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  • How obligatory are the writing exemplification materials?

    by Ros Letellier

    Well, that is the billion dollar question. The introduction to the materials states in no uncertain terms that schools and LAs must refer to them to ensure that their TA judgements are accurate and standardised across and between schools - which actually makes sense. 

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  • Final report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels - does it move us on?

    by Ros Letellier

    Remember Pavlov? He’s the guy who conditioned dogs to respond with a saliva reflex to the sound of bell.

    At first, the dogs would be given a nice juicy piece of meat each time the bell rang, until eventually, the neural pathway was strong enough that the dogs would salivate at the idea of being fed even when the piece of meat was then withheld.

    Obviously, as humans we’re a bit brighter than your average dog. But that doesn’t mean we don’t respond to conditioning – particularly when fear is involved. For many years now you’ve been expected, as teachers, to take a data-led approach to assessment. To give each child a number and to measure their progress as their evolution between these numbers.

    A failure to keep track of, and to report on children’s attainment using these numbers would result in a less-than-glowing appraisal of your school’s performance from Ofsted.

    So, while the DfE has long been clear that Levels are finished and that schools are free to develop their own systems of assessment and reporting, so strong is the conditioning that many schools have had difficulty believing in this freedom and letting go of the old regime.

    Even those wanting to engage found themselves in a vacuum of information and direction. For pressured Heads and senior leaders with a mountain of things on their plate already, the whole area of assessment must have seemed like a ticking time-bomb that they didn’t have the manual or the time to defuse.

    The Commission on Assessment without Levels was therefore set up to provide guidance to schools on creating their own assessment policies, and to help them through a time of ‘radical cultural and pedagogical change’ (to borrow from John McIntosh’s foreward to the commission’s final report).

    What it does do, is provide a manifesto for high-quality, meaningful assessment that offers guidance to schools to help them develop their own policies.

    However, if any schools were hoping for an off-the-peg solution to assessment or a replacement set of levels fitted to the new curriculum, the commission’s final report does not deliver.

    It provides no templates, and prescribes no specific content for a school’s assessment policy. What it does do, is provide a manifesto for high-quality, meaningful assessment that offers guidance to schools to help them develop their own policies.

    The detail is of course available within the report itself, but the overall message is that formative assessment is crucial; that acting upon assessment is far more important than recording it, and that schools ought not to be driven by expectations of what they think Ofsted inspectors are looking for. (The latest Common Inspection Framework plainly states that they are not looking for a particular approach).

    The report also identifies what needs to happen in order for schools to feel completely comfortable and secure about their assessment policies. To be able, in short, to let go of the old way of thinking without fear of reprisal.

    This includes a greater focus on assessment as part of initial teacher training, training for school leaders and Ofsted inspectors around the principles and purposes of assessment, and what best-practice looks like.

    Does this mean the demise of summative assessment? Not at all. The report recognises that summative tests are a useful means of evaluation pupils’ learning and progress at the end of a period of teaching.

    It’s important, however, that the data is not an end in itself, but is a way of a way of getting information that supports pupils' progress and attainment to help you tailor your teaching accordingly.

    It follows therefore, that when you’re creating, or looking for ready-made summative assessment resources, you need to think about how they help you to close that loop.

    What do you do now? Well, whatever it takes to get rid of that old conditioning. Grasp this opportunity for what it is – a government sanctioned move towards a more innovative, child-focused, sensible approach to assessment.

    Read the report, if you haven’t already, and get excited. And most of all, believe. Believe that you know what good assessment looks like, and believe that the DfE trusts you to make it happen.

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  • What everyone is thinking on the first day back at school

    by Ros Letellier

     

    Parents: 7.45 a.m. So, the Age 5 trousers look a little short but the Age 6 trousers are dragging on the ground – which looks least stupid?

    8.15 a.m. Before the summer I had 14 water bottles, now I only have 1… which kid do I like most?

    8.30 a.m. Can’t believe we’re going to be late on the very first day. If I was a pair of black school shoes where would I have put myself for six weeks?

