It was the day of the Sikh harvest festival Vaisakhi and Year 1 were to mark the occasion by making kites.
“You want me to do this with them all morning?” I asked their teacher.
“Yes, of course. Make it fun.”
“You mean no phonics or maths?”
“Exactly. Go off timetable. It’s only one day.”
So I was in early, cutting up string and carrier bags and hunting down sticky tape, scissors and glue (key stage 1 teaching is essentially Blue Peter with phonics). The minute assembly finished, we got stuck in, and soon the room was littered with card, carrier bags and tissue paper.
There may have been no timetabled maths but I saw lots of practical maths as they measured string and folded kites. They used their reading skills to follow written instructions.
After they had tidied up, with the classroom more or less restored to its original condition, I led them into the playground. One little boy slipped his hand into mine. “I’m so happy, Miss,” he told me. He wasn’t the only one. They whizzed around the playground laughing and shouting.
I thought about this later, in the safety of my carrier bag-free KS2 domain. As I looked at my class, heads bent over their comprehension activity, I wondered when they last got to run around with kites. Are happy, exciting classrooms becoming the exclusive habitat of the under-7s?
“When I found out I wouldn’t be teaching in Year 6 next year, I couldn’t stop smiling,” a colleague told me. “The Sats pressure this year, with the new assessment system, has been ridiculous. It’s nearly made me forget what primary education should be about. Just this morning I had four of my class in tears when I gave them back their practice papers.”
A lot of Year 6 teachers share his sentiment. However creative you are and however deeply you care about your children’s wellbeing, the current assessment demands not only send stress levels rocketing, but also make it nigh-on impossible to teach in the way you would like to.
No one would blame a Reception teacher for putting children’s happiness above all else, so why, at the other end of the school, has it slipped so far down the scale of importance?
I spent my final year of primary making papier mâché dodecahedrons and re-enacting the Battle of Hastings. Whatever worries we had, they didn’t include age-related expectations.
Given the media reports of unhappy children and the calls for more trained counsellors in schools, it seems counterintuitive to have a KS2 assessment system that piles on so much pressure. The final year of primary school should be a fantastic one: the children are more independent; they know more; they’re ready to take on challenges and study topics in more depth. In the past, good teachers were clamouring to teach them. Now I don’t know a single Year 6 teacher who wants to stay there next year. And why? Because it has simply stopped being fun.
Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands