm on Thursday 21st April 2016. Interviews will be held w/c 25th April 2016.

All documentation regarding these vacancies is available to download here or available on our website at http://www.simondesenlis.org/index.php/contact-us/vacancies

 

KS2 ASSESSMENT ‘CLARIFICATION’ WEBINAR – February 2016

Some questions and clarification from today’s KS2 assessment webinar.  These are my notes and I did my best to keep up with the questions and answers but they might not be 100% accurate so the usual disclaimer about taking them in that spirit and please refer to the DfE for any further clarification on anything controversial!

TESTS

  • Confirmation of KS2 Teacher Assessment submission date that has been ‘relaxed’ to the 30th June (as before).
  • 1900 schools will be tested in Science this year – schools will be contacted by the end of April about this.
  • There will be a number of schools contacted to trial the online times tables test this Summer ahead of all schools having to carry this out in 2017.
  • There will be some ‘revised guidance’ published shortly around the exemplification materials.  A clear statement was made that there doesn’t need to be ‘huge amounts of evidence collected.
  • Read the guidance information carefully around access arrangements as there have been changes to the application process.
  • Children working below the standard of the tests should not sit them.  Read the Rochford Review for information on children working below the ‘working towards standards’.
  • Children with additional needs may not apparatus such as numicon, number squares etc. within the tests, even if this is part of their normal classroom practice.  Only the apparatus listed in the test may be used.
  • Clarification was given on the use of ‘standard methods’ within the Maths test.  If children get the answer correct, they achieve full marks; if they get the answer incorrect, they will only get the 1 ‘working mark’ if they demonstrate one of the ‘standard methods’ in the revised National Curriculum.
  • Clarification again on the 65% floor targets and progress measures which has been explained in great detail here by James Pembroke.
  • GPS is not part of the ‘combined’ floor target but will still be published as an individual subject.  Combined is Reading (test), Writing (TA) and Maths (test).
  • The process of calculating scaled scores was explained in response to the questions about why these can’t be released earlier – they will be available on the 5th of July along with the results.  The trial data was only based on children who hadn’t studied the National Curriculum for 2 years and only this year’s Year 6 cohort will have done this.  Therefore, this year, it will have to based on this ‘live’ sample of children.
  • The school progress measure will be calculated well after the tests (Autumn?).
  • Tests and Teacher Assessment will be reported in different languages this year.  Tests will be reported as ‘scaled scores’ whilst Teacher Assessment will be reported against the definitions in the interim assessment frameworks.
  • Unlike KS1, there is a statutory requirement to report both test and Teacher Assessment outcomes to parents.
  • There will be no further sample tests published prior to May.

WRITING TEACHER ASSESSMENT

  • More moderation guidance will be issued shortly in response to the new dates for submission of Teacher Assessment.
  • It was suggested that a range of writing opportunities can all contribute towards the evidence base but nothing ‘too heavily scaffolded’.
  • ‘Independent’ work within an evidence base was discussed and there will be some more guidance issued shortly around how independent, ‘independent’ writing has to be.  It was suggested that work with some peer feedback, self review etc. can be considered as independent.
  • As previously, there is no special dispensation for children with dyslexia with regard to the teaching assessment of writing.  If any child doesn’t meet the spelling statement, they cannot meet the ‘secure fit’ for writing, however capable they may be in other aspects of writing.
  • For children with physical difficulties, the handwriting element is exempt for the expected standard but not for the ‘greater depth’ standard.
  • In response to questions around the standard of writing demanded in the exemplification materials, it was suggested that ‘Morgan’ from the exemplification standard is considered to be more of the 4B example that was announced.  Leigh, is considered to be more of a borderline between ‘expected’ and ‘greater depth’ – he is considered to have some but not all of the aspects of the ‘greater depth’ descriptors.
  • For children who are working at a ‘greater depth’, there is no requirement for any additional evidence base to be collated.  It is expected that the greater depth statements can be evidenced within the existing body of work.
  • There was an announcement of a ‘high score’ which will be measured after the tests which will be published similar to a previous Level 6? This will also be published.
  • The definition of ‘coasting schools’ was re-explained. There’s a definition here which I think is right.

MODERATION

LAs will be informing schools that will receive a moderation visit on or after the 20th of May either the afternoon before or on the morning of a moderation visit.

