Tag Archives: SATs

Three R’s on the up

I think the term Three R’s is one of my least favourite educational terms, mostly because the only one of these R’s that actually even begins with R is Reading (if you didn’t know, the others are Writing and Arithmetic). Am I the only person who think they should be killed RAW skills? Anyhow enough of that …

It was announced today that there has been a sharp rise in the results for the Three R’s as measured by our SATs results. Four out of five 11-year-olds (79%) achieved Level 4 in their Sats tests in reading, writing and arithmetic, up from 75% in 2013. Results in the new grammar and spelling tests, first sat in 2013, rose three percentage points at Level 4 to 76%.

The government said thousands more pupils were secure in the basics. School reform minister Nick Gibb said the results showed that teachers and pupils had responded well to the higher standards his government’s education reforms have demanded. “Our education system is beginning to show the first fruits of our plan for education, helping to prepare young people for life in modern Britain. There is more to do but teachers and pupils deserve huge credit for such outstanding results.” He said: “Eighty thousand more children than five years ago will start secondary school this year secure in the basics – and able to move on to more complex subjects. It means in the long term these children stand a far better chance of winning a place at university, gaining an apprenticeship and securing good jobs. We have set unashamedly high expectations for all children, introduced a new test in the basics of punctuation, spelling and grammar, and removed calculators from maths tests.”

In detail, the results show improvements in all subjects at Level 4.

• Reading – 89% – up five percentage points

• Spelling, punctuation and grammar 76% – up three percentage points

• Maths – 86% – up one percentage point

• Writing 85% – up two percentage points (Based on teacher assessments)

From this year, schools are deemed to be underperforming if fewer than 65% of pupils achieve Level 4 in all subjects in the last year of primary school. I still don’t necessarily agree with it being based on percentage, especially having worked in a couple of small schools in my rather short career. In fact I’ve worked in a Year 6 class with only 18 children, and around half a dozen of them were on IEPs and were not predicted to achieve level 4’s across the board. Fortunately the IEP children did very well so the school was not deemed underperforming. But it could quite easily be a whole different story, where a school with fantastic staff could be deemed underperforming and who knows what would happen to morale then?

I’ll tell you though one of those stats that bothers me is this Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar one. Nearly 10% lower than the others? That suggests that perhaps we need to be put a bit more focus into teaching that as a matter of urgency. I mean I know we are being a technology driven age and word processing programs carry a spell check feature, but how do you know a word is really spelled wrong if you can’t in fact spell in the first place? How do you know the computer is 100% accurate? I mean it’s very easy to have the program set to recognise the English (US) language instead of English (UK), in which case you could end up learning how to spell words incorrectly. We need to start giving this more attention, but making sure we do not lose the great results we are achieving in the other subjects.

It’s the exam season again! My take on behaviour changes

Exams, the maker or breaker of children’s dreams and school years, the inconvenience to the summer in just about everyone’s eyes (not that we get much sunshine in the UK anyway, but we can dream), are back on the horizon now, with children up and down the country taking on GCSEs, A levels, SATs and any other exams that the government want to throw at us.

So what effect do these exams have on the children’s behaviour? What do you do as a teacher if a child starts acting up, knowing the pressure that these kids are under? Well I’m going to attempt to answer these using a couple of different examples of people I’ve met, worked with, or went to school with many moons ago. Of course I won’t be using names for obvious reasons.

The first example is a boy I used to know who always knew where the limits to behaviour was, and frequently tried to push them. He had potential, but was never completely willing to show it for whatever reason. He would often decide to turn up late, answer one question in an hour, and then sit in the back corner of the room doing nothing productive for the rest of the day. Naturally, the expectations for him were very low because he showed little evidence of anything higher. The exam season came around, so much so that the penny finally dropped. All of a sudden his attitude towards his learning completely changed. He would turn up to lessons on time, ask for additional work to support his revision, and even apologised to the teacher for all the problems he caused previously. It was like a completely different boy had entered the classroom.

The second example is a girl that always used to push herself to the limit, working harder than anyone else around her, refusing to do nothing but her best work 100% of the time. In many ways, most people would class her as a model student. However, the exam season, like in the first example, showed quite an alarming twist in the tale. The exams came round and the expectation on her to get the highest marks in her class amounted to so much pressure that she caved in. Her confidence fell through the floor and she gave up. She stopped working on homework completely, her attitude turned sour towards her peer group and the teachers.

I’m sure I’m not only speaking for myself when I say it would be lovely to have all children have the attitude that the boy in the first example developed. Sadly the results in the second example with the girl showed what can happen. The question remains as to how we deal with this as teachers.

Well, if we were working as to the book, logic would say that you would treat this as any other incident across the year, using the appropriate sanctions. But this isn’t just any time of the year. This is a time when the pressure ramps up, partly due to the weight of expectation, but us teachers also put pressure on them, even if we don’t mean to. The last thing they need when they are get revision classes, practice papers and all sorts of different things thrown at them in all kinds of subjects is time in detention. It’s natural that behaviour may be a little worse than usual, so my advice is to not be so heavy handed.

So what could happen in the classroom and how do we look at it?