    8.45 a.m. Can’t wait to see my mummy friends again… Ooh, and yes of course, hope you have a lovely first day back, darling!  

    Kids:

    6.00 a.m. Yep, I’m awake. I think I’ll go and jump on mummy.

    7.45 a.m. I want a chocolate biscuit for breakfast. No, not cereals. No, not toast. No, not even Pain au chocolat. I want a Wagonwheeeeeeeeellll!

    8.30 a.m. Why is mummy in such a flap about this? I wish she’d stop asking where I put my shoes – that was like YEARS ago.

    8.45 a.m. Yay! It’s like a giant reunion party.

    9.30 a.m. I miss my old teacher

    3.15 p.m. I LOVE my new teacher!  

    Teachers:

    8.30 a.m. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

    8.45 a.m. Are you going to be a problem, Mrs Parent?

    8.50 a.m. Name labels. Need name labels!

    10.00 a.m. Blur

    11.00 a.m. Blur

    12.00 p.m. Blur

    1.00 p.m. Blur

    2.00 p.m. Blur

    3.15 p.m. Must match children to correct parent. Aaaarggh, escapee. Back ‘ere, Jones!

    3.30 p.m. Only six more parents in the line to see me.

    3.45 p.m. Shattered!

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  • 10 universal truths about the summer holidays for Primary school teachers

    by Ros Letellier

    1. In a triumph of hope over experience you will be imagining six weeks of glorious sunshine and brilliant blue skies, and will spend most of the break waiting expectantly for summer to actually arrive, before finally admitting defeat on 26 August.

    2. In the first week of the holidays you will get a cold as you finally allow yourself to relax.

    3. Luckily, you’ve got a mountain of chocolate from your pupils to keep your spirits high for at least a couple of weeks. (Oh OK, two nights with the latest box-set on the telly).

    4. The two days where the sun really does put in an appearance you’ll be so unused to it you’ll forget your sun-cream and end up just a tiny bit crisped (in spite of all your warnings to your pupils over the last term!).

    5. If travelling anywhere by ferry you are bound to bump into one of your pupils past or present (and their parents…), especially if it’s a long crossing. Get a cabin!

    6. You will lose track of the number of people who tell you how lucky you are to have such a long holiday, but lose the will after the first one to explain how many extra hours you put in the rest of the year.

    7. No matter how good your holiday was, that first night back in your home and your own bed is as comforting as hot chocolate and marshmallows.

    8. That Sunday evening feeling will probably start somewhere around the time you finally realise that summer’s not going to show. Although if you have children of your own, you may actually be looking forward to going back to work…

    9. You secretly love it when the shops fill up with stationery. Ooh, all those different coloured gel pens, geometry sets and pristine pads of paper... it’s like Christmas, but better.

    10. You’re feeling a little bit sad about the children you’ve just got to know over the past year moving on, but also excited about getting to know your new bunch. They’re the reason you do it, after all.

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  • Setting the scene for SATs '16

    by Ros Letellier

    With SATs over for another year, the countdown to a new brand of tests covering the content of the 2014 curriculum has begun.

    Complete with a new floor standard for school accountability, pending decision-making on performance descriptors and controversy over SATs re-sits, the new age of assessment promises to be an interesting one.

    Progress versus attainment

    From 2022 schools that have elected to adopt the Reception Baseline check from September 2015 will be able to be judged on the progress that their children have made rather than on their final attainment.

    However, as the first eligible cohort work their way through the Key Stages, the measure for school accountability over the next 7 years will remain attainment. As we know, the DfE has set the bar high - 85% of pupils reaching a level equivalent to a 4b (in old money) in the core subjects, meaning that SATs pressure is about to ramp up another notch.

    The weakness of this plan is the absence of information or support relating to how schools are to achieve this, beyond a notion that by expecting more of pupils they will strive to meet up to them.

    Official figures from the DfE show that around 100,000 pupils a year currently are failing to achieve the required standards in English and maths, and with pupils now facing tests based on harder curriculum content this figure is likely to grow. Which could be a problem in light of the policy announced in April that pupils who do not pass their end of KS2 SATs will be required to re-sit them.

