Friendships were no doubt destroyed yesterday as twitter erupted in tweets for and against the use of SATs in primary schools following Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement of Labours pledge to abolish Primary School formal tests if they were elected.
In front of National Education Union in Liverpool Corbyn delivered the news to loud cheering and whooping. He explained that it would free up schools struggling with funding cuts and full classrooms He also said it would improve teacher recruitment and retention.
Schools are currently ordered by their success on the SATs and this ranking system would be abolished also.
"We need to prepare children for life, not just exams," Said Corbyn
Corbyn claimed they would abolish SATs for 7 and 11 years olds, moving away from standardised testing in place of "the clear principle of understanding the learning needs of every child." The news was received excitedly by the room full of teachers who gave Corbyn a standing ovation.
The National Education Union Joint Secretary supported Corbyn and said he recognised the damage a test-driven system does to children and schools.
Head Teachers also responded positively to the announcement. The Leader of the National HT Association said "everyday teacher assessment and classroom tests" can be used to monitor children's progress.
Obviously as system that holds a school accountable to the results from SATS might be frowned upon by Head Teachers. One head teacher on Twitter referred to SATs as being expected to perform whilst having a gun to your head. Schools Minister Gibbs said he believed abolishing SATS would be a huge step backwards in maths and literacy for UK Kids and would "Undo decades of improvement in children's reading and maths".
"Labour plan to keep parents in the dark.
"They will prevent parents from knowing how good their child's school is at teaching maths, reading and writing," said Mr Gibb.
Here are some of twitters mixed reactions. The general consensus being that SATs do put undue pressure on children at primary age however without them it seems grades and standards slip so some went as far as to propose that the SATs stay but the way in which the data is utilised is the real problem. The ranking tables and the implications to a child’s individual learning journey were all questioned.
The fact that some children are experiencing unnecessary stress as a result of the testing might not be a direct consequence of the testing itself but the manner in which some teachers and schools deliver the SATs internally said one teacher.
Whatever your take on this is certainly has polarised teachers, heads and parents and is obviously a contentious subject. It is this writers opinion that a one size fits all system is unlikely to be best for everyone and a more holistic approach would surely offer an advantage to schools with the resources and training to deliver a more wholesome solution however many teachers are over worked already and adding the pressure of concocting their own individual monitoring methods might be detrimental to the teachers workload and therefore overall quality of their delivery.
We don't have the answers here but it will be interesting to see whether proposed changes pre-election and actual changes are the same if Labour do take power.
There were several useful suggestions from teachers and one which seemed to float to the top was the idea of reducing time restrictions and making the whole experience less stressful as a whole. Surely whether of not primary SATs are abolished these considerations should be addressed.
The Big Brother School System...
Since December 2017 the Chinese education system has been subject to an experiment ripped straight out of the pages of a sci-fi novel. Artificial Intelligence surveillance on students. The image conjured by website Sixthtone.com weaves a disturbing glimpse into the future of education technology as it describes a boys realisation his classroom was being monitored and his facial data captured without his consent.
A pupil in Beijing who for the purposes of the article is known as 'Jason' was surfing the web one day only to stumble upon a social media thread entitled #ThankGodIGraduatedAlready and upon clicking it he was presented with an top down photograph of a typical Chinese classroom setting, the backs of rows of students facing a teacher had been captured by an overhead camera. The image upon inspection had several students heads boxed of with subtitles describing the subject’s level of attention, from focussed, distracted to engaged if they were answering questions. Upon even closer inspection 'Jason' realised the uniforms of the students pictured were that of his own school. This sci-fi drama had quickly become a sci-fi horror as Jason recalled he had never been invited to consent to this surveillance.
In July 2017, China’s highest governmental body, the State Council, released an ambitious policy initiative called the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan (NGAIDP). This new plan was designed to help turn China into the world’s leading A.I. Power by integrating artificial intelligence into all aspects of life ; Medicine, law, transport, environment and 'intelligent education'
Upon interview the man at the helm of the surveillance systems development explains the culture of Chinese parents is immensely hands on. He's describes in interview how teachers are usually bombarded by parent’s questions requesting information on their child’s progress. “Did my son fall asleep during English class again?” he says, mimicking the questions parents might ask. “Did my daughter and her desk mate talk too much during class? Should we separate them?”
He explains how the devs feel the tech allows schools to send the data to parents and the school through a mobile app and demonstrates an example of a report “For example, this student’s report shows that he rarely volunteers to answer the teacher’s questions in class. So his participation in English class is marked as low. Number of questions answered: one,” Zhang reads from the AI-generated report. “This week, the student spent 94.08 percent of class time focusing. His grade average is 84.64 percent. He spent 4.65 percent of the time writing, which was 10.57 percent lower than the grade average.”
