Every Saturday morning I take two of my children swimming. The local pool is stocked full of enthusiastic young swimming teachers who have given all of my children a fantastic start in life. They have shown them how to feel comfortable and safe in water and how to enjoy it. Ratios seem to be a maximum of 10:1 with a lifeguard on duty too. Lessons last half an hour and each child receives individual as well as group teaching and tutoring. The classes are differentiated by ability; when you are good enough you go up the next level regardless of age. When you look across the pool every single participant is enjoying themselves. For £5 the half hour session is an immense bargain.
However today was different. THERE WAS NO TEACHING AND LEARNING AT ALL. Instead it was a ‘recording how far you can swim’ day. The children were put into lanes up and down the pool and every time they swam the 50 meters there and back the teacher recorded it. All the teacher had to do was shout encouragement and tick a box. Then at the end, write in the gap on the slip of paper how far the child had managed.
Maybe I should demand my money back because my children could not have progressed this morning even if they wanted to. Swimming up and down didn’t seem to serve any purpose. After all I am paying for them to LEARN how to swim.
Then I watched what happened after the class. Normally parents pick up their children from the poolside, get them showered, changed and leave as soon as possible. This morning however, slips were being checked and congratulations given. Timidly at first comparisons between offspring were being made. No one was rushing to leave, even if it was only to queue at reception for a certificate and badge proving the distance that had been swum. All parents were hooked on this measurable outcome. ‘How good is my child?’ is what we all desperately wanted to know. In other words parents wanted to know the outcome and the sum of the summative assessment.
Not only that, but the children wanted their reward too. When my two realised that I wasn’t queuing for their certificates and badges they were upset. I didn’t have any money on me, but explaining that wasn’t satisfactory. Of course they were wanting to have what everyone else was getting, but equally they desired the proof of their success and their efforts.
All this made me think about assessment and parents involvement in their child’s learning and progress. My previous post on parents evenings was partly about how schools may try to involve parents in what their child is doing. Parents rarely understand the difference between one level or grade and the next. They want to know “How is my child doing? Are they working hard? Are they behaving themselves?” After all if they were excited by pedagogy they would be teaching too.
Now if parents do not understand levels and that is the summative assessment we used to report to them whist their is child between 5 and 14, then there is something seriously wrong in the way schools are communicating. Since there is confusion over what a level 4 may mean then reporting part levels is even more senseless. I can understand “Your child swam 400 meters” but I don’t know what “your son is a level 4” in French means.
So we need to rid ourselves of National curriculum Levels
Only I don’t know what we could replace them with.