    Resisting resits

    It is fair to say that SATs resits have not been well received by the teaching community. First and foremost, it is in direct contradiction of the original intention of SATs to benchmark school performance, not that of the children. Even the kindest of critics believe it’s an idea that has not been fully worked through.

    Rhetoric around the time of the election was unhelpful, obscuring the intention of this policy to give children a further chance to catch-up before they get stuck into their Secondary education. Language such as “zero tolerance of failure and mediocrity” and claims that Conservative educational policy would not allow children who failed their SATs to drag down standards for brighter pupils (reported in the Telegraph) came off to many as discriminatory.

    However, removed from all of the pre-election bluster, the policy is at its core about a pre-emptive strike to help pupils destined for poor performance at GCSE. “We know that the biggest predictor of success at GCSE is whether young people have mastered the basics at age 11. That means if we fail to get it right for young people at the start of secondary school they’ll struggle for the rest of their time in education,” argues Nicky Morgan.

    Not many could argue with the sentiment. There needs to be more of a focus on supporting struggling pupils, particularly as the harder curriculum may mean this group becomes more numerous, pulling in pupils previously considered ‘middling’ into its orbit.

    A policy with potential…?

    In an extremely well-argued article, Laura McInerney, editor of Schools Week, concludes that there is potential to the policy – as long as certain ‘sticking points’ can be overcome, and it comes with ideas and resources for support, rather than becoming a stick to beat schools with.

    McInerney’s conditions really are the key, of course. The ‘sticking points’ are substantial: relating primarily to the increased pressures on both children and teachers.

    Although children will be taking the resits once they start in Secondary, and therefore the onus is on their new school to help them pass – the threat of resits increases the pressure on children to succeed first time round, and the pressure on Primary teachers to ensure they do so.

    Whereas previously the impact of poor results would be felt largely by the school, in future they will also be borne by the children themselves.

    A stressful start to secondary

    In a worst-case scenario, we may see desperate secondary schools seeking ways to minimise their intake of children with weak results or ability-streaming enacted from the very start of Year 7.

    Children starting their secondary lives in the position of having to retake their SATs could feel stigmatised – a failure from the start, which can only exacerbate the growing social problem of anxiety and depression in children. The NSPCC reports a 200% increase over recent years in calls related to exam stress.

    We must therefore find ways to relieve the pressure on the children. This may take the form of pastoral care, a focus for PSHE lessons, or best of all by removing the pressure from the whole of the accountability chain, so that it doesn’t trickle down to the most vulnerable. In this regard, it might be helpful if the DfE would reconsider the target for the number of pupils expected to pass re-sits (currently set at 80%, criticised by the ASCL as ‘arbitrary’) and the obligation on Secondary schools to report on these results.

    All this being said, there are mitigating factors for the re-sits: they will be slimmed down versions of the actual SATs, and will be internally marked, which might help make them slightly less of an administrative burden.

    Children will have two opportunities in the year to pass them, but crucially will not be held back if they persistently fail. And finally, contrary to the furore over resits penalising those with Special Education Needs, there is in fact no requirement for this group to take them.

    Support and direction needed

    Beyond this, there is also the information and support gap already mentioned. What needs to happen to help children pass tests that they failed only a few months earlier – that has not already been attempted by talented and hard-working Primary teaching professionals?

    How will secondary teachers close a gap potentially made worse by summer slide? Will there be any central recommendations or co-ordination?

    Early intervention seems a better route: it feels less rushed, and less stigmatising than an all-or-nothing Year 7 sprint. But in a world of overstretched class sizes, overworked teachers and dwindling budgets – still more investment in resources and training is needed.

    Let us hope that having announced the birth of this particular policy, Nicky Morgan’s department has spent the intervening time working out how to bring it up.

    It is a policy that comes from a good place, but which risks sinking - dragging pupil and teacher morale with it – unless it can be buoyed by some real investment in resource and some rethinking around whether there is any real benefit in setting reportable targets for the resit pass rate.

