Another school is possible
Alternatives to SA and testing Ts
£1 donation q an Anti SATs Alliance publication
Another school is possible 1


A modest proposal Paul Vernell


Lessons from over the dyke Mary Compton


Do SATs tell the truth about achievement? Terry Wrigley 6

A platform for the teaching of English Alan Gibbons


Another school is possible Nick Grant intervews Bob Peterson


Personalised learning as social selection Hatcher 16

Assessment for learning Lisa Hayes


Government fails 7 year olds Jane Nellist


A question of pedagogy Paul Phillips and Joel Mcilven


2 Another school is possible


A very modest proposal

Paul Vernell, Head of English at Filton High School, South Gloucestershire, makes a suggestion

Ground down by SATs and targets, shocked and angered by New Labour’s attacks on teacher pensions and seething at the continuing war in Iraq, the Tsunami disaster forced me, more than any other event in the 16 years I have been teaching, to consider: what is education’s purpose in a world where we can spend trillions on sending people to far away planets but we can’t solve issues like early warning systems for tidal waves and the logistics of aid? In fact so shocked, I wondered if the young people we teach, the global citizens of tomorrow, could come up with ideas for dealing with the devastating consequences of events in South east Asia. Could the education we offer them provide the tools to begin to explore and identify answers to the situation we currently face? Not a rehashed vocationalism but a truly interesting and relevant learning experience that is situated in the world. In short can young people sketch another world in which natural catastrophes are not exacerbated by poverty, third world debt, unemployment and displacement? So, in a packed Friday briefing, when the Head was reminding us of litter problems, I put forward a modest proposal. Would it not be a good idea to harness the solidarity, internationalism and curiosity generated by the Tsunami disaster? Spending a week, perhaps working alongside NGOs such as Oxfam, our students should have the chance to analyse and explore the problems and the possible solutions to the situation we were witnessing on our screens each night. Not a week of regurgitating tired facts but a week when every curriculum area would offer each year group from 7-11 a real context and purpose for the skills we teach. Yes, came the answer and I thought I heard a collective sigh of relief. The Head of Maths wants to look at the speed of waves and the effectiveness of early warning systems, the Design and Technology teachers want to look at the constructing new houses, in English we will look at discursive and argumentative writing around the theme of debt: relief or abolition, and many

Children care and are yearning to act

more ideas poured forth. Each day of the week will focus on one year group. After showing a collated video of scenes from the area and an assembly provided by the Christian Aid website, a series of questions will then be shown followed by a starter on problem solving skills Then off to lessons. And it doesn’t matter what lesson they are in, students will explore the big questions thrown up. The last period of the day will be a whole year group plenary sharing their solutions to the questions raised at the beginning of the day. The school council has proposed that the final day be a non uniform day with students contributing their money to the DEC fund. So we’re off! And the theme for the week? Is another world possible?
Another school is possible 3


Lessons from over the dyke
Mary Compton, President of the NUT, writes how the Welsh Assembly’s abolition of KS1 SATs has improved education
t an NUT meeting in Radnor shortley after the Tory government introduced SATs, an experienced primary school teacher described how she was sitting with her Year 2 class, wading through preparation for the forthcoming tests when one of the children looked out of the window and noticed that a sheep in the field outside was in the process of giving birth. Her first reaction to this was to think, ‘We haven’t got time for this, the SATs are in a few weeks, we’ve got to get on.’ Almost immediately, however, her better instincts as a teacher took hold of her and asking herself what education was after all about she took the whole class outside to watch the lamb being born. I am aware that by starting an article about developments in Wales with a story about sheep I am in danger of reinforcing ignorant stereotypes of life on the other side of Offa’s Dyke. However, what I hope this story illustrates is the dilemma teachers face between trusting their own judgement and submitting to the straitjackets imposed on them by a succession of control-mad governments. The fact that one of the latest primary documents issuing from Whitehall cynically tacks the word ‘enjoyment’ onto the policy—it will surely be only a matter of time before we are instructed to provide enjoyment for five per cent of teaching time—only makes the teacher’s confinement more painful. However, I am pleased to say that the


Welsh Assembly has gone some way towards releasing teachers from their straitjackets—let us say that at least we no longer have our arms tied behind our backs. Even before the Welsh Assembly came into being, there has been a history in Wales of more progressive educational thinking and practice. For example, there are very few opted out schools in Wales. And since the inception of the assembly it has so far resisted most of the excesses of Whitehall policy. For example, as yet there are no plans for academies or specialist schools. Estyn is marginally more enlightened than OFSTED and has never made the kind of abrasive statements about teachers which were continually emenating fron Woodhead. The Assembly fought a rearguard action against the linking of teacher performance to pay and has not embraced the idea of teaching assistants taking whole classes with any enthusiasm. But more importantly for the purposes of this article, there are no primary school league tables and Key Stage 1 SATs were abolished several years ago.

