For two months only school can actually be fun

17th June 2005 at 01:00
After 21 terms of concentrated effort my daughter, along with thousands of other 11-year-olds, has just discovered what most of us adults were privileged to discover in term 1 - primary school can be fun. Not just in those moments, such as concerts and Christmas, when enjoyment was allowed to be a target, but from day to day, lesson to lesson.

Since being released last month from the tyranny of Sats, she has only just started to realise that she is free to enjoy what she is learning, without fear of forgetting tiny, tested details. She and her friends can absorb information without being reminded at what level she will be placed when she regurgitates it whole.

She knows that she can invest all her imagination into a story and not suffer that crushing disappointment when all that is noticed, or commented on, is a few missed full stops.

And how much more fun must it be for her teacher? Number one daughter is in the first cohort to be subjected to the literacy hour from her first day in reception. By the end of her first week, this four-year-old, who had dictated stories about girl-eating sharks tamed with ice-cream and was reading in nursery, was sobbing: "I hate literacy hour."

With little understanding of the terms "literacy" or "hour" it became a millstone around her neck until the second week of May seven years later.

Since those early days the literacy hour and, more recently, the numeracy hour, have relaxed down into more child and learning-friendly structures, but only as the annual primary league table began to strengthen its stranglehold on the minds of parents and teachers.

At least she was spared the annual round of "optional" tests now inflicted on the years below her in the name of assessment and tracking.

But for all the benefits of having a last term of primary school with no external demands to be met, there is a nagging fear. Once released from all those years of iron-bound teaching and learning, surely there is an overwhelming impulse to let things slide, to think as May as the end of term.

For generations, when summer holidays were only six weeks long, educationists have worried about the post-primary slump. Now it seems we have a system that gives Year 6 children the equivalent of a 14-week break.

What sort of preparation is that for the culture shock that will be secondary school, whatever the transition arrangements?

There may well be logistical reasons why, if we have to have key stage 2 Sats, they must fall in May. But should they really be considered an end-of-primary test when there is still a third of the school year left?

Is it really not possible to spread the joy of learning a little wider, and not hang all that primary school should be on to two months that are too late for the juniors, and still too early for secondaries?

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