Will you teach differently now that the tests are dead? Three teachers give their views

24th October 2008, 1:00am


Will you teach differently now that the tests are dead? Three teachers give their views



Future now seems more creative

Fran Nantongwe Head of English, Acle High School, Norwich

I love my job. No, really, I do. But I think I'll love it even more without the Sats of Damocles hanging over my head.

I am aware of the melancholy roar that has emanated from colleagues across the land who invested time and resources in Sats preparation for next May. My sympathy goes out to them.

Meanwhile, I will forge ahead with a light heart and extend the creative writing unit I am teaching to my Year 9 set three.

The original idea stemmed from a short series of lessons given by an Australian supply teacher in London several years ago. I gradually developed it into a Sats preparation project in which pupils hit dozens of assessment targets.

It usually goes pretty well, to be fair. They create their own character and embark on a varied writing project. Pupils always seem to enjoy describing the quest to retrieve the Cure from the exiled ruler Zebulon after the evil wizard Gromitz staged a coup and tyrannically used chemical weapons to destroy the immune systems of the population.

They would write a description of a public execution; a persuasive speech; various diary entries; a piece of stream-of-consciousness writing; a tactful letter home; descriptions of the rooms in Zebulon's castle, an article for the ruler's local newspaper; a ballad describing an encounter with a dangerous animal and a final piece of narrative in which they had an encounter with a spy on the way home. Yes, it has all been done before. But it works.

Last week I found myself asking pupils to count the words in the extract I'd given them. We were using a chunk from the book Witch Child as a model for their writing. I asked them to identify the longest and shortest sentences, the longest and shortest paragraphs, locate the alliteration, locate the simile - but there was no time to read out their ballads. As I drove home I thought: "What the hell am I doing"?

But when I logged on to the internet and read the glorious news that Sats had gone, the immediate future seemed brighter.

I can see a massive wall display, a public performance of the ballads and a major piece of drama. And I'll do it all in the two weeks after half-term, because there's a bit of slack in the system this year - and it may never happen again.


More time to try out new things

Mark Gale Head of science, South Dartmoor Community College, Ashburton, Devon

The demise of the Sats came as an utter shock, but I'm not complaining. It is only now I am realising how focused we had become on teaching to the test.

Much of our thinking was Sats-centred. Booster classes, level 5 intervention, the level 6+ project: all of these were to be measured through Sats results. Now how will we prove we are successful?

The answer is obvious: we will be able to see properly whether pupils have developed the skills, attributes and abilities that we hope they will during key stage 3. Because we don't now have to rush through Years 7, 8 and 9 at breakneck speed, we will have more breathing space to try out things we have always wanted to, and which the revised curriculum is promoting. Things such as extended investigations, cross-curricular work, debates, open-ended tasks and getting out and about to see scientists will be possible without any nagging worries that pupils might be missing out on being drilled for the tests.

We will also be able to use that strange post-Sats time more productively. No longer will it seem as if we are treading water waiting for GCSEs. It will become an integrated part of the curriculum.

Some schools and departments are considering starting GCSEs early. Whether or not this is a good idea, the removal of the Sats will help us make sure pupils are properly prepared for the start of their new courses in Year 10.

Throughout KS3 we aim to lay the foundations to help pupils become scientists. After all, it is during KS3 that many pupils make up their minds about their career.

This is the most important aspect of the curriculum and the removal of Sats means we will be able to cherish this time.


It will make my job that bit harder

Oliver Quantrill Maths teacher, Lavington School, Wiltshire

I was very disappointed by the news, primarily because I think it has been taken for entirely the wrong reasons. This year's marking fiasco, which was totally unconnected to the tests themselves, seems to have unduly influenced the decision.

Nothing has changed with the tests - we still have roughly the same number of students taking roughly the same test, so the idea that the system has reached breaking point is untenable.

In terms of impact on us as a maths department, it will probably make little difference, apart from adding slightly to our workload. We will still be doing an internal assessment, as I suspect will most schools, and we will try as hard as we can to make it as formal as possible so we can motivate pupils to take it seriously, get themselves prepared for the start of the GCSE course and give us and them an accurate assessment of their current level in the subject. The fact that this is no longer an external exam means it will be harder to convince them to take it seriously and we will have less chance of identifying those whose under-performance in lessons might be masking their actual potential. It also means pupils will have less experience of this kind of formal test and so will find the GCSE exams that much more daunting.

We, in our maths department, feel that the maths Sats paper is a good test of abilities and, although we obviously take other evidence and experience into account, we largely base their GCSE targets on this result (and are extremely successful in doing so). Hopefully the Sats exams will still be available - the other alternative would be just to keep reusing the old papers. All that happens now is our department will have to put in a significant extra amount of time and effort marking and moderating our own set of papers.

Scrapping a good test, which is a reliable measure of a pupil's progress, seems short-sighted.

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