High Aspirations for All Children

Reading time: 3

Helen Davis

Helen writes for the Teacher Toolkit site from a primary perspective. She is a primary school teacher and a new headteacher who, after 27 years is still learning about learning. She says “it has been a challenge to swim and not drown during many of...
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Does testing primary students at such a young age, equate to having ‘high aspirations for all’?

“… the highest aspirations for all children.” No one can argue with this statement from Justine Greening MP, but what the aspirations actually are is a negotiable matter.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Proverbs.

Something that one person considers worthless may be considered valuable by someone else. All children are unique and we cannot judge the fish on how it climbs a tree. Children have different strengths and weaknesses. A primary child struggling with maths may be an expert at negotiating the peace in the playground. A young person highly successful in the study of A-level Literature may not be able to find the words to access and thrive in a social setting.


Image: Unknown / Quote: Einstein

Better outcomes for all …

A curriculum and assessment system where we have time to recognise and value the whole child and support all areas of learning would lead to better outcomes for all.  Where maths and literacy teaching is elevated to the detriment of other areas of the curriculum, in a SATs driven world, this ironically squashes the development of vocabulary and problem solving skills. What depth of rich language acquisition, spacial awareness skills and historical understanding opportunities would an art project on Picasso provide, yet these are pushed aside for shallow rule learning in the core subjects.

Of course we want all children to have more than a basic grasp of numeracy and literacy skills to give them choices in their future, who doesn’t? But, what do these skills have to actually look like? Is it essential for such young people (who are not yet at school in some of these highest performing countries) to be drilled in learning rather than igniting an ever-growing appetite for learning.

Being told at the age of 11 you have not reached a certain benchmark and interpreted as a failure is not going to send a pupil eager and buoyant on to the next steps of their learning journey.

If 66% of students met or exceeded in reading, 34% went home with a knock to their enthusiasm for literature and so forth in maths and writing. Therefore, if 44% are lacking in reading skills, why is there only 26% failing for writing? If your reading skills are lacking, why aren’t your writing skills?

What does this say about the accuracy and worth of how the subjects are actually assessed?

If on average, 33% are not meeting expected standards, how are only 6% of children not meeting floor standards?!

I do sincerely hope that when the ‘help and support’ arrives for the minority of ‘below the floor’ or ‘coasting schools’, that it is just that, help and support. Not a diet of overbearing observations and unhelpful hoops to jump through that take teachers away from focussing whole-heartedly on improving the quality of the teaching and learning. Too often in these situations, quick gains are desired to show rapid improvement to the detriment of a solid, sustainable long-term vision.

The positive message of ‘no change’ sits alongside the presumption of ‘better the devil you know’.

It isn’t the continuation of high-stakes testing! While the people with the power stay so far removed from the wonderful reality of what successfully educating children can look like, the educational system in this country will truly fail to be the best that it can be. I am so honoured to be just one of the many thousands of educators who truly understand the child and the duty in front of us. We are committed to education that works for everyone and we are committed to high aspirations for all children.

Let those that know ‘the child’ get on with providing just that.

Helen Davis is a primary headteacher and writes for Teacher Toolkit.

p.s. and grant us the correct funding so we can do the job correctly …


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