Testing times for the timetable

16th June 1995 at 01:00
The staff of Moredon juniors describe how their school's routine was severely disrupted by national tests Our experience of last month's key stage 2 national tests has forced us to realise that unless teachers share their information and their concerns, the national curriculum testing system will remain static - instead of responding and developing into a tool which may be of benefit to all concerned in the education of our children.

As a large junior school we have organised our children into mixed Year 34 and Year 56 classes to optimise our pupilteacher ratios. Under normal circumstances we also need to have "split" lunch hours from 12 to 1 and 12.30 to 1.30 as our dining facilities cannot cope with one "sitting". We had hoped the tests would make no difference to the smooth running of the school, but this was not our experience.

In the event, our entire staff worked extremely hard to share the burden and to make the whole week work successfully. We involved all the teachers, not only those who normally teach Year 6, and we took considerable pains to make it as fair as possible, even down to teachers not invigilating their own classes. In our debriefing meetings after the tests we noted down our concerns.

Far from not disrupting the smooth running of our school the week of tests and the trial week we ran to see if the system would work, made a considerable difference to the whole school.

Our Year 5 pupils had to move from place to place as their Year 6 classmates went in and out of tests. Staff not invigilating tests took various groups of Year 5 and Year 6 children for short periods and normal teaching was impossible. All upper school children, when not taking a test, had to be self sufficient and pursue an individual course of study. The setting up of these study plans was an additional burden upon the staff. We congratulate both staff and children for the way in which they coped with this, but nevertheless there were major disruptions to teaching for at least two weeks.

Because we had more than 70 children taking the tests, it was necessary to arrange two sittings for each test. This made the timing element extremely tight on some days and staff were concerned that explanation time for some tests was not really sufficient.

Teachers invigilating found that in spite of the recommendations in the administration notes, there was no time to give individual support and we felt that the term "general support" was too vague. For large schools with sizeable numbers of children to be accommodated, the tests posed many logistical problems.

The only area large enough to sit the children in test conditions was the school hall. This effectively took it out of commission for the two weeks. This disrupted physical education, games, drama and assemblies for all classes.

We have a relatively large number of children with special needs and one child with English as a second language who needed to take the separate tests for levels 1 and 2.

Our special needs teacher was fully involved in this area, and regular special needs teaching groups had to be abandoned to free her to take part.

The lunchtime arrangements had to be altered to enable all children to eat at one time. This involved supervisors having their hours re-arranged. Children had to picnic outside and on wet days classrooms had to be used, which were not particularly hygienic or pleasant to teach in afterwards!

As for the tests themselves, most of our children found the first maths paper too hard to do in the time allotted. More time would have achieved better results. Conversely, one science paper was so low on content that the children finished very early.

After the tests had been taken, a lot of time was spent on hands and knees filling in the computer forms to accompany the papers.

When we decided to deliver ours to the local post office (checked through the free phone number given and with appropriate contact number) they were decidedly put out and it took a lot of persuasion and a long phone call to get them to accept the packages.

We have certain reservations about some of the people who have been accepted as external markers - only one has been actively engaged in teaching in the past five years. We feel that more recent involvement with national curriculum practice would be of benefit.

Among our staff we have parents with children in other schools, and colleagues with friends working in schools in many areas. The tests have of course been a major talking point in recent weeks and we have become acutely aware of the "liberal" way in which the rules have been interpreted in some places.

We invested many hours of planning and organisation in making sure our arrangements complied with the letter and the spirit of the guidelines. We are therefore dismayed as professionals and deeply concerned for our children to discover that in some establishments the desire to achieve good results appears to have triumphed over professionalism.

For example, we are aware of instances where the timing of tests has been extended to allow children to complete all questions in their own time. Many of our slow and careful children would have benefited from this, but our timetabling arrangements for two sittings would not have allowed this even had we indulged ourselves.

We know of children who were set a homework question on percentages the night before the test - which "coincidentally" actually appeared on the maths paper! Also some schools gave children the story title in advance so that they could prepare their story at home with parental help.

If teachers and parents are to have any faith in the tests, especially once results are published nationally, further thought will have to be given to making the "playing field" as level as possible for all children in all schools.

Every teacher and every parent wants the best for their children, and after these experiences we will need to be reassured that any testing procedures are fair and fulfil a purpose which justifies the considerable time and energy and the disruption to normal teaching which we have experienced this year.

We are already concerned about how we will manage next year when we will have 1.6 fewer members of staff and class sizes will be 33.

This report, copies of which have been sent to the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Wiltshire education authority, the Department for Education and the local MP, was written by headteacher Christine Parkyn and the 13 teachers at Moredon junior school, Swindon.

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