  • Moderators will choose the specific children that will be moderated either before or at their moderation visit.
  • The ‘supportive’ process of moderation will now take place before data is submitted (as previous) so that moderation should inform the final data that is submitted on the 30th of June.  Schools will be expected to have data on judgements available for moderators before the 30th of June, should they receive a moderation visit.
  • Moderators will not be involved in moderating judgements of children working at pre-key stage standards (old P-Scales). These should be moderated locally by either clusters or between schools.
  • The evidence base for each child may vary – there is no pre-requisite for there to be the same pieces of work for every child.
  • STA will be sampling 48 (a third) of local authorities to QA the moderation process across the UK this year.

TR

KS1 Assessment ‘Clarification’ Webinar – February 2016

Some questions and clarification from today’s KS1 assessment webinar.  These are my notes and I did my best to keep up with the questions and answers but they might not be 100% accurate so the usual disclaimer about taking them in that spirit and please refer to the DfE for any further clarification on anything controversial!

Exemplification Materials

  • A key message that the exemplification materials are ‘a guide’ to support children in making the judgements and not something statutory.  There is no requirement for tick sheets.  Ultimately, the relationship between test and TA hasn’t changed and this will be a teacher judgement. (This does appear to be at odds to the ‘secure fit’ statement and sounds more like the best fit world that we have just left behind?).
  • Reiteration that individual pieces of work should not be assessed using the interim frameworks.  The interim frameworks should be used to assess the ‘body of evidence’, rather than individual pieces of work.  This is a key message at the top of the interim framework documents.
  • Clarification on the ‘Some, Many, Most’ terminology within the Interim Frameworks.

‘Most of the time’ – see it regularly, usually correct, generally speaking is accurate with occasional errors.

‘Some of the time’  – means seeing it now, occasionally but is not secure, consistent or frequent.

‘Many’ is ‘somewhere in between’ the two above statements and is a matter for professional judgement and will not be defined by a number.

TESTS

  • The KS1 tests still have to be taken in May, despite the deadline for teacher assessment date being pushed back.
  • KS1 tests can be administered more flexibly in small groups and at different times in the day but the general rule of thumb is that each paper should be administered on one day.
  • There is no requirement to cover all displays however schools should ensure that they don’t put children at an unfair advantage.
  • Schools will not be expected to report test outcomes to parents – it will only be Teacher Assessment outcomes that will be required to be published.  This is as previous years.
  • Readers can be used within the GPS test if this is part of ‘normal classroom practice’ and it doesn’t put anyone at an unfair advantage.  Whole class reading of tests isn’t really acceptable.
  • Children working below the standard of the tests should not sit them.
  • There is no strict time limit on the length of the tests.  Teachers should use their professional judgement on how long children need to show in the test what they are capable of doing.  Rest breaks and the use of scribes may also be used (if this is part of normal classroom practice) and there is no requirement for reporting or requesting these access arrangements (unlike KS2).
  • KS1 tests should inform the Teacher Assessment judgement, not be the ultimate measure.
  • Conversion tables for scaled scores will be published on the 3rd of June.  These will be set against the national standard and not calculated as any average of children’s achievement on tests.

MODERATION

LAs will be informing schools that will receive a moderation visit on or after the 20th of May either the afternoon before or on the morning of a moderation visit.

  • Moderators will choose the specific children that will be moderated either before or at their moderation visit.
  • Moderation will now take place before data is submitted (as previous) so that moderation should inform the final data that is submitted on the 30th of June.  Schools will be expected to have data on judgements available for moderators before the 30th of June, should they receive a moderation visit.
  • Moderators will not be involved in moderating judgements of children working at pre-key stage standards (old P-Scales). These should be moderated locally by either clusters or between schools.
  • There was a mention of ‘5 or 6 pieces of work’ as a reasonable evidence base to make a judgement from.
  • The evidence base for each child may vary – there is no pre-requisite for there to be the same pieces of work for every child.
  • STA will be sampling 48 (a third) of local authorities to QA the moderation process across the UK this year.
  • Children should be able to spell in context not just in spelling tests although the spelling test can provide useful evidence as to whether children can spell at the expected standard.
  • Children do not  need to join their handwriting to be awarded the ‘expected standard’.

SCHOOLS INVOLVED IN THE EARLY ADMINISTRATION OF TESTS

  • Emails have already been sent out to confirm those schools who are being asked to take one of the KS1 tests early for sampling purposes in April.  If you haven’t heard, you’re in the clear!  If you do administer these tests in April, you should still administer the other 2 in May.
  • Approximately 2200 schools (30,000 pupils per subject) have been chosen for the early KS1 test exercise.

TR

Who takes the Poppies around in your school?

