Assessing Year 7

I have always felt sorry for our Y7s. In their very first week of secondary school life they are all funneled into the hall, sat at desks, made to be silent and instructed to take CAT tests. It makes me wonder what they think we are like, if that is what we think is the most important thing they should be doing to start off their KS3 and 4 educational career. Mind you that would be hypocritical of me, as we in Geography give our pupils a baseline test in their second lesson to assess where they are in their Geographical skills and understanding. We base ours on a good one I stole from @davidErogers a couple of years back.

When we have looked at these results we have noticed 2 things: 1) they are rather low and 2) by the end of the year most pupils have really improved. Does this mean that our Geography team is stunningly gifted at our job? or is it that Primary School teachers are notably poor at theirs? Or is that Primary school teachers are inflating the levels of their pupils at the end of KS2?

I personally don’t believe any of these are the case. And I specifically find it distasteful when secondary colleagues of mine propose the last of these to be the case.

But I have been suggested another possible cause and I think it is one that rings true. Primary schools are pressured to get the best possible Levels for their y6 pupils. these SATS are taken in May when there are still probably 9 weeks or so of the year remaining. After that the pressure is off. There is a  chance to do whole school productions and the like is quite rightly grasped with both hands. This means that pupils aren’t being educated in a “NC level” style for 3 and half months. That is a long long time in the life of an 11 year old. They are then expected to walk into this new classroom staffed by this strange Geography teacher and sit a Geography test to prove how well they can explain the human impacts of a tourist development in a rural area or something similar. This would be like asking Gareth Bale to play like its the European champions League Final in his first pre season friendly away at Stevenage in August.

So for September 2013, we are going to teach our new year 7s all about the wonders of geography for half a term and then in late October ask them to sit an assessment. Alas, with the increasing demand for data at all times, in all classrooms and for all cohorts ( I mean pupils) I cannot see the whole year group September tests disappearing any time soon.

Did George Orwell Know Michael Gove?

I might a bit slow on this one. Maybe better read people have already commented on the link between George Orwell and Michael Gove. They both seem to have been greatly affected by going to to a lesser known Public school. The latter though has a more positive view on his experience and now wants to base the new National Curriculum on his education where the former has a less rosy view of his experiences. I have found these words from an essay Orwell wrote in the early 1940s entitled “Such, such were the Joys” It is easily to be found online at a few sites and you can also download a pdf copy of it if you wish. The excerpt I have copied below I took from this site I am not an expert so I hope the wording is all correct.

When I read it I could not but think of the debates I have seen taking place about all the curriculum but history in particular and so I copy it here with no added comment.


“Over a period of two or three years the scholarship boys were crammed with learning as cynically as a goose is crammed for Christmas. And with what learning! This business of making a gifted boy’s career depend on a competitive examination, taken when he is only twelve or thirteen is an evil thing at best, but there do appear to be preparatory schools which send scholars to Eton, Winchester, etc. without teaching them to see everything in terms of marks. At St Cyprian’s the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick. Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else. Subjects which lacked examination-value, such as geography, were almost completely neglected, mathematics was also neglected if you were a ‘classical’, science was not taught in any form — indeed it was so despised that even an interest in natural history was discouraged — and even the books you were encouraged to read in your spare time were chosen with one eye on the ‘English paper’. Latin and Greek, the main scholarship subjects, were what counted, but even these were deliberately taught in a flashy, unsound way. We never, for example, read right through even a single book of a Greek or Latin author: we merely read short passages which were picked out because they were the kind of thing likely to be set as an ‘unseen translation’. During the last year or so before we went up for our scholarships, most of our time was spent in simply working our way through the scholarship papers of previous years. Sambo had sheaves of these in his possession, from every one of the major public schools. But the greatest outrage of all was the teaching of history.

There was in those days a piece of nonsense called the Harrow History Prize, an annual competition for which many preparatory schools entered. It was a tradition for St Cyprian’s to win it every year, as well we might, for we had mugged up every paper that had been set since the competition started, and the supply of possible questions was not inexhaustible. They were the kind of stupid question that is answered by rapping out a name of quotation. Who plundered the Begams? Who was beheaded in an open boat? Who caught the Whigs bathing and ran away with their clothes? Almost all our historical teaching ran on this level. History was a series of unrelated, unintelligible but — in some way that was never explained to us — important facts with resounding phrases tied to them. Disraeli brought peace with honour. Clive was astonished at his moderation. Pitt called in the New World to redress the balance of the Old. And the dates, and the mnemonic devices. (Did you know, for example, that the initial letters of ‘A black Negress was my aunt: there’s her house behind the barn’ are also the initial letters of the battles in the Wars of the Roses?) Flip, who ‘took’ the higher forms in history, revelled in this kind of thing. I recall positive orgies of dates, with the keener boys leaping up and down in their places in their eagerness to shout out the right answers, and at the same time not feeling the faintest interest in the meaning of the mysterious events they were naming.


‘Massacre of St Bartholomew!’


