‘I feel sad for my Year 6 children’

13th May 2016 at 00:00
Headteacher Richard Bullard ruminates on the ‘rollercoaster of a year’ that primaries have faced

Let’s face it. It’s been a complete Horlicks of a year for assessment. Nick Gibb said, “This was always going to be a challenging year.” Well, for everyone at the sharp end, that may just be the understatement of the year.

Exasperation is the key word; that the left hand of the Department for Education doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing, that so much money has been wasted, that the goalposts have been moved constantly, that mixed messages have continued to be sent out and, ultimately, that everyone – staff and children alike – has had to work so hard for…well, I’m not quite sure what, really.

It has been a rollercoaster of a year. The about-turn on baseline assessment was very frustrating. The key stage 1 SPaG test fiasco, followed by this week’s key stage 2 leak, left us with little faith; nothing surprises us anymore.

Endlessly changing messages from the DfE have put all staff under enormous pressure. The late publication of writing exemplification materials (which showed an expected standard that was going to be very difficult to meet for most pupils), the subsequent changes that told us handwriting didn’t really matter, the changes to submission dates and learning stultifying grammar when pupils should be encouraged to develop creative and exciting writing – all of these have led us to have little confidence in the powers that be. And just how much has this all cost?

We have a fairly relaxed approach to Sats, trying to ensure that all the other exciting things that we teach are not lost, but this year we have felt compelled to teach more to the tests than ever before, partly due to the raised bar and the unknown but also because the stakes for schools and staff are so high; we have sacrificed some of our creativity.

My staff and children could not have worked any harder and I feel sad for my Year 6 children in particular: they haven’t enjoyed their final year so far as much as they should have, and that is an enormous shame. How much valuable learning time has been lost preparing for tests that seem unnecessary?

When these pupils start applying for jobs, I bet that none of them will be worrying about the subjunctive, fronted adverbials or subordinating conjunctions. One pupil even said this week that she had dreamed about a hyphen and when Year 6 were asked what they liked best about their final year, only two said maths or English. That has never happened before.

The NAHT has had some success in engaging the DfE in dialogue, but it appears that no one there listens to the genuine concerns of teaching professionals or takes heed of the experience of people who do this job every day and have done so for many years.

It is hugely frustrating and has been a year of missed opportunities. Perhaps our secretary of state should carry out the review she had in mind a year ago.

Richard Bullard is headteacher at Combe Down Primary School, Bath @richardbullard2

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