At this time of year as the country stops to remember, Poppies are on sale across everywhere we look.  Schools join the campaign, selling poppies to their children, parents and staff in support of the British Legion and this worthy cause. I remember the Poppies coming around at school, always by the oldest children.  I spent years looking forward to that opportunity when, as a  fourth year Junior, it would be my turn to have half an hour out of class to take the collection box round and collect donations in exchange for a poppy and a pin.

Which leads me on to a question that I was asked several years ago by friend and mentor, Peter Hall-Jones who was helping me to think about the curriculum as a whole in my school.

“Who takes the poppies around in your school?”

It’s not a line of challenge that OFSTED or school improvement types are ever likely to include in their proformas; it’s not anything that we’re likely to start including in the SEF but it does tell you a bit about how we use different aspects of school life to give our children opportunities to develop wholistically. 

When I asked teachers opinions on Twitter this week (because I was interested but mainly because I wanted to try out the ‘poll’ function), 93% said that it was children in KS2 and 7% replied KS1.  That’s no real surprise; often lots of the extra ‘responsibilities’ get handed to Year 6 as they’re considered to be privileges of being in Year 6.  They’re also older and so will do a good job.

Tweet Poll

But as Peter helped me to understand, there’s a missed opportunity if we always default to giving responsibility to our older children as, often, it can provide no real challenge.  Taking Poppy selling as an example, this is a relatively simple job for children who typically walk to school themselves, have been on residential trips to foreign countries, can explain fronted adverbial phrases and long division, have performed in front of large audiences and who have at least 6 years of public speaking opportunities at school.  Lower down the school however, we have plenty of children in whom we are still trying to develop independence and confidence as well as providing a range of real opportunities for speaking and listening.

And it’s not just the Poppies! We should also look at all these types of additional responsibility across school including the assembly monitors, Digital Leaders, Lunchtime Play Leaders and even the specific roles in classes.  By choosing the children who already can, they will do it well; by choosing the children who almost can, we can create more opportunities for learning and personal growth.

So this time I’ve asked the Year 1s to do it.  I caught up with a pair on Friday as they returned to the office looking very proud of themselves.  They said that they were nervous to start with and that an adult had to help them practise what to say.  They also said that they’d got better as they went round the different classes, that occasionally they needed a reminder of what to say but that they were confident by the end.  When I asked if they’d enjoyed it, they smiled and nodded enthusiastically, told me they hoped they could do it again and then skipped off down the corridor.

That sounds like learning to me and that’s what we’re here for. Thanks Pete.

TR

IMG_0462
A Poppy painted by Ayisha last year as part of the Year 6 remembrance topic…

 

 

Paying Attention in a World of Attention Deficit: Selfies, The Mona Lisa and #FranceTrip15

Staying in the moment. Being mindful. Listening to understand; not waiting to talk. Detaching from online devices and the digital world. Making space to think. Just a few of the mantras that many (including me) are trying to learn from.

And it’s difficult. In a fast paced world where instant responses are expected once message is sent and ‘Did you get my message’ has become a acceptable greeting (for some), our brains are constantly wired. We’re fighting to keep our heads above water against the tsunami of daily information which engulfs us from a multitude of devices, screens and targeted marketing.

The side effects of constant distraction and connectivity took centre stage when I visited the Louvre in Paris this week as part of our annual school trip, #FranceTrip15. Leading a party of 43 children through the world’s busiest and most famous art gallery can be a stressful experience and so I certainly can’t claim that I took in as much of the history, art and architecture as I would have liked, but what struck me this year was the number of people who didn’t have 43 children to headcount, but still couldn’t pay attention to what was on show.

Headsets, audio/visual guides, devices, phones, cameras, tablets – all forming a wall of digital filter between the visitors’ senses and the paintings which hung heavily and unappreciated on the historic walls. Statues who used to flex their chiselled muscles as they were admired for minutes at a time by the throng of international visitors, now sigh wearily, as another iPad or phone quickly appears, clicks, and then disappears with perhaps an occasional giggle at their naked torsos.

And the selfies; those inconsiderate selfies which have risen to new heights of self-indulgence with the latest piece of fiendish 21st Century engineering: the Selfie Stick. Leading the children through the grand corridor now held an added layer of danger as we ducked, swerved and hurdled the selfie-sticks, wielded with the proficiency of a 3 year old boy with his first light-sabre, as their oblivious owners would pout, take, retake and filter their self-portraits, blissfully unaware of the works of romantic Italian artists that looked down, unloved, from the walls.