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  • Don't wait for 'green traffic lights' to depart on your assessment journey...

    by Ros Letellier

    "If you are [...] waiting for the 'right' thing to happen, you might wait for a long time. It's like waiting for all the traffic lights to be green for five miles before starting the trip." - Robert Kiyosaki

    Waiting for more clarity on assessment? You’re not alone! Our consultants are hearing from schools daily that they need something to help them with assessment.

    At the Education Show last week teachers crammed liked sardines into Colin Watson’s update on Assessment post-Levels. (Colin Watson is the Deputy Director of Assessment Policy and Development at the DfE). However, if they were looking for an epiphany, they were likely disappointed.

    There was little in the presentation that we didn’t already know - perhaps with the exception of a little further clarity on the ‘progress measure’ being more around added-value rather then set expectations of progress. There was also confirmation that we won’t know detail about the scaled score for SATs until the first set of tests have been marked.

    The truth is, there is nothing really to wait for. Levels were disbanded because they didn’t fit with the freedom of the new curriculum, and they are not being replaced for the same reason.

    Yet this freedom comes along with much higher expectations for school performance: 85% of pupils reaching a level equivalent to a 4b (in old money) in the core subjects. Against this backdrop, it is understandable that assessing without a really clear, accredited framework matched to the new curriculum, feels like merrily swinging on a trapeze without a safety net.

    Of itself, assessment should not be a scary thing. However, assessment of children has for too long been analogous to teacher accountability. Schools may be forgiven for worrying that if they get assessment ‘wrong’ they are heading towards disaster at their next inspection. So of course they are looking for some direction; some reassurance their approach is on the right lines.

    The DfE recently recognised this apprehensiveness by setting up the Commission on Assessment Beyond Levels. We were delighted to see Dame Alison Peacock appointed to this Commission as we have long been fans of her enlightened approach to teaching and assessment. An approach that has seen her school go from special measures to outstanding in just a few short years, and which has created an environment of happy, motivated pupils - and staff.

    The Commission is likely to come out with some fantastic examples of how to look at assessment differently. However, what it is not likely to come out with is any kind of scale that will act as a substitute for levels.

    So what should you be doing?

    According to Tim Oates:

    • The new curriculum focuses on fewer things in greater depth, so assessment should be focused on whether a child has really understood and mastered these key skills.

    • We need a different concept of children's ability - that each child is capable of anything (with hard work and good teaching) - not labelled according to the level they happen to be in.

    • Enabling children to ‘produce stuff’ that can be evaluated: statements, claims, hypotheses, writing, diagrams, pictures – anything that gives teachers an insight into the mental life of the children.

    • More assessment – not less – but of a different kind. Teachers need to become ‘assessment kleptomaniacs,' carrying out high-quality formative assessment that ‘richly probes’ the depth of children’s understanding.

    So far, so good but how do you capture, track and report on this?

    And this, of course, is the crux of the problem, with some schools struggling to understand how to transform their assessments into something reportable – and lacking, frankly, in the reassurance that their children are on track for success in the end of key-stage assessments.

    As a result, simple tracking systems have seen some degree of popularity in recent months, but these have their limitations. Ultimately, you need a system of recording your judgements in a way that relates them to the objectives of the curriculum, and to each child’s level of mastery, and then enables you to report on their progress through the curriculum in a way that is clear and digestible.

    Happily, we are working on a solution to help you with this, launching in September (full details coming very soon!). Our assessment solution will combine frequent tests for the core subjects to help you keep track, proprietary progress maps that give you a logical route through the core concepts, knowledge and skills of the new curriculum, plus a tracking and reporting tool that will help you read and react to your data and to formulate reports for parents, school leaders and Ofsted.

    Summative testing and tracking is not the be-all and end-all of assessment – and on that subject the DfE have been very clear. However, we know that in reality it would be remiss of us not to make sure that our children are on track to succeed, and this is where we can help you.

    In the meantime, if you haven't set out on your assessment journey yet, don't wait for all the 'traffic lights to be green' before you do. They're already flashing amber...

