the resit merry-go-round

Twitter has been alight today with discussions about the government’s proposal to re-test all children who ‘fail’ their KS2 SATS. @miss_mcinerney posted her thoughts on the subject here: http://schoolsweek.co.uk/the-complicated-truths-of-the-sat-resit-debate/

Miss Mcinerney calculates that 73,305 of the 100,000 pupils who didn’t reach Level 4 in reading, writing and maths last year were on the SEN register, with 14,709 of those with a statement. She considers that the remainder may well be seeking one (or now, an EHCP).

The new proposal appears therefore to be loaded towards those who have a difficulty in learning, whether a specific difficulty or a more global one. If this is the case, what is the purpose of the government’s proposal? Likewise, it has been deemed that all pupils will resit their GCSE in maths and English if they do not pass with a grade C or above. Some can be dis-applied if there is good reason, e.g. if the young person has caring responsibilities & the stress of resitting the exams would be incompatible with this. I don’t know if this new policy also includes some form of get-out-of-jail-free card, although in the case of GCSEs, this appears to be a deferral rather than an escape route.

I currently work in FE and this policy concerns me, for many students coming through my door (for access arrangements), their need is one of engagement and inclusion, not of GCSE. Yes, gaining a GCSE in maths and English is an important goal, but embedding literacy and numeracy into a vocational course would be far more appropriate. Give these students an opportunity to learn a trade, to earn a living, before forcing GCSEs on them – if they have the motivation to remain in education. Education is not a race, there are no prizes for passing the finish line first.

As I have previously stated, I am a classic high school under-achiever. I didn’t go to uni until I had turned 40. I am now on my third career, my previous 2 were quite successful, thank you very much. I happily managed to do my VAT returns each quarter without an O level in maths. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t bad at maths, even though my teacher threw me out of her class. The truth is far more mundane, I only sat the 1st paper as I was ill for the 2nd.

So, the proposal suggests that rather than aim at a Level 4 ‘average’, our pupils should be raised up to ‘above average’. Now, bearing in mind I was thrown out of maths in high school, I don’t think it takes a maths degree to work out that if ‘average’ kids become ‘above average’, ‘above average’ simply becomes ‘average’. Black becoming the new black, so to speak.

Retesting pupils who ‘fail’ their SATs is likely to only be of benefit to the few, or to those who live in LAs with poor schools. To explain, I live in such a LA. I’ve worked in these schools as a supply teacher & I could honestly say, I wouldn’t have sent my youngest to any of them & I placed my eldest in an independent school for the last 7 terms of high school. I’ve seen little to no good practice for pupils with SEN. I listen to parents who have been told that there’s a TA in every class that their child can draw on. Where did they all go when I worked there? Very rarely did I see a TA and when I did, they were velcroed to a specific child & usually disappeared off with them (erm, without me setting the work or having any form of discussion with them). In one school, there was a TA who stayed, but spent most of her time gossiping with other students & continued to do so after being directed otherwise.

So who may benefit from a re-test? As far as I can see, and under-achieving child who is placed in a school that has low expectations of its students on the SEN register. For them, it may be the best thing that happens to them – providing that the high school actually puts in place additional support. I have yet to see a school open & willing to do this off their own backs. However, catching these few doesn’t help those who passed at level 4 when they should have been level 5……. Nor will it help those students who may need an additional year to reach level 4, or two, four, six or never reach it. These, I suspect, will be the majority of the 73,305 miss mcinerney speaks of.

I have recently been in discussion with a parent who lost her initial tribunal appeal for a Statutory Assessment for her son, his new high school promised allsorts. A couple of years on, his skill level is now below that on entry, despite interventions. He is not yet at level 4. I suspect that the school’s best efforts are not sufficient because they do not have a suitably qualified teacher to give him the ‘quality first’ teaching he requires. I don’t mean that his teachers aren’t good teachers, only that they simply are not qualified to give him the level of support needed. Many teachers were leaving at the time I was teaching there, posts remained unfilled. A new appeal is pending.

I think I’ll finish now with this pertinent post from @disidealist https://disidealist.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/mediocre-failures/ Food for thought.

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