Set them free from the testing drudgery

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Whither Year 6? What used to be the best year in primary school has become a drudge.

Children of this age are on the cusp of adolescence just before Kevinitis sets in and they become as communicative as Beagle 2.

It used to be a pleasure to teach them. Now Y6 is the poisoned chalice, and all volunteers take a step backwards.

Y6 is a year of revision, tests, tests and more tests. Children live that year in the shadow of the exams in May. Parents worry about the levels of stress, manifested in their children's behaviour.

For teachers, it is the labour of Sisyphus, dragging the boulder up to the top of the hill only to watch it slide down the slope when the school year begins again in September. The league tables are a public auto-da-fe as schools are pressured from all quarters.

In school Y6 seems to go into some kind of purdah, reduced to invisibility.

It is as though they have been stolen by the Gobblers and temporarily inhabit a parallel universe. In many schools extra-curricular activities are suspended and a cultural Dark Age descends on pupils.

At the end of the tests teachers "hit the wall". It is that long haul until July, that feeling of running on empty. And then they say, "be creative, innovate" - like telling someone to be a celebrity cook in a famine zone.

We really need a renaissance for Y6, in the true meaning of the Chinese proverb, "let a hundred flowers bloom".

I'm not saying it is going to be a spontaneous uprising like that moment when the pupils tear up the turgid text books in that schmaltzy Robin Williams film Dead Poets' Society, but the fact is we need an end to the testing and league-tables regime.

We need to give parents an alternative vision of what Y6 could be like.

Children should get the chance to:

* learn a foreign language;

* improve the link with secondary schools for Y7;

* write a short story;

* learn to play a musical instrument;

* go on an adventure holiday;

* put on a play;

* undertake a community project.

At the moment for Y6, it is just another brick in the wall.

Richard Knights is information and communications technology co-ordinator at St Mary and St Paul's C of E primary school in Prescot, Merseyside.Leader with a gripe? We pay for all 400-word Sounding Offs we publish. Send it to susan.young@tes.co.uk

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