Nicky Morgan, you’ve left my 10-year-old pupils demoralised – all because you don’t understand what ‘average’ means
This year, I watched my Year 6 students work so hard to keep up with the changing SATs. I have known most of them since they were six years old. I stand as a witness to how much they have learned, improved and strived. They rose to every challenge we threw at them – yet only 53 per cent of them will be told they have done well enough. 47 per cent of our Year 6 children will head off to high school having been told they are below the expected level.
In the lead-up to finding out their results, we had children in tears because they were so nervous about failing. No 10-year-old should ever be made to feel that way. We can’t bear helplessly watching this happen right in front of our eyes, especially as we know full well that the high schools will not use the SATs results because they are required to retest the pupils on arrival in Year 7.
I care about the children I teach. As a monolingual adult, I will support the multilingual child who has been made to feel stupid. I will encourage the child who comes to school alone every day without having had breakfast, yet has learned to include adverbial phrases and the past perfect tense in his writing, only to then be told he just isn’t good enough. I will try to explain to our scientific, computing, technological whizz kid that she shouldn’t be disheartened at being below the new standard in reading and writing.
I care about the families of the children I teach. I will console the parent who has just read in a report that their child is below average. We teach the children how important it is to carefully choose the language they use when speaking and writing; so how is it okay for us to tell them they are sub-standard?
So many people working for the government do not appear to understand what the word “average” means. The children can’t all be above average. That is not how it works. It is okay to be average. It is also okay for some children to be below the average.
This is why performance-related pay cannot work in the education sector; it’s just not fair to put that pressure on me or the children. “Hmmm, let me see – I’d better focus entirely on Jimmy today, because if he doesn’t show significant progress this year, I’m going to get a pay cut. Never mind the fact that his mum was sick this year, or that he shares a bedroom with a crying toddler: he simply MUST put more relative clauses into his writing!” is not the thought process we should want to encourage in educational staff.
Children won’t ever make progress in a neat and orderly fashion. Some may not make any progress at all. But I guarantee you that their teacher can explain to you exactly why they have not made progress – whether it’s because of what’s going on in their personal lives, or because the government has once again moved the goalposts.
Nicky Morgan and the government seem to be blind to most of what children achieve on a daily basis. It is not only about a final test score. Tests are incredibly useful; they allow us to track progress, and inform our planning so that we can teach lessons relevant to the needs of our class. But they do not represent their achievements in the arts, science, or the life skills they have picked up. They don’t reflect the empathy our children are capable of showing towards others, or how they are keen to discuss current affairs. A test can’t tell you that a child is a wonderful orator, a skilled baker, or a superb netball player. We can. We can tell you about the whole child.
We are sick and tired, both literally and metaphorically. We want to be trusted to do our job. Trust the head teacher who employs us. Trust the governors and the local authorities. Trust us without needing to see statistics, and paperwork, and data analysis, and test scores. Trust that we do not do this job lightly; that we actually like and respect children, and understand how they work and learn; that we are of course grateful for the long holidays. Trust that we don’t mind getting sick and tired, but that if our hours and workload are pushed any further we may not physically be able to continue. Trust that we would never presume to tell doctors, or lawyers, or politicians how best to do their jobs. Please – trust that we are protesting with good reason.