General disruption will always be present. Always acknowledge bad behaviour in whatever guise it appears. But some leeway for minor indiscretions can be appropriate on occasion. I believe in a firm but fair approach, but for kids who are feeling the strain of exams, I like to use discretion and give them the benefit of the doubt. I also believe in talking to them and helping them to see that what they are doing is unacceptable, and let them know that if their behaviour is linked to stress you can tackle it together.

Uniform and appearance is the hatred of the school, with some children taking to customising the look of their uniform with clown length ties, top buttons on their shirts undone and shirts untucked. Personally, I come down the line of tidy appearances throughout the year as I believe a person who dresses smartly would behave more mature. I usually wear a suit in the classroom so I expect the same courtesy. Of course this is exam time, and the summer, so this isn’t always going to be possible for some students. If someone does untuck their shirt, use your discretion and avoid being firm. A casual ‘your shirt has untucked itself again’ may be the limit I would use. We don’t want the children to feel like we don’t appreciate the effort they make towards the exams with something like uniform.

Often punctuality can become a problem with some children. It’s easy to reprimand the child on every occasion they are late, but this perhaps isn’t the best approach during an exam time. The may have genuine reasons for being late. Instead look at the minutes they are late by, and wait for it to accumulate to a certain amount of time. Perhaps for every half an hour in minutes the child is late, they have to attend a revision session for that half an hour. It’s important that the child know that if they miss some time, they need to make that time up. Time is not a luxury during exam times as the exam period in my experience tends to fly by.

Arguably, this is the most important part of the year for work to be completed on time because that time is fast running out. However, it is crucial to use your judgement. When children tell you they are finding it hard to stay on top of work and revision, it’s important to find out exactly what level of work they are contending with and how much revision they are actually doing. Based on this information, you can give the student advice on time management rather than punishing them, and help them to create structured timetables. If you smell a rat, however, don’t let them run through a list of tired excuses. Instead, tackle the issue head-on. It is vital that the children understand the need to be committed.

The most extreme thing I’ve ever seen happen is the occasional fight between children. It’s very easy to come down heavy on these fights, but knowing the time, I would treat this the same as general disruption. Once everyone is calm, talk to them, if their behaviour is linked to stress, which is highly likely, tackle it with them. Managing stress is not just an exam effort, but a life skill. Learning it early makes life so much easier, some adults haven’t even learned this skill. We’ve all been guilty of letting stress get the better of us, I can certainly think of a few occasions myself.

Not all people will agree that we need to adjust. There will always be people who advocate making no changes in behaviour policy during the exam period, arguing that consistency is all-important and that at this time more than ever children need to know where the boundaries lie. However, if we insist on putting students through the enormous stresses of exams, we have to accept the repercussions. We are already treating them differently in class – pushing them harder, piling on the work, making bleak pronouncements about the consequences of any lack of effort – and behaviour management should not be excluded from those changes.

Maths and writing levels up for 11 year olds

More 11-year-olds are reaching the levels expected in maths and writing, but one in four still do not make the grade for each of England’s Sats tests.

National results released on yesterday show a slight improvement overall, but a small fall in the top grades awarded for reading.

Overall, 76% of pupils reached the expected level in each of the reading, writing and maths tests taken at 11 – up from 75% last year.

There was a new test this year. This was in spelling, punctuation and grammar and 74% reached the expected level (Level 4) in that. In the reading test, 86% made the grade, down one percentage point from last year. And in writing – which is marked by teachers – there was a two percentage point rise to 83%. In maths, there was a one percentage point rise to 85%.

Education minister Elizabeth Truss said: “These figures show the majority of children are performing well and they, along with their parents and teachers, should be congratulated for their achievements. However, the statistics also reveal that one in four children is leaving primary school without a firm grasp of spelling, punctuation and grammar. The new test encourages schools to focus on these basics.”

The new spelling, punctuation and grammar test includes questions asking pupils to insert missing full stops and capital letters in sentences and to identify adverbs and different tenses. Pupils were also asked to spell words such as “familiar”, “physically”, “surprised”, “enough”, “strength” and “substantial”. In total, 139,000 pupils failed to reach Level 4 in the new test, the Department for Education said. Girls did better than boys, with 79% reaching the expected Level 4, compared with 69% of boys. Once again for me, these statistics don’t determine how those from lower income families or free school meals performed. I’m sure the government should want to look at these, I know I would.

Shadow education secretary, Labour MP Stephen Twigg, accused the Conservatives of “undermining a decade of progress” in literacy skills in primary schools. “David Cameron and Michael Gove are threatening school standards,” he said. “We know how important reading skills are in later life, but these figures show how the Tories are failing thousands of children.”

Personally I’ve been against the new test for a few reasons, but most notably because it’s simply another test, which puts more pressure on our children. If I’m honest with you, I think the English SATs should be like the Literacy QTS skills tests, where you have 4 sections on spelling, grammar, punctuation and comprehension. I understand why the government have brought it in though. 139,000 pupils not reaching the required level is a bit dodgy though, although with this being the first year of taking the test it’s very difficult to read a lot into that.