This week marks the start of SATS for Year 6 children. It always makes me think of the year I went to the Bett conference in London and Lee Parkinson (Known on Social Media as ‘ICT with Mr P’ – Look him up, he is wonderful!) was there doing a Keynote. He showed a video of children using green screens and cosplay to explore history, putting them in to the historic event and really giving them the chance to embrace what they were learning. This one student, a young boy, was fully embodied in what he was doing, made part of the moment through a different style of visual learning.
At the end of the clip, Mr Parkinson stopped the video and said something that has resonated with me throughout my entire career. I am pretty sure it was an influential moment in my development as a teacher.
He said, ‘You can stick standardised testing up your backside!’
I have seen first had the damage that the pressure of standardised testing can have on young people. It can affect their entire perception of education for their entire academic careers and it begs the question, is there a more effective way to assess the learning of students without having a detrimental effect on their mental health?
I have taught across a variety of settings from SEN Preschool to mainstream Primary, Secondary Academies to FE Colleges. All of which adopt this ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching, daily all-staff emails about ridiculous behaviour mishaps and an unrealistic view on how students should perform and be perceived. I must stress that this is not all teachers. Some, like myself, see the individual; and that there is such a need for bespoke education, that we leave the professions restrictions imposed by the government and a setting, in an attempt to make the difference we were trained to independently.
The results of these tests are not the be all and end all. Remember something for me… I, myself, was branded ‘unteachable’ at one point. One of my Maths teacher said to me that I would never achieve any more than I’d already got because I was never going to amount to much.
Maybe he was right at the time. I was disenchanted by some of my teachers and their attitudes to learning. Some were so passionate, Mrs MacKay my English teacher (Who wore the best leopard print tights!) and Mrs Wignall my Drama teacher, I couldn’t quite comprehend the disinterest in anything other than delivering the basic content from some of my others. Asking for help with a piece of work was almost seen as abhorrent by some!
When children first go to Primary School, teachers ask questions and thirty little arms are so high, all of them desperate to be the one to show what they know and share it with their friends. At what age does this passion and desire to learn dwindle? At what age do the arms stop going up, for fear of being told they are wrong?
One of my mentors when I was doing my training (Unofficially, I just used to fan girl about his methodology), Phil Beadle, wrote a book called ‘Dancing about Architecture’. It became, and still very much is, my teaching bible. When I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet Sir at a CPD event, he signed my copy of the book. I had been corresponding with him over Twitter, sharing some of my thoughts on his work and he had agreed prior to the session that he would sign my book for me.
He wrote, ‘This book was intended as a test of whether you should be teaching young people and whether you have the imagination to inflame them… Sarah, you passed!’
For me, that is the absolute definition of what teaching is and should be. Across the board and in every setting. We should be inflaming students of every age with a passion for learning. We should be encouraging them to keep that arm in the air and question everything. That way we will develop more critical thinkers, better future leaders and, more importantly, young people who believe in their own ability and not the expectation of how they should be perceived. Not a letter, not a number. A human being and not a statistic.