Not everyone looks their best in a photograph...

5th September 2003 at 01:00
... which is why you need to have a bigger picture, says Ann Webley

As I collected the final Sats paper from 63 Year 6 pupils on May 16, the hall was filled with noise and hubbub and a cascade of soft mascots was flung into the air with abandon. Just at that moment, I was distracted by Tom, a boy in mgy own class. Ignoring his peers' jubilation, he came up to me and said: "Well, Mrs Webley, we've taken the photos and now we just have to wait until they are processed and you send us your video." Then he wandered off - and flung his grey elephant into the air.

Tom had taken to heart something that I always try to impress upon children - and their parents - that Sats are a "snapshot" of a particular moment.

As the next cohort of Year 6s begin their tough year, I thought I'd share this very ordinary idea because it has helped many children stay on track and avoid feeling too stressed. I always shared these "photo" and "video" analogies with my class early in the year, because, when there are still months to go until the tests, they can understand more clearly that the exams they will take are like a photo. They show what they were like at, for example, story writing on a particular day. I then go on to comment that many people do not like having their photo taken and we talk about it.

"My Mum hates it."

"Why is that?"

"She says she always looks stupid when she tries to smile."

"So what do you do about it?"

"My Dad usually makes a joke or something and then she smiles normally."

So people have to go to special lengths to look good in a photo. I told them about a recent family picture taken in a studio for my Dad's 80th birthday present. We all dressed up, knowing Dad would like it if we looked smart. We prepared. We did not rush into the photographic studio with unbrushed hair and old clothes. In the same way, we prepare for the tests - we make the photo a good one.

However, I warn, there are always some people who do not look their best in a photo. My sister is one of them. No one could make her smile. Of the nine of us, she alone sat there, looking serious. She did try. But it didn't work. But our Dad knows that she has a great smile. He has a "video" of memories in his head. The video is like the teacher assessment that we all do constantly as we go from day to day, and I always stressed that the "video" was more important. Like lots of people, I have no real problem with the notion of testing. It is the league tables that have made the "photo" more important and we need to redress this balance.

I often talked about my analogy at parents' evening - particularly to those whose children were having difficulties or were very worried. Without exception, they loved the idea and could see that it would help their children get through a hard time.

Ann Webley is a freelance literacy consultant and writer and a former primary teacher

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