Our party pauses as a large man bustles into one of the children without noticing. He points his iPad furiously at an oil canvas, then another, and another before continuing his march through the corridor. A date with social media presumably awaits where his photos will join an infinite number of others on the internet and he can sit back and relax, enjoying ‘the moment’ as the beeps and vibrations notify him of the likes, retweets and comments that his online friends will reward his efforts with.

And then we find a peaceful moment. In a quiet and less-trodden corner, sits a young French artist, painting on canvas. We stand with the children and watch as 15 minutes pass. The teacher urge takes over and I quickly round up those with a real interest in art so we can look more closely at his palette and admire his patience, mixing and careful use of several brushes. A man, free from the pressures of time, deadline or distraction who achieves no quick-win, measurable outcome, metric or impact but who models the power of mindfulness, with an air of timeless ease. I stand still, quietly fighting the inner urge of impatience to ‘press on’ until it is no longer bearable and, after another frantic headcount and reminder to stay in pairs, we make for the main event, The Mona Lisa.

A moment of peace watching an artist applying his craft from what felt like a bygone era...
A moment of peace watching an artist applying his craft from what felt like a bygone era…

This experience is as unique as the painting itself and we join the throng of amateur paparazzi who inch forward in a trance-like pack until they are close enough to hold up their phones and cameras. Selfie-sticks not allowed here apparently; some relief but this doesn’t deter the self-portraiters.

Mona Approach
The throng approaches, viewing Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous work only through the lens…
Taking a Selfie with the Mona Lisa
Taking a Selfie with the Mona Lisa

People used to travel to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa; then they visited to take a photo of the Mona Lisa; today they stand with their back to Leonardo Da Vinci’s most intriguing work, with the world’s most famous painting consigned to the background of their very own masterpiece (there’s even a blog post I found online which gives advice on the best way to take a Mona Lisa Selfie).

The question, ‘what is she smiling at?’ has never been more appropriate…

mona Lisa Selfie 2

Assessment without Levels: Links to useful information…

To try and help navigate through this important issue, I’ve collated several useful links to announcements and publications that I’ve found useful give information on how assessment is changing in schools.  The most recent are at the top.

September 18th 2015 – Government response to the report on assessment without levels:  https://t.co/8djbS36EnA

September 17th 2015 – Final report from the Commission on Assessment without Levels published:  https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/461534/Commission_report_.pdf

September 17th 2015 – Interim Frameworks for Assessment published by the Department for Education for both KS1 and KS2.

KS1: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/interim-frameworks-for-teacher-assessment-at-the-end-of-key-stage-1

KS2: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/interim-frameworks-for-teacher-assessment-at-the-end-of-key-stage-2

September 17th 2015 – John McIntosh talks about the opportunity that developing new assessment brings 

September 2015: 2016 national curriculum tests and assessments information released:

Will Emms (STA) gives a summary of the key changes being introduced to tests at key stages 1 and 2 in 2016: https://registration.livegroup.co.uk/efa/ContentTabs/Embed.aspx?dfid=15057

17th September 2015 – Sean Harford talks about what inspectors will look at when considering a school’s assessment system:

July 2015 – Information for headteachers, teachers, governors and local authorities about scaled scores and the national standard from 2016: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/scaled-scores

March 2015 – Dylan William’s post on Assessment without Levels: https://thehub.walthamforest.gov.uk/news/planning-assessment-without-levels-article-dylan-wiliam

May 2014 – Here’s the Tim Oates video that articulates the case for removing levels so clearly:

February 2014 – The NAHT release the report from the NAHT commission on assessment:  http://www.naht.org.uk/welcome/news-and-media/key-topics/assessment/profession-takes-lead-on-assessment-after-the-end-of-levels/

June 2013 – Announcement that Levels will be removed as a measure of attainment and progress by the DfE:  http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130904084116/https:/www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/nationalcurriculum2014/a00225864/assessing-without-levels

Best of Simon de Senlis Autumn 2014

At the end of each topic at Simon de Senlis, I ask for nominations to be made for the ‘Best of’ display.  Usually, a selection of the children’s final outcomes are sent up to my office and I spend some time looking at the achievements of the children and making a final selection which are displayed in the entrance to school and online with the children congratulated in assembly. This is part of the process of ‘showcasing’ the final outcomes from the topics which has really helped to make children value the prototyping process and improve the standards of their work.

This term, I have chosen to use ‘Sway’, a new Microsoft technology which we have been trialling on ‘preview’ at Simon de Senlis to share these. It’s a really easy to use tool which I think frames the work brilliantly.

You can see a preview of the work below or visit the sway here.