    To receive information about our assessment service, sign up here

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  • The busy teacher/parent’s guide to the perfect World Book Day costume

    by Ros Letellier

    As World Book Day approaches (5 March for anyone who doesn’t have it etched into their brain yet), our thoughts have turned to the very important issue of The Costume.

    If you want to avoid a class full of Harry Potters and Elsas (not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but variety is the spice of life) – or indeed an eleventh hour panic about your own costume – the key is preparation. You need to help get your children (and crucially their parents) inspired early and leave plenty of time for charity shop trawling and cardboard painting!

    With this in mind, here are a few costume ideas with literary credibility…

    Lewis Carroll

    Elena Schweitzer. Shutterstock

    Alice in Wonderland is brilliant fodder for fancy-dress, whether it’s the eponymous Alice, the Mad Hatter, Tweedle-Dum and/or Tweedle-Dee, or the Red Queen. While you might not have a sky-blue dress and white pinny in the back of the wardrobe – this could be a good investment for many a Book Day to come. Alternatively you could get creative with a white T, marker pens and felt for a Tweedle-Dum/Tweedle-Dee look. Especially good for twins!…

    Charles Dickens

    debr22pics. Shutterstock

    Tattered trousers, a granddad shirt, braces or a waistcoat, a few smudges on your face, and a flat cap – and you can legitimately claim to be any scruffy Dickensian orphan – from Oliver to Pip to David Copperfield. And for those of you out there with a carefully zipped up wedding dress still in its dust bag, how about layering on a few cotton-wool cobwebs to rock that Miss Haversham look. Or not…

    Roald Dahl

    alexsvirid. Shutterstock

    We may not be able to transform ourselves into Quentin Blake-style illustrations (more’s the pity) but we can accessorise. I fully intend to send my son to school this year with a large cardboard peach. Guess what his name is…

    Alternatively, if you aren’t lucky enough to be called James, you could try a mouse mask to channel Luke from The Witches – or if you’re a grown-up, gloves, wigs, thick makeup and constant remarks about children being smelly would also make for a passable costume from the same book.

    A.A. Milne

    Jules Selmes. Pearson Education Ltd

    Animals are fairly easy to pull off, and Winnie the Pooh has more literary credibility than the majority of stuffed toys. Dress in orange and black, create a tail out of stripy tights, check out the local party shop for a pair of ears and voila – one Tigger ready to go. And if you want to add in a little Buzz Lightyear, who’s to say you can’t.

    Roger Hargreaves


    Mr Bump. Courtesy of Ladybird Books

    The Mr. Men and Little Misses are the Kings and Queens of children’s literature. They’re cute, witty and there’s always a moral to the tale – ergo very educational!

    And with such distinctive characteristics, they’ve each got something to imitate: some blue facepaint and some bandages and voila, one Mr Bump. Admittedly other characters may require a bit more arts and crafts, but a big cardboard box and some poster paint, and you’re just a colourful mess away from the perfect personalised costume.

    Frank L. Baum

    SophieWitch

    Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz… need we say more? There’s so much scope here – some silver spraypaint, corrugated cardboard and a funnel gets you a tinman, a blue and white checked school dress with some plaits and some red shoes etc etc, but we’re rooting for the wicked witch of the West because of the potential for green-face paint. Always a winner.

    And some runners-up…

    • Anything Austeny or Bronte-esque – if you can find or make a dress!
    • The Dictionary/Thesaurus – fashion a cape out of pages from the dictionary, if you can bear to destroy one. A photocopier might help out with this!
    • Gothic Horror – Frankenstein, Dracula (with due care and consideration given to the audience!).
    • There’s this new thing called The Hunger Games apparently.
    • Charlie and Lola
    • Nursery rhymes
    • Narnia
       

    And if all else fails…

    Well, Harry Potter is popular for a reason… and Disney costumes are generally easy to come by. It’s not cheating if they made a book out of the cartoon, is it?!

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  • 10 jobs Primary teachers do as well as teach

    by Ros Letellier

    As you know, we believe teachers are superheroes. There are so many skills that go into being a Primary school teacher that we can't even count them, but here are 10 we thought you might recognise!

