Special days

25th June 2004 at 01:00
Maria, errr... Corby finds the pressure too much to take - for her and her pupils

"We should go round the table and introduce ourselves," says my headteacher. We are seated around the big table in the office; governors, councillors, LEA officers and the school's leadership group. The person on my right explains that she is the deputy director of education, and suddenly it 's my turn.

I freeze. I can't remember my own name. Luckily it is written on my pad so I glance down hoping no one will notice. "I'm, er, W H Sm... err Maria Corby," I stutter. "Deputy headteacher," I add, in case they think I am the entertainment.

It makes me think about the pressure we sometimes put our children under.

As a special school practitioner, I'm not too familiar with tasks, tests and GCSEs. The children at my special school are disapplied from tests but we still carry out teacher assessments. Thoughtful, reflective assessments of pupils' abilities can help teachers decide what is working - how the children are learning, what motivates them and whether the teaching style or environment should be modified.

A tick in a box saying "pupil has concept of 10" is one thing; what's more important is for the child to understand "10" in a range of contexts with real meaning - counting 10 plates for dinner, seeing what's on TV at 10am, catching the number 10 bus, or noticing that Birmingham are 10th in the premiership.

Testing puts pupils under pressure and makes it difficult for teachers to see the whole picture or to use the result to improve learning. I remember when we had to carry out Sats, though. "Damien, do you think this ball will float or sink?" I remember asking. Damien, a seven-year-old working at about an eight-month level, threw the ball across the classroom, smashing my favourite coffee cup.

Children need some stress of course, and I expect the answer lies somewhere between pressure and ease, and, crucially, in knowing the child: what motivates them, what makes them dig their heels in, what strategies they can use when under pressure. So what strategy will my poor head use with me at the next important meeting? Well, a chocolate biscuit might work, although maybe not. Can you imagine: "Hello, I'm Gypsy Cream..."

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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