Use your imagination

Amy Winston

This year is my 10th teaching anniversary. I will be celebrating by summering on P Diddy's yacht off the coast of Sardinia. Or, more likely, with a couple of drinks and a packet of smoky bacon crisps in a sun-drenched beer garden somewhere. Your loss Diddy, your loss.

After teaching for 10 years, and reading that ministers are worried by literacy rates in comprehensive schools and throwing statistics around such as that 20 per cent of school leavers have a lower literacy level than that expected of 11-year-olds, I started to think. I thought some more when it was announced that ministers have had the brilliant idea to "make sure a child is ready to learn" at 4 by testing them from 2. And what I thought was, we might have a bit of a situation on our hands.

I think we may need a Minister for Common Bloody Sense. This minister would say something a bit like this: "Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. He said this because knowledge is finite to an individual, but imagination offers infinite possibilities to create, evaluate and synthesise not just answers but also questions. We policymakers have decided that enough is enough. We must create a comprehensive education system that encourages imagination alongside knowledge, and we must lift the burden of league tables to allow time in the curriculum to promote imagination. Although imagination is difficult to test by standardised methods, I am committed to reforming the system until imagination is at the centre of learning.

"After making a clear link between the 20 per cent of pupils who leave school with literacy levels below those of an average 11-year-old and the excessive assessment of pupils, we feel the best progress will be made by removing league table pressure, giving teachers the time and freedom to inspire pupils. Many of the pupils who were a core part of the riots last year come from 'forgotten families' for whom low literacy is the norm. It is the education system and teachers' responsibility to teach these pupils to aspire to more than they see immediately in front of them, and it is our responsibility to end a system that simply serves to measure these pupils' flaws.

"We have created a system whereby teachers are measured on pupil attainment as opposed to progress and enrichment, and after reflecting that we've created a culture in which testing two-year-olds was determined a 'good idea', we have accepted that we've created a monster. We now know that constant assessment of pupils' progress is holding them back."

Don't get me wrong. I believe in assessment as an integral part of excellence in education by ensuring pupils reach their potential. I am not in favour of the "they get to choose if they want to learn" ethos. Some teenagers wouldn't get out of bed for weeks if they got to "choose".

But when the link between low literacy rates and anti-social behaviour is made so obvious, major change is needed. And not changes that involve fining schools if pupils are below target but changes that acknowledge that over-assessment of children is a huge part of what is stopping at least 20 per cent of them achieving their true potential.

Amy Winston is an English teacher in the West Midlands.

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Amy Winston

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