Pressure, pressure, pressure… With Ofsted’s admission that it ‘fuels teaching-to-test’ will it make a change?

I’m sure we all read the article, or at least saw its headline, which was posted on the BBC yesterday in which Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman admitted that her inspection teams put too much weight on tests and exam results when rating our schools. But what, if any, change will this admission bring? Will it really result in a lessening of pressure that is felt by the majority of teachers?

Some of us thrive under pressure, but no one is immune to it (even if not everyone would admit this). Within my own field in primary schools, especially after the introduction of the new curriculum, there is a sense of greater pressure in making sure that students are ‘at age related expectations’ by the time they leave year 6. Meaning, that the pressure is now shared more equally, but yet not reduced, by all teachers throughout a school. This is because we are desperately trying to make sure that, yes the children reach their age-related expectations within their own year groups, but to an extent, more that they’ll not have too much to catch up on in year 6 where some will ultimately be barraged with interventions, desperately trying to give them a boost. I’m sure this is also true to an extent of students in the lead up to their GCSEs.

I was in year 6 for the past 3 years, and I always felt a small regret that some children in my class spent their last year in primary school having 2 or 3 different intervention groups. I’m not saying they weren’t beneficial, quite the contrary, but it must have been difficult for those children to be taken out for those interventions, be it in the morning, or afternoon. Yes, they may have been happy to have the extra support, but I wonder how many of them wondered what they’d done wrong throughout the rest of their school years to arrive in year 6 needing these interventions. Sometimes, these were children (my old school had students joining mid way through KS1 and KS2 and high EAL levels) who had only just arrived in the country, sometimes in year 6, or later in years 4 or 5 etc. We of course wanted them to learn, and progress quickly and we always had their best interests at heart. But, as with all schools, with the possibility of end of year data that does not match up to the national average (even if in an EAL heavy school this is always a challenge to meet for subjects like reading and writing) there is always pressure to squeeze every bit of progress out of students that we can.

Now Speilman has said that a new framework will put an emphasis on the curriculum and the passing of human knowledge. I hope this is true. For me school is about learning to read, write and do maths, yes. But, it’s also about learning to be a learner, about developing your personal, emotional and social skills and most importantly it should be about enjoying your formative years. You only get to go to school once (although us teachers loved it so much we decided to make a career out of it). But, it’s never the same as when you’re a learner. Are our students then more deserving of a learning environment where their learning experience, and not the results they can achieve for the school, are put first? I say yes.

I am not saying that interventions should be scrapped, or students that do fall below their expected levels should just be ‘left to it’. Absolutely not. What I am saying, and what I am hoping for though, is that if Ofsted make good on its promise to focus less on a schools results. Then, perhaps this will filter down into a school placing less pressure and focus on its results. Again, this does not mean just saying ‘what will be will be’. But, what I hope is that first and foremost schools will be able to focus on delivering an engaging, enjoyable and informative curriculum. Ones which will shape their students’ minds, morals and make them into effective and engaged learners. Surely, if relentless results pressure is taken from schools, teachers and students it will allow this, which in the end might actually have a more positive effect on the attainment and progress of students. Who knows? I just hope they stick to their word.

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