Don't count those chickens

5th October 2012 at 01:00

The recent improvement in key stage 2 results is bad news for secondary teachers. Once upon a time, the average primary kid came to us with nothing more than a jar of jumbo crayons and a label tied around its neck that said: "Please look after this child." But now they are arriving with a portfolio of assessment grades that would earn them a place at Cambridge and a brace of uber-scary parents dedicated to keeping them in pole position on the attainment superhighway. And, of course, if they don't continue on the same impressive trajectory with us we jeopardise our teaching careers.

There's no two ways about it: over-performance at KS2 becomes an issue for us in KS3. It's like a relay race where secondary teachers run the final 100m leg. On the face of it, the primary teachers have set us up for an easy win. This year they finished their stint streets ahead with a solid increase in both level 4s and 5s in English. The fact that they achieved a spectacular 6 per cent rise in the number of children reaching the required level for writing was of course entirely down to their excellent teaching and nothing to do with the fact that this unit was internally assessed.

So, theoretically, all we have to do is pick up the baton, maintain the lead and head for the finish. But if your primary teammates have been sprinting like Usain Bolt and you end by jogging like Boris Johnson in a chicken costume, it looks like you're not putting in much of an effort. In fact, you're in danger of being identified as the type of teacher who regularly knocks off at 3pm.

Inheriting another teacher's generously marked national curriculum levels can be enormously frustrating. This year we took in our first level 6s. In reality these kids are as near to an actual level 6 as my golden retriever is to rinsing out his dinner bowl and hoovering the hairs from his bed. Of course it's common knowledge that when it comes to levelling pupils' work, primary and secondary teachers are rarely in accordance. We value content, while they prize literacy. In practical terms this means that we hold back the higher national curriculum levels until the pupil can confidently use irony, hyperbole and language for effect, whereas they shoot their load at the first sign of a full stop.

I blame the Department for Education. Giving primary teachers carte blanche to award a level 6 and expecting them to operate self-restraint is like handing a junkie a bag full of smack and expecting him not to open it until Christmas morning.

The problem is that these KS2 grades are used systematically to set secondary school targets and this data influences how we perceive pupils. Soon we'll no longer see them as small human beings with enormous human needs, but as a string of statistics - or, worse, as lethal academic grenades. So when all these new children arrive in school, in their smartly ironed uniforms and brightly polished shoes, full of hope for the future and with a genuine desire to succeed, all we can see are the massive subliminal placards being waved above their heads that say: "If you don't get me at least 12 A*s your whole career is fucked."

In truth, I'm worried about the future. Not just for us but for the kids we teach. Because if we continue flooding schools with level 5s while clamping the valve shut on GCSEs, we're creating academic pressure cookers rather than a decent education.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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