However, the most significant development of all has been the establishment of the Daugherty review of assessment in Wales, which has recommended the abolition of all SATs and their replacement by a system of teacher assessment at the end of Key Stages 2 and 3, and the introduc-

4 Another school is possible


tion of some testing in Year 5 for the purposes of improving children’s learning. Of course this is a great leap forward for Wales and one all the more significant since we have tried the English model of SATs and found them seriously wanting. Daugherty took evidence from all interested parties—parents, teachers, pupils, academics and teacher unions. We therefore join Scotland to leave England totally isolated in its adherence to SATs. Many countries are looking at what is going on in England and, impressed by England’s apparently good showing in the PISA study of achievement at 14, are thinking of introducing similar systems themselves. The Daugherty report will be an invaluable help in combatting these misguided plans. Of course not everything in the Welsh valleys is green. Funding is appallingly low and many schools are struggling with deficit budgets. Although the Assembly was not keen on some of the workload reforms, I have no doubt that cashstrapped heads will be using unqualified staff to ‘teach’ just as their colleagues in England are doing. We are still inspected and our power and

confidence to innovate and be creative suffers as a result. We do not yet know what the Year 5 tests are going to be like and we must be vigilant that they are not just a new Welsh form of SATs. And we also suffer from the fact that many young teachers know nothing but SATs and are nervous at the idea of managing without them. It is almost like our hands have been tied behind our backs for so long that our muscles are starting to whither away and now that we are almost free again we are going to need some intensive and sometimes painful phisiotherapy to get them working again. But I have no doubt that the teachers of Wales will rise to the challenge and that the country which has traditionally such respect for education and teachers will not have reason to be disappointed in them. Offas Dyke was built by an English king to keep the barbarous Welsh hoards from its land. Well now we in Wales have managed to repell the English idea of punishing and deadening testing. Perhaps it is time for the barbarians on the English side of the border to take some lessons in civilisation from this side of the Dyke.

Can Wales show England the way forward?

Another school is possible 5


Do SA s tell the T truth about achievement?
Terry Wrigley, lecturer in school development at the University of Edinburgh asks the fundamental question
he answer appears to be—the whole truth, twice the truth, maybe three times the truth. The government constantly uses rising SATs scores in claims that their policies are working, but recent research raises serious questions about the SATs can be trusted. The British Educational Research Journal (BERJ) is probably the highest ranking educational research journal, and articles that appear in it are rigorously checked by other experts before being published. Yet in the last two years, it has published some damning studies which suggest that the SATs just cannot be trusted. The National Numeracy Strategy has forced teachers to teach Maths in a particular way, with a big emphasis on whole-class practice of mental arithmetic. It costs £400,000,000, yet according to researchers it has brought about only two months progress—and may have led to a deterioration in mathemetical skills other than calculation. Professor Margaret Brown and her colleagus at King’s College, University of London, point out that two thirds of the schools in their sample showed progress, but in a third of the schools results went down. They also showed that results got worse for the low attaining pupils, probably because teachers were now focussing on the average child in the class and no longer paying attention to their needs. The gap got bigger between the lowest attaining pupils and the rest. There was


also very little improvement for the most advances pupils in the class.
Some high attainers in this case study also expressed to us their frustration at their progress being held back by the whole class teaching emphasis, which tends to be pitched at the needs of the middle group. (BERJ, October 2003, p662)

The research cast doubt on government claims that their strategy has worked miracles. A press release in March 2003 claimed:
Recent improvements in pupils’ achievements in literacy and numeracy have been substantial. 73 per cent of 11 year olds achieved at least level 4 in Maths in 2002—a 14 point increase since 1998.

The researchers have spotted that the government spin doctors chose 1998 as their base line (a very poor year), and if they had chosen 1999, just before the strategy was introduced, the improvement would have been only 4 per cent. They also state that improved SATs scores are largely the result of careful coaching for the test. One of the most expert research units for assessment results is the CEM at the University of Durham. In a report of August 2004 (BERJ, pp477-494), Professor Peter Tymms asks, ‘Are standards rising in English primary schools?’ He carefully compares the data from SATs with

6 Another school is possible


eleven other sources of data, including government departments and universities. These alternative data sources involved well-established tests (as opposed to the SATs which keep changing), and a very large sample (nearly half a million pupils). He concludes that, according to the alternative data, the proportion attaining a level 4 in reading at the end of primary school should have risen from 48 per cent (1995) to 58 per cent (2000), rather than the 75 per cent shown by the SATs. (After 2000, little change has occurred in results).