‘Death of Aurangzeeb!’


‘Treaty of Utrecht!’


‘Boston Tea Party!’


‘Oo, Mum, please, Mum—’

‘Please, Mum, please Mum! Let me tell him, Mum!’

‘Well! 1520?’

‘Field of the Cloth of Gold!’

Second Thoughts on Mr Gove’s new Proposed Curriculum… let’s not worry about it

I wrote my first thoughts on the evening Mr. Gove announced his draft changes to the school curriculum. Now I will have another reflection at them……..

The bottom line is that on second thoughts we don’t really need to worry that much. The document clearly says that it is NOT a directive on how to teach, but rather on the content that needs to be covered. In my small area of expertise (mainly Geography and partly History) I can see that this is not a slimmed down list as was promised. What we are being given is a collection of what some rich old white men with broadly traditional, conservative views of their world think pupils should be learning and more importantly what these children should KNOW.

But why should I be concerned about this?

Firstly, like many I now teach in an academy and officially don’t have to follow all these lists.

Secondly, who would actually ever find out if I didn’t teach Glaciation? After all, in 2o years and 5 inspections I have never had a Geography expert either inspect my department of observe one of my lessons.

But most of all the biggest influence on pupils’ Geographical learning is not what the DfE decides up in Westminster, but in how we in our departments choose and plan lesson and activities, in how we individually deliver and adapt these lessons to our own styles and our own classes needs and interests. for example, sustainability is no longer a ‘must cover’ any more in geography; it doesn’t even get a mention in the draft document, whereas previously it was all over NC levels 5, 6, 7, 8 and exceptional performance. Now, as tricky an idea as it often is to my less able pupils, I will continue teaching it because I think it is important to have an idea of how to plan carefully and compassionately for the future.

Additionally, I have just finished reading “Dancing with Architecture” by Phil Beadle. If this book said one thing to me, it is that the how of our teaching is more important than the what. So if I tell pupils at the outset that “all will be able to describe” Russia or the geological time line or whatever, “most will be able to describe in detail and partly explain” and “some will be able to explain fully,  compare and analyse” then sure enough that is what they will happen. We will all go home satisfied, unsurprised and within the fortnight, have forgotten the whole drab and boring hour we spent together in room 47. Mr Gove will be pleased and I will be a day closer to retirement.

However if the department trusts in our own professional “fascination and curiosity” and we encourage our pupils to do the same, then the learning will memorable, relevant and of a high quality, even if OFSTED couldn’t find a way of measuring it. As Phil Beadle also says “Who cares what OFSTED thinks?….a generally outstanding teacher will be sufficiently confident in their own abilities to not bother engaging in any real way with the centralised attempt to define what it is they should be doing.”

Immediate Thoughts on Mr Gove’s new Proposed curriculum

Channel 4 have kindly uploaded to you tube Michael Gove’s  9 minute statement to parliament …..

Michael Gove has not got his way on curriculum change in school, or has he? Okay there will not be a single exam board for each subject (but this step down is only due to being told it wouldn’t pass EU regulations on procurement).

There will be linear exams only and internal assessments and exam aids will only be used in extremis  (2 minutes in)

There will be no more higher and foundation tiers (about 2: 50 minutes ) so i am presuming there will be a one paper only for all approach. However it seems the more able will be able to sit ‘extension papers’. does this mean that AG&T students will be sitting longer and more exams than everyone else? (3:12)

There will be new GCSEs in English, Maths, Science ,History and Geography (called the core academic subjects) ready for teaching in 2015. these will bring about a ‘swift and significant rise in standards equipping young people with the knowledge they need”. This sounds ominously like his idea for a return to O’Levels by the backdoor.

He is going to get rid of the measuring schools by how many pupils get 5 A* – C passes (3:55). This, I must say, I completely agree with.It has always greatly irked me that pupils on the C/D borderline got more assistance from their school than those predicted either higher or lower grades. As Michael Gove says this should now mean that “the achievements of all pupils is now recognised equally.” (5:30). However I await to see how his point score system of “how pupils have progressed from KS2 to KS4” (4:46) actually works. Again, this seems to be EBacc by the back door, as it will include “at least 3 of the 4 EBacc subjects” (4:57) So schools will still be making pupils choose certain subjects as a priority, even if 3 other subjects are now included in this new measure.

The new draft National Curriculum for the 21st century (6:02) is out today. Of course, it is too early to respond to this as a whole. All subjects have been retained, which I know is a relief to those who teach Citizenship as a separate subject in their school. also the idea that the statutory national curriculum should only form part of the whole school curriculum may seem somewhat ironic by history teachers when they see the long chronological list of events and people they have to cover. For a subject that currently has equal weighting with Geography in most schools, they now have 3 times as many pages to describe their curriculum.

He has stripped out any mentions of “how to teach” (7:25), yet has instructed teachers on a core of what to teach in each subject (capital cities in geography for instance).

But if you teach in an academy can you ignore all of these core topics and teach what you want anyway?

Also where are the national curriculum levels?