Level the test playing field

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Gerald Haigh looks at how one school runs its booster classes

Literacy and numeracy booster classes - paid for by the government as part of a drive to improve key stage 2 results - have been around for four years now. In most primaries the system's well embedded in the routine. There isn't a single best way to run them, so it's worth while to find out how other schools conduct theirs as an aid to reviewing your own practice. Hearsall Community Primary in Coventry runs efficient and successful booster classes as part of the school day, instead of after normal lessons as many schools do.

Sharon Jones, the assistant head who runs the programme, says: "To do a whole hour after school is just too much. It suits the children here to do the classes within the school day, and using a different book and resources."

Hearsall runs three mixed-age sets of literacy and numeracy booster classes across Years 5 and 6 (money is given to schools based on the number of Year 6 pupils they have). The booster class funding also pays for enough supply cover for a fourth booster set to run in each of these subjects for one term two days a week.

Children in booster classes are chosen according to recommended criteria.

"We pull out those Year 6 pupils that are currently at the top of level three and the lower end of level four - right on the borderline," says Sharon. "The aim is to boost them into a solid level four."

Close matching of the child to the work is the key. "Normally in a lesson you'd differentiate the work if it wasn't right for every member of the group, but in this case if the level of the work isn't right then we move the child out."

The number of children in the booster class isn't predetermined. "Currently it's about 20," says Sharon. "But if we had 30 who fitted the criteria then that's the number we'd have in the set."

The challenge here, as for all primaries, is to work for test success without making children anxious. So, for example, although staff talk a lot about "levels", they don't use the term with children and parents are asked not to bring pupils with them to explanatory meetings.

"Another thing we don't do," Sharon says, "is hammer the national test papers in class. We use the Department for Education and Skills Springboard resources in the maths booster sessions, and we set out to make them into interesting lessons. We target weaker areas - problem solving in maths is a national issue for example. But there's no point in panicking children, so we don't share result after result with them."

The approach to the tests themselves is as anxiety-free as it can be. Over the Easter holiday, revision work is available, but it is not compulsory.

"The parents have an answer scheme, but we don't take the work in or look at it," Sharon says.

Mock tests follow the holiday, and then, before the actual tests there's "Chill Week" with art projects and lots of non-test focused activities.

"We don't run any booster groups that week," says Sharon. "Crash courses don't work. What they know by Easter is what they'll retain."

Sharon remains open-minded about how booster classes should work. She feels that the Hearsall approach works in terms of test results, but she knows there are other ways. One thing she's sure of is that: "You have to be well organised. That's the key."

The DfES Standards website has information on booster classes. A downloadable leaflet is at: www.standards.dfes.gov.ukmidbinsnumeracybooster_leaflet.PDF

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