    Please feel free to tell us about other skills you'd like to see mentioned.

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  • New performance descriptors for end-of-key-stage teacher assessments

    by Ros Letellier

    The long-anticipated performance descriptors for end-of-key-stage teacher-led assessments were released at the end of October for public consultation.

    These descriptors are the framework for evaluating children’s performance in maths, reading, writing and science to complete the picture coming from the summative assessment tests.

    They do not replace the old-style National Curriculum levels like for like, and are not intended to be used to assess progress between the end-of-key-stage assessments. Schools are still encouraged to develop their own systems of assessment to evaluate pupils against their own school curriculum in whatever way they see fit – provided of course that it satisfies Ofsted.

    While part of the rationale for ditching the NC levels was that they were ‘confusing for parents’, we are not convinced that the new system will be much easier to understand.

    Where previously there was a single indicator that applied equally to tests and teacher assessments across all of the key subjects, now the measure to be used depends on key stage, subject, on whether the subject contributes to the new Primary floor-standard, and on whether the evaluation in question is externally or internally set and marked. Plus, as previously indicated by the DfE, SATs tests will be marked against a scaled score.

    The proposal is as follows:

    That teacher assessments for writing, reading and maths at Key Stage 1 will be graded according to the following scale:

    • mastery standard
    • national standard
    • working towards national standard
    • below national standard

    That Key Stage 2 writing will be graded on the same scale, with an additional 'above national standard' level between national and mastery standard.

    That Key Stage 2 maths and reading will be graded solely on whether the pupil has reached the national standard.

    That Science at either Key Stage will be graded solely on whether the pupil has reached the national standard.

    Got it? Good. Luckily, the consultation document contains a handy table summarising all of this.

    These new level headings perhaps lack the sensitivity of the old levels. While the benefit is that parents will have clarity on how their children are performing relative to their peers nationwide, the downside is that if it is bad news there is no sugar-coating of the pill.

    And there is little room for nuance. Where the old levels included reassuring terminology such as ‘emerging’ and ‘secure’, the new system is more starkly ‘has or has not.’ However, the names of the performance descriptors are one of the items the government is seeking feedback on, so may be tweaked in the definitive version.

    Of course, the performance descriptors reflect the aim of the national curriculum to raise standards by expecting more of pupils. Even to be considered ‘at the national standard’ children will need to performing at a pretty high level. Take this example for Writing:

    To be judged as working at the national standard, your current Year 1 children will need to be able to show evidence of:

    • Maintaining form when writing [narratives and] poetry
    • Using grammatical terminology when discussing and evaluating writing
    • Using co-ordination and subordination appropriately
    • Using punctuation almost always correctly

    To be judged as working at the national standard, your current Year 5 children will need to be able to show evidence of:

    • Using a range of cohesive devices to link ideas within and across paragraphs
    • Integrating dialogue to convey character and advance the action
    • Using relative clauses with a wide range of relative pronouns (or an implied relative pronoun) to clarify and explain relationships between ideas
    • Using the perfect form of verbs to mark relationships of time and cause
    • Applying morphological and etymological knowledge, and the full range of spelling rules and patterns, to spell words

    To be considered ‘above national standard’ (KS2 only) or at ‘mastery’ level, children will have to demonstrate more depth and breadth in the same indicators as at the lower levels.

    In other words, getting a better grade doesn’t mean learning about more things, it means learning about the same things more deeply. While this could be a real positive, promoting fluency over a race to the finish – it may require some thinking on how to differentiate for your high achieving pupils without switching them off learning.

    The concept of a national standard also raises the question of who establishes what the national standard is. In order for these performance indicators to exist at all, a national standard has to have been assumed already. However is this a true national standard or an ideal to which to aspire? Will the calibration be looked at again should it transpire that the majority of the country is failing to reach the national standard?

    Two other observations: An enjoyment of reading is one the performance descriptors – phrased as ‘Regards reading as a pleasurable activity’ at Key Stage 1, and ‘Demonstrates a positive attitude to reading by frequently reading for pleasure, both fiction and non-fiction’ at Key Stage 2.

