That's life

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Teachers frequently ask: what should children's classroom work actually look like? Gerald Haigh applauds SCAA's latest attempt to explain what it really, really wants

What should a teacher expect from a pupil? Is this piece of pottery good? Is that page of writing adequate? The national curriculum exists partly to iron out such uncertainties. But it still leaves many questions unanswered.

So although level descriptions will specify the skills and knowledge that a pupil should be able to "show" or "demonstrate", many teachers want to know, more precisely, what the classroom work of a child at any particular level actually looks like. Teachers used to do this themselves, comparing and moderating work between classes and between local schools. Then, in 1995, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority bolstered the process by producing "exemplification material" - work by pupils in a range of schools in English, maths and science at key stages 1, 2, and 3. This was followed in 1996 by similar material for other subjects at key stage 3, in preparation for statutory teacher assessment in those subjects this year.

Now, extending the process, SCAA has produced a booklet for each of the foundation subjects (history, geography, PE, music, art, design and technology, and information technology) showing "expectations" at key stages 1 and 2.

Each booklet visits, as it were, three sites in the primary curriculum, setting up what SCAA's senior curriculum manager, Ian Colwill, describes as "three displays of children's work, at Years 2, 4 and 6".

Years 2 and 6 (when children are six to seven and 10 to 11) are, of course, at the end of key stages. Year 4 (age 9) is included in response to what SCAA describes as "a clear demand from schools for materials to provide a staging post across the long key stage 2". At the beginning of each booklet there is a table which sets expectations at each of the three stages against the "elements" or "aspects" of the subject as defined by the national curriculum document.

So, in the history booklet, the table has the five key elements down the left side: "chronology"; "range and depth of historical knowledge and understanding"; "interpretations of history"; "historical enquiry"; "organisation and communication". Across the page are three columns, for Years 2, 4 and 6. Importantly, therefore, reading across the page shows what constitutes progression in each element. So, in the history booklet, in the key element "interpretations of history", the progression is from the end of Year 2 ("Begin to identify some ways in which the past is represented"), through Year 4 ("Identify with confidence some of the different ways in which the past is represented"), to the end of Year 6 ("Show how some aspects of the past have been represented and interpreted in different ways"). This table itself is a useful planning aid, particularly in the way it will help teachers with progression - something that OFSTED is always keen on.

The real meat of the booklets, however, lies in the way that each of the expectations is illustrated by children's work, reproduced in facsimile, with comments relating the work to the expectations. So, again in the history booklet, we have Joanne, at the end of Year 4, providing a piece of writing that briefly discusses two different stories she has read about Boudicca. An introductory paragraph sets the work in context, and a comment in the margin notes that Joanne's effort "recognises that neither story can be seen as totally accurate, and a convincing reason is offered why this is the case".

Other booklets follow much the same pattern: a grid showing progression of expectations through years 2, 4 and 6, followed by pages of annotated examples of children's work. In some cases there are photographs of classroom work in progress. The music booklet is supplemented with an audio tape, and the PE booklet with a video. The latter, in particular, shows clearly that SCAA has learned from the experience of producing the key stage 3 materials - examples are drawn from more schools, and teachers now provide voice-over comments on lessons rather than appearing as talking heads afterwards.

The pupil material is drawn from a wide variety of primary schools - up to 20 are credited in each booklet.

SCAA is keen to emphasise that the work is intended to reflect real classroom life, and each booklet has been put together in the knowledge that it is discussing just one of the many things that a primary teacher has to do. "We've tried to set them in the context of the whole curriculum," explains Ian Colwill. "We've used work from different children in different schools. We offer the materials thinking that they might help teachers with planning and with knowing where they are going."

Teachers will no doubt observe that the publication of exemplification material for non-core subjects at key stage 3 was closely followed by the extension to those subjects of statutory teacher assessment. But Ian Colwill is quick to point out that the new primary expectations material arises from SCAA's assessment of what teachers want. "We certainly do not want teachers to feel that statutory assessment is round the corner," he says.

Viv Randall, head of Colmore Infants School in Birmingham, which provided help with the design and technology booklet, is pleased with the materials. "We now have a lot more guidance about what is considered to be good work against national standards," she says. "This is useful for DT particularly, because it's changed a lot over the years."

The booklets are available from SCAA Publications, POBox 235, Hayes, Middlesex UB3 1HF

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