What keeps me awake at night: ‘Have we been doing it all wrong?’
I’ve recently been looking at some primary work at our feeder primary schools and I was shocked. I was shocked at the standard of work that Year 5 and 6 are producing compared with what I am getting from Years 7-9 in English, sometimes even GCSE students.
Now obviously we’re comparing different students, but it’s got me wondering: if I could go and look through "stroppy Sean’s" primary school books, would I see a similar disparity? Would I see beautifully presented work? Would I read insightful analysis and creative stories when I am wading through a barren wasteland of disinterestedness, lack of effort and not being able to attempt the simplest of analysis?
If this is the case, as I suspect it might be, where did we go wrong and whose fault would it be? Is it Sean’s? Is it the lack of communication between primary and secondary schools? Is it his parents'? Is it mine?
This seems too much for one teacher, or even one school to change, yet it seems to be an endemic issue throughout education that is known about and discussed, but never addressed.
Is it true that these students are not retaining this information over the summer? Are we teaching them wrong? Are we teaching them so differently that they can’t recognise that what we’re asking for are the same skills?
Progress from primary school
It’s really got me worried. I know that individually I am not going to be blamed for Sean’s slipping standards when I am but one of his class teachers, but I am worried for the future of frazzled secondary teachers everywhere.
We focus on "getting students through" their GCSEs sometimes at the expense of our Key Stage 3 classes, with the understanding that we’ll do the same to catch them up when it’s their turn. We focus on the C/D borderline students or those that haven’t quite made 3 or 4 levels of progress, those from pupil premium backgrounds and those with SEN. Maybe the focus has been all wrong.
We’re contributing to teacher burnout and students risking non-achievement when actually all we need to do is look at their primary school books, and continue the work that our colleagues are doing.
Perhaps all students need is reminding what they are capable of and what they have achieved in the past, and, from this, we can project ideas and goals of what they could achieve in the future. This would require a huge change in teaching practice, but if the longer term gain is that we all regain our sanity, might it just be worth it?
The writer is an English teacher in the South West
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