    Of course this a laudable aim and the aspiration of all good teachers, but how does a teacher assess it, and is it even appropriate to assess? Plus, it is worth noting that Science doesn’t form part of the floor standard, which would tend to indicate its junior position in the core subject clan.

    The new descriptors will come into effect from next September.

     

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  • Daunted by determiners and perplexed by prepositions?

    by Ros Letellier

    The government’s decision to increase the focus on formal teaching of grammar and spelling in the new Primary curriculum may have been a controversial one – but since the curriculum came into effect in September, it is also one which we cannot afford to ignore.

    Current Year 1s and Year 5s will be the first cohort to sit SATs based on the new curriculum when they replace the old tests in 2016. And yes, they are likely to be significantly different. (Take a look at some sample questions released by the DfE earlier this year).

    The concepts are harder, sooner. For example, subordination and co-ordination are taught in Year 2 as opposed to Year 4, and prepositions in Year 3 as opposed to Year 5. Plus there are a number of concepts that weren’t previously covered, such as modal verbs, subject and object and the subjunctive (shudder).

    Even if you have increased your focus on grammar, beware of the changes in terminology. A lot of the more child-friendly terms we’ve become used to are out, and the proper, formal terminology is in: the lovely catch-all term of ‘connectives’ has been split out into ‘adverbials’, ‘conjunctions’ and ‘prepositions’.

    It’s ‘determiners’ instead of ‘articles’, and ‘multi-clause’ sentences instead of ‘compound’ sentences.

    As a result, there’s a risk that the ability to use grammar well will not be enough in itself to ensure success. You may need to adapt your teaching of grammar to make sure that your children won’t be stymied in the tests by terminology they haven’t encountered before.

    There’s a kind of stigma attached to grammar, we admit. It is seen as the stuff of pedants; a dry, dusty, soul-sucking subject that should be relegated to the pre-50s classroom.

    However, the intention behind the increased emphasis on grammar in the new curriculum is a good one. We all know how important good language skills are when it comes to the world of work; a nation of confident, fluent communicators is a noble aim.

    Is it necessary to teach grammar explicitly in order to achieve this? Professor Debra Myhill, arguably Britain’s foremost expert on this exact subject, and a consultant on Pearson’s Primary English programme, Wordsmith, believes so.

    She is very supportive of teaching children the terminology to talk about their language choices, as long as the concepts are reinforced in an embedded way, (that is, as part of comprehension and writing work).

    It is learning about grammar in situ which produces the most improvement in children’s writing – but it is also crucial to be able to give and receive clear and actionable feedback on writing, which requires children to have the appropriate technical vocabulary.

    We know that on the whole, the way we have been teaching English in recent years hasn’t worked for everyone – particularly those children who might be lacking in good examples of English in their environment.

    Yes, we know that good grammar can be absorbed by reading for pleasure, and through quality formative assessment. But what about those with little access to reading materials; struggling or reluctant readers; or those with English as a second language?

    There is evidence (both academic and anecdotal) that an understanding of grammar can improve results across the board – helping even the good writers to become excellent ones.

    While the National Association of Teachers claimed that a focus on grammar will ‘impoverish’ English teaching, we don’t believe that has to be true. As with any subject, it is as dry or as engaging as you make it.  

    There’s no law that grammar has to be taught with textbooks and worksheets. With the right resources, grammar can be fun. Yes, fun! I’m constantly amazed by my Year 1 child’s enjoyment of learning; there’s none of the cynicism that comes with age. He isn’t bothered about looking cool – or not cool. There’s no stigma in learning grammar for him. As long as it’s presented as fun, he will enjoy and absorb it.

    That’s where resources such as Pearson’s Wordsmith and Grammar and Spelling Bug come in. Written and evaluated by experts in Literacy such as Sue Palmer, Michaela Morgan, Debra Myhill, Lyndsay Pickton and Christine Chen, they offer a huge store of resources for teaching and consolidating grammar – including online games.

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