When targets miss the point

6th November 2015 at 00:00

A friend has just returned to the classroom after three years of almost uninterrupted maternity leave. She says it’s like entering a different world.

“Everything’s changed,” she tells me. “I have no idea what everyone is talking about.”

I know what she means. Three years ago we were all busy highlighting statements showing the path from 3a to 4c. Now we’re facilitating “deepening” and “mastery”.

Primary education has moved on. New curriculum; new assessment framework; new goals. If you looked at the age-related expectations you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d been selling children short for at least 10 years. Turns out I’ve also been teaching averages wrong as none of my mathematical explanations fits the current directive that every pupil (save a tiny minority) must come up to the average.

Luckily we have now been put back on the right track and our children can bask in the knowledge that they will be outperforming their older siblings: reading Roman numerals, spotting the future conditional tense and generally following the upward trajectory that looks so glorious on paper.

So why do so many things feel the same as they always did? There will inevitably be a gap between expectations and reality. Tougher goals aren’t a bad thing but if you want improvement targets that reflect what your class is really like, I’d suggest the following:

1. Spelling. “A lot” is not one word. Children get this wrong. A lot.

2. Column subtraction. You model starting with the number at the top. You sing it and act it out with Unifix cubes. At least a quarter of your class will still be confused.

3. Walking forwards. This sounds simple but can prove surprisingly tricky. Take a class outside the school gates for any distance and a few of them will end up walking backwards.

4. Getting dressed. Preferably in their own clothes. This also seems straightforward but the number of times I have presided over a post-PE game of “find the jumper” would suggest otherwise.

5. Remembering stuff. It’s not unusual to find a cloakroom floor decorated with forgotten items at the end of the day.

6. Spelling the name John. Pupils frequently get this wrong. Exceptions include boys named John.

7. Spatial awareness. In rounders, the preferred fielding method of young children is the “cluster technique”, where they all race after the same ball.

8. Rules of rounders. Third post is a fielding position, not a practice arena for handstands.

9. Scientific explanations. Despite your best efforts you won’t get through a set of books without reading: “Our results show that the plastic was the winner and I guessed right.”

10. The teacher’s name. If you are a female teacher, at some point you will be called “Mummy” in class. This will be the most hilarious thing that has ever happened.

Get through all these and you’ll be making progress.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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