Will anything but a boycott stop the tests?

The Reclaiming Schools network has played a significant role in exposing the damage caused by high-stakes testing, including our pamphlet ‘The Mismeasurement of Learning‘, widely circulated in the NUT and elsewhere, various series of blogposts carrying detailed analysis from specialist researchers, and regional conferences in collaboration with More Than A Score. Following our Oxford seminar, we are soon to publish a book on the alternatives. 

A boycott is long overdue – 25 years overdue – but the last two years have brought the system to the point of crisis. Here we are reposting from the Primary Charter an argument that now is the time to prepare for direct action from teachers as well as parents, in the face of a Government with no capacity to respond to logical argument. 

Why we need to prepare for a boycott

The system of national testing has existed for over 25 years, and has distorted primary education from the start. The current tests, starting 2016 and based on Michael Gove’s revision of the National Curriculum, have brought it to the point of breakdown.

The revised National Curriculum was supposed to make England a “global winner” in PISA international tests. 100 academics warned publicly that it would be counterproductive.

Facts and Rules – Not thinking and understanding
“The proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.”

Too Much – Too Young
“Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation.
The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.”

The Government shrugged off this advice, throwing insults at the academic experts, but the new tests, starting in 2015-16, have indeed led to
• more teaching-to-the-test
• enormous stress on children, along with a fear of failure
• a narrowing of the curriculum
• large numbers of children being labelled failures and moving on to secondary school anxious and demoralised, with extreme effects on disadvantaged students. Continue reading

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Tower block tenants – the people who didn’t matter

The possibility of a tower block catching fire and burning out within the hour was a nightmare never to be contemplated. And now it has happened.

Words cannot describe the experience of Grenfell Tower residents, living and dead, as they were trapped by the fire. Tragedy might not be the right word, as it suggests the working of fate – a process beyond human control, an ‘act of God’. In another sense, this disaster was inevitable – it was inevitable that the contempt which Britain’s ruling elite show towards the poor would end in slaughter. Somewhere, something bad was bound to happen.

In the following days, we learnt that in recent years

Neoliberalism – the enemy of public welfare

As we have commented before in this blog, neoliberalism is an ideology that seeks to free capitalism from legal constraints. Continue reading

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A lesson from Sergeant Pepper

A comment on creativity and the curriculum by Dr Pam Jarvis, Reader in Childhood, Youth and Education, Leeds Trinity University

A few nights ago whilst nodding on the sofa, I was abruptly awoken by the BBC documentary Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution. I should say here that I have no musical talent whatsoever, and it was not the musical analysis that enthused me, interesting as this was. What captivated me were the questions that began bubbling up in my own mind about whether a group of four naturally musically talented and artistically creative young men would be prepared by England’s contemporary developmental and educational environment to put together a modern masterpiece to rival Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I became fascinated by the documentary’s explanation of how, having become increasingly frustrated by the limitations of live performance, the four state-educated lads who comprised The Beatles decided to take their creativity and innovation into a recording studio located a few miles to the north of the progressive primary school where I was engaged in developing my own imagination at that time. A twenty five year old Paul McCartney reflectively explained to an interviewer on the steps of the Abbey Road studio that the group had an enduring ambition to continually improve their music, which they would not be able to realise if they could not hear or be heard over the screaming of an audience.

The Beatles had not had any extensive formal musical training up to this point, nor were they seeking any, and they most certainly had not formulated a set of the SMART targets that seem indispensible to twenty first century state education practice. Instead, the way that they went about producing the songs for the album that became Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was simply to mess around for many hours in the studio with equally talented music producer George Martin and his team. Some of this time was spent in painstakingly creating new techniques through trial and error to perfect sound effects that appeared in the mind’s ear of one or other of the musicians and technicians, which were then further crafted through collaborative experimentation.

Continue reading

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Back to the 1970s? I’ll vote for that

A personal comment by Dr Terry Wrigley, Visiting Professor, Northumbria University

A few days ago the Daily Mail threatened that a Labour victory in the General Election would mean a return to the 1970s. That set me thinking.

I started teaching in 1971. I was the first in my family to go to university and graduated without a penny of debt. I entered teaching with a proper one-year qualification – two terms at university, one term on school placement. Nowadays many new teachers are thrown in at the deep end, with a few weeks initial training if they’re lucky, and then it’s “learn on the job”.

I worked in various schools situated on council estates. Not every pupil was enthusiastic, you had to win their interest, but they had the confidence of knowing that they would get proper jobs when they left, and many would get apprenticeships or go to university.

It was an exciting time to start teaching, a period of innovation. The school leaving age was raised to 16, so that all pupils could leave with a qualification. This was a big challenge and we met it well. Continue reading

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School cuts or taxing the rich?

The school cuts of around £3 billion are being presented as a necessary saving because of the need for ‘Austerity’. The School Cuts website, which has information for every school, shows that 99% of schools will have a per-pupil cut, an average of 8% from 2015/16 to 2019/20.

Some areas are hit harder than others. Among major cities, Birmingham and Liverpool faces cuts of 12%, Nottingham and Inner London 13%, and Bristol and Manchester 14%.

There is likely to be a massive reduction in the number of teachers and teaching assistants. The cut is the equivalent of nearly 3000 teachers in Birmingham, 1200 in Bradford, 1000 in Leeds, 1400 in Manchester, and over 2000 in Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, and Lancashire.

Corbyn is being cast as irresponsible for promising to overturn the cut and repair the NHS. Doesn’t he understand Austerity?

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Austerity is code for vast increases in the wealth of the superrich, at the expense of the rest of us. The Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ traces the wealth of the richest 1000 people in Britain from year to year. This year their combined wealth rose by £82 billion, over 25 times the £3 billion schools cut. Continue reading

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The crisis in secondary schools: where is it leading?

All kinds of schools in England are facing damaging budget cuts. Large meetings are being held all over the country where parents and teachers together are showing their opposition to Government cuts. Every concerned teacher or parent should join the Fair Funding for All Schools campaign, the front line in the growing campaign to save public education.

However it is important to understand the compound crisis affecting secondary schools. Continue reading

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Yorkshire conference – More Than A Score

Park Inn, North St, York YO1 6JF

This conference will bring together parents and teachers across the region to discuss the crisis facing our schools and how this is affecting children and young people.

It will provide an opportunity to discuss alternative visions for the future:

  • how do children learn best?
  • how can we combine high standards with creativity?
  • what is the purpose of education in the 21st Century?

Book your free ticket through Eventbrite

More Than A Score is a national coalition of professional organisations set up to campaign against tests which are undermining good primary education and causing high levels of stress to children. Read the Call to Action, and listen to what teachers and heads are saying about the tests on this video.  

For more information on the testing crisis, check the Reclaiming Schools blog.

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