Where's the creativity?

21st May 2004 at 01:00
On May 20, 2003 the Secretary of State Charles Clarke launched Excellence and enjoyment - a strategy for primary schools which set out the vision for "high standards obtained through a rich, varied curriculum".

Less than one year later I have just completed a morning of administering the English writing test to my wonderful Year 6 class. I can only wonder at the impotency and insincerity of this latest initiative.

At 9am, I was full of hope. Since September the children have proved to be one of the most creative, imaginative and thoughtful group of writers I had ever taught in my 18 years, and they were well prepared for the writing tasks ahead.

For months we have been looking at poems, stories and extracts from original and imaginative authors. We had obviously also looked at the technical aspects of writing and basic skills. The children enjoyed English and I was confident that the test would enable them to show off their talents.

First, the short writing test - an eyewitness statement of an accident, which required a factual, non-chronological report. No room for creativity here, but a good test of writing in a short amount of time perhaps. So I was sure that the extended writing task would focus on creativity.

Wrong! The longest test required children to write a report about proposed changes to the school day. The children were not even encouraged to be creative about their own suggestions for changes as the changes were outlined on the paper.

My class were shocked. They weren't even sure what type of writing this was! Persuasive? Non-chronological report?

If Sats are not there to test the ability of the children, then what is their purpose? All of the children found it a puzzle as for months I had been talking about "quality writing" and depth, sense of audience and detailed description.

I still have just about enough faith (it's at breaking point) in the Sats system to believe that "justice will be done" and the children will achieve the levels they deserve. (I will certainly make a fuss if they don't.) But I am left absolutely furious and completely disillusioned about the future of English teaching.

I feel as if all the work I have done to inspire children over the past few months has been completely devalued, and that the message the Government is sending is that creativity and imagination are not important.

I am also cynical enough to feel that this test has been specifically aimed at low-achieving boys (who cope well with factual report writing), so that when the results of boys improve this year the Government can gloat about how the National Literacy Strategy has improved standards.

I love teaching (in spite of all the obstacles that keep getting thrown in the way by the politicians!) and I love teaching English, but this test has really left me questioning the future.

Perhaps the Secretary of State should re-read his own publication from May 2003 and remind himself about how to help children to enjoy their learning and achieve high standards at the same time.

Corinne Roling

Deputy head Cliff Park middle school Orde Avenue, Gorleston, Norfolk

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