Just what are these forms for?

11th September 2009 at 01:00

Funny, isn't it, how differently local education authorities and schools view the purpose of education these days.

For me, the end of last term demonstrated this vividly. We'd had a stunning carnival in which every class created colourful costumes and head-dresses, a hugely successful musical with a cast of 80, concerts by our school orchestra and our jazz group, and the summer fair - all things that children love and which are an important part of a thriving primary school.

In fact, the only downside was a slightly snotty email from the local authority, telling us we hadn't forwarded our key stage 2 teacher assessments for the Sats. The statistics department, the email said, was exceptionally busy at this time of year, so could we kindly get a move on.

It's sad that data is all the local authority seems to care about. Then I began to wonder what they actually did with the teacher assessments, so I wrote to the person who'd sent the email and asked.

Back came a reply saying that she wasn't quite sure, but she'd forward my question to a senior member of the authority.

Unfortunately, this person didn't write back - probably because they didn't know the answer either - so I wrote again. My question was forwarded to an officer in the research and statistics department, who told me that teacher assessments had to be sent to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and that it was a "statutory requirement". Frankly, I've always had my doubts about these statutory requirements. I wonder how "statutory" they are in reality.

But, anyway, that didn't answer my question. The officer had sent an attachment with the email, giving QCA guidance, but unfortunately I couldn't open the attachment.

I requested it again, but this time the file was corrupt and just displayed a string of funny boxes - ICT at its most endearing.

But this didn't seem to matter, because the officer had added a note saying the guidance didn't mention what the Government did with the data, just that schools must send it. And, he admitted, he hadn't seen the data published anywhere in recent years. Curiouser and curiouser.

I asked the school secretary, Sandra, to get the form up on screen, and we had a look at it. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't just a case of filling in the teachers' assessments of overall levels for maths, science and English. All three subjects had been broken down into learning areas, and it meant a considerable amount of extra work, when the teachers' efforts should be concentrated on all the exciting, child-centred things we are supposed to be working on.

Since we had no idea what use the Government was going to make of the data, or even if they were going to publish any of it, I suggested that Sandra should look at the Sats level a child had achieved in a subject, then just fill up all the boxes on his chart with the same level. Nobody, I said, would look at it, let alone bother to question it. And they didn't. As long as the boxes were ticked, the authority was happy.

Two days later, a man from the DCSF telephoned and demanded to know why they hadn't received our teacher assessments. At that moment, I was doing something very important (enjoying the annual staff-versus-children netball match). Sandra explained that she'd already sent the data to the local authority. "Oh, well," said the caller officiously, "we'll have to lean on them instead."

Sandra didn't get his name or number, but, oh, how I wish I'd been there to have a word with him.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London.

e-mail: mikejkent@aol.com.

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