I wanted to do a cross-curricular project linking art and science with my Year 6 class, but the head says it will not prepare them for SATS. How can I change her mind?
I have heard this sad story from many teachers - primary and secondary.
Education is now conducted in a culture of "compliance". Teachers are expected to salivate every time Pavlov rings his little bell. Yet this terrified, "do as you're told" approach is a recipe for dreariness.
I am in favour of a big bash on numeracy and literacy, but if that is all children do, where are they actually supposed to hang their literacy and numeracy? Language and maths are subjects of the real world. This is what engages children about them when they are taught well. Science and art hang together beautifully, and what cements them are elements such as powerful words and phrases, or pattern, shape and space, the very substance of literacy and numeracy. What you want to do is an excellent way of engaging Year 6 children, which is what your professional instinct is telling you.
I suggest your head takes a leaf out of the book of Mags Long, who won the 2000 National Teaching Award for primary school leadership. She says the only thing that upsets her is a teacher who does not stop whatever he or she is doing to go out into the playground and look at a double rainbow.
You can point out that the evidence suggests schools with a broad and balanced curriculum also do better at SATs. Why not ask for this issue of balance to be discussed at a staff meeting?
You could look at ways in which the need for testing can be met alongside stimulus and breadth. Teachers must have the courage of their convictions.
The excuse, "Sorry, I've got to bore you to death, but it's the exams" has been wheeled out since the beginning of time, and it doesn't wash.
When the late Lord Hailsham was asked how he managed to chair all those tedious House of Lords debates without dying of boredom, he replied: "I just sit there thinking 'bollocks to the bishops'." It's not a bad solution to the compliance culture.
Match aims with project work
I was faced with a similar problem a few years ago when I was working in a Hong Kong secondary school. The ministry of education's syllabus was very exam-oriented, leaving no time for class projects or cross-curricular work.
I was interested in work between the English and religious education departments - as Hong Kong citizens come from such a variety of backgrounds, it seemed a good opportunity to use comparative religions as a basis for developing a host of skills relevant to both subjects.
I knew the principal would not support any deviation from the published syllabus, so my RE colleague and I worked out a list of key skills areas that the project work would help to develop. We broke these down into specific aims, tying them into the aims of the curriculum as much as possible. With a bit of thought, you'll be surprised how easy this is to do - and it will be of great benefit to your project, too, as it will help you identify exactly what you want the pupils to achieve. We were lucky; our principal agreed in the end, and the project was a success.
Helen Emery, Chester
Be imaginative with literacy texts
Plan the topic carefully so you use texts in literacy that are based on the science and art you want to study. Make sure you use your science and art work to develop writing for a variety of purposes. There should be plenty of opportunities for everything from factual reports of science work to an imaginativeemotional response to art work. Make links with mathematics by using art work for patterns, and science to develop numeracy, especially measures, tables and graphs. Art and science can both contribute to ICT through research, word-processing, data handling and design. Small groups could make presentations using multimedia packages such as PowerPoint.
Jo Greer, Derby
Focus on creativity and achievement
Invite your headteacher to visit our beacon primary school, where we believe teaching to the test and using pupils as target fodder is a form of child abuse. We have developed a curriculum that makes meaningful links across subjects and teaches English through "contexts for learning" (no literacy hour for us). We focus on high achievement and creativity, with quality time devoted to the arts, technology and physical education. Our children are well motivated and so are the staff. And our SATs results? They are in the 90s, and half or more are at level 5, because the children are confident learners and have been well taught right through primary school by teachers who believe learning should be fun and be its own reward.
Anna House, Ridgeway primary school, Croydon
A question of timing
It's a fantastic idea - linking topics across the curriculum adds so much to children's learning. But is the term before SATs really the best time for this type of project? How far will the art add to the children's understanding? Will it consolidate knowledge and extend the more able? Time is critical. Is your project time-sensitive, or is it better left for after SATs, when the emphasis will be on fun and preparation for secondary school?
Coming up: Same old story
"I'm a Year 6 teacher. Each year my former pupils tell me they are covering the same ground in Year 7 in their new secondary schools and are bored. How can I avoid this perennial problem?" What do readers think? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We pay pound;40 for every answer published