The system is named the "Class Care System" and the developer head Zhang believes it means no child will left behind as the children who receive the most attention in a classroom setting are the naughtiest and the cleverest ones. The average child isn’t getting the same attention and Zhang says the Class Care System will remedy this.
Here is Sixthtones visual breakdown of the system which is quite enlightening and their full article here: https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1003759/camera-above-the-classroom
Zhang says the Children must consent to the surveillance and when asked what the children think of the tech he replied. "They hate it." Some schools within the trial even had students revolting against the monitoring by unplugging the system just before final exams.
Whatever your take on the implementation of tech in the classroom. It's important to ensure that we move forward into this modern era with a mindfulness to considering the potential mental health impacts of going home and be berated by your parents for not answering enough questions in maths that day.
The terms intelligent education and Class Care System are carefully developed terms of propaganda masking a possibly darker reality. Schools in Shenzhen have been collecting biometric data by fingerprinting their students and three and half thousand facial recognition patents were acquired in China alone. A concerning future is barrelling down on us, Whilst we might not quite be on the precipice of a 1984 style Big Brother dystopia one thing is increasingly clear. Tech is integrating into our daily lives inextricably and we have to ensure we remember the importance of going outside, reading from paper not screens and retaining a semblance of individualism and privacy.
“Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively are less free.”
It seems the government is backing up its claims that preventative medicine and mental health are now a priority. Following pressure to vastly improve our country’s safeguarding of vulnerable groups now by September 2020 school children as young as 4 years old will be taught compulsory lessons about the importance of sleep, looking after their own mental health, relationships and going outside. The new lessons will be part of the broader revised curriculum which will also cover for secondary school pupils, the dangers of sexting, spotting anxiety amongst their friends and the importance of staying safe on the internet.
They will be taught about nutrition, staying active and the link between mental and physical health. And that online time shouldn’t replace playing outside.
"So many things about the way people interact have changed, and this new world, seamless between online and offline, can be difficult to navigate...Almost 20 years on from the last time guidance on sex education was updated, there is a lot to catch up on."
"It will help children learn how to look after themselves, physically and mentally.”
Education Secretary Damian Hinds
The is a notable rise in sleep disorders often attributed to night time screen time which has recently been advised against by the UK’s chief medical officers to be curtailed.
Researchers announced in a British Medical Journal study that sleep deprivation is a serious issue likely to cause more impact on a child’s well-being than bullying, physical activity and screen time. You can read about the study here.
In the meantime for teachers who want to get ahead of the game, in January the PSHE published sleep factor lesson plans which are available to download here: The free to download lesson plans teach children to;
• recognise what good quality sleep is and why it is important
• identify habits and routines that promote good quality sleep
• understand how sleep patterns change during adolescence
The new plans for sex and lifestyle based education has however received some criticism and after a 106,000 signatures have been gathered the issue of parents wanting the right to opt out their children will now be debated in parliament next Monday. It is worth noting that Parents will still have the right to withdraw their child up to age 15 although headteachers will be encouraged to discuss with parents the potential negatives of withdrawing their child, so it seems there will be pressure imposed to include your child.
“We believe that these changes are absolutely essential in creating an educated and self-aware generation next. In schools the teaching of physical literacy is malnourished and needs improvement …this is certainly a welcome step in letting children take some ownership through understanding their own health and it's importance.
"I know that Education Secretary Hinds said £6 million would be made available to cover training and resources, hopefully the initiative and the funding allowance will be built upon if the government genuinely expects any sweeping changes in outcomes.
"We work with over a hundred schools on improving their flexible seating options to enhance their pupils development from this we know first hand that even small changes can have a tremendous impact.”
Nick White, Eiger Standing Desks / iwantastandingdesk.com
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Guardian reporter Sally Williams has produced an editorial detailing examples of home-schooling throughout the UK citing statistics from the BBC that show a 40% rise in children being home-schooled since 2014-15. They point out the real number is likely to be even higher given that data is only collected on children who have been removed from school and excludes children who have never registered.
The government currently has no master register for home-schooled children and surprisingly very few restrictions on parents who wish to home-school. Parent/Teachers are not required to have any specific qualifications, don't have to teach the national curriculum, submit their children for national standard testing such as Sats or GCSEs and often allow children to lead their own education by following their own interests.
Many parents are leaning to home-schooling as a solution to their child experiencing issues such as exam stress, bullying or unmet special needs in the standard school environment. One mum in the article explains her thinking;
“School is very oppressive for young people. It’s not natural to be sat at a desk all day, with fluorescent lights, computer screens, barely able to see outside. “
Can schools do anything to counter losing pupils to the growing rise of home-schooling? Anecdotal evidence shows that standing desks in the school environment afford children a greater sense of freedom whilst letting them focus on the work at hand. They help to tackle some the special educational needs many parents feel aren’t being adequately addressed in the school environment.