Simple questions of fact
When the SATs were tried out on pupils in Northern Ireland, who have a different system of education and had not been coached for the SATs, the pupils also said they were getting easier. Mary Hilton (University of Cambridge) also found that the tests were being made easier. There was a switch from more subtle questions involving inference or deduction1 to simple questions of fact. The most dramatic year-on-year improvement in SATs scores happened because of a shift from a thoughtful personal account of a writer’s childhood to a much simpler passage about spiders. (Reading, 2001, no 1) Altogether, it seems, the tests are being simplified so that the government can claim their policies are working. And teachers are getting better at judging exactly what they need to teach so that more children will pass the tests. But what is happening to educational standatds? Inspectors have pointed to an increase in basic excercised where children just practice rather

reading that has some meaning. They called these ‘holding activities’ which ‘occupied pupils but did not develop or consolidate their literacy skills’ and reduce interest and motivation. (National Literacy Strategy: the Third Year, HMI 2001, www.ofsted. Some schools had abandoned independent reading, which did not fit into the official pattern of the Literacy Hour. Boys were responding badly to one lesson in eight (even when the inspectors were watching!) and the gap between boys and girls was not closing. The curriculum was narrowing, as teachers focused more and more on tests: ‘The development of enquiry skills in history and Geography, and refining of technical skills in practical subjects is being neglected’. The inspectors suggest that teachers connect reading with real knowledge in History and Science, for example—which is just what many primary teachers used to do before the government stopped it!
Terry Wrigley is a lecturer in school development at the University of Edinburgh. He edits the journal Improving Schools, and has written two books, The Power to Learn (2000) and Schools of Hope (2003). He has worked in education for over 30 years, as a secondary school teacher, staff development manager, inspector and university teacher. Note 1 For example, reading between the lines; understanding something the writer had hinted at rather than directly stated; reaching a conclusion from the writer’s evidence which hasn’t been fully spelt out.

Government figures just don’t add up

Another school is possible 7


A platform for the teaching of English
Award winning writer Alan Gibbons is coordinator of Authors Against the SATs. Here he gives his vision of an alternative to testing


ometimes I wonder, if we were to learn to talk or walk by means of some Government-inspired strategy, would we get there at all? If we went through the prescribed stages of level one, rock on your belly, level two, crawl, level three, totter towards the couch, level four, stagger independently, would we ever manage to boldly go anywhere? In the course of my career as a children’s author and educational consultant I visit some 150 schools a year. I find a huge amount of common ground when it comes to the teaching of English. This broad agreement, needless to say, generally runs counter to official Government policy. The current regime in schools generally rests upon three foundations: q the testing regime q Ofsted q the National Literacy Strategy.


Though less draconian and punitive than in the Woodhead years, Ofsted remains a ‘from above’ approach. There is still little attempt to work with schools. Externally imposed league tables and drives for standards continue to define its operation.
The National Literacy Strategy

The testing regime

SAT results have been more or less static for some years. In the early years of a testing regime, teaching to the test can inflate test scores. You learn to cram the children. This approach has crushed the life out of English schools, subordinating everything to the stultifying mantra: teach to the test. But, after the initial rise in test scores, any illusory progress soon fades like the smile on the Cheshire cat.
8 Another school is possible

While I work with many creative and intelligent people in the NLS, the strategy is still marked by the conditions of its birth, the testing regime and Ofsted. Liberated from those shackles it could potentially develop into something much more exciting and holistic. A recent survey by the NLS in Surrey confirms what many already know. Consider these two damning statistics: What percentage of level 3 pupils at Year 6 did not move at all between KS2 2000 and KS3 2003 in English? 30 per cent. What percentage of level 4 pupils at Y6 did not move at all between KS2, 2000 and KS3, 2003 in English? 19 per cent. For a third of pupils at level 3 and a fifth of pupils at level 4 to make no progress between eleven and fourteen years old should set alarm bells ringing and cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Government’s approach. The evidence of a desire for change is everywhere. Wales is dropping the SATs. Scotland didn’t have them in the


Another school is possible 9

this have something to do with a stale diet of Comprehensions?
3) Assessment

SATs and league tables should be abolished. Few believe they serve any valid purpose. Just because the SATs boycott didn’t materialise doesn’t mean that SATs are in any way valued by teachers or children. The tests should be replaced by moderated teacher assessment with a minimum of paper work. The watchword should be: minimise administration, maximise learning. Assessment of writing should be by a portfolio of children’s work. There is already such an experiment in Birmingham.
4) Inspection and advice The Anti-SATs Alliance’s founding conference

first place. The National Association for the Teaching of English, Authors Against the SATs, the Meetings with the Minister pamphlet and the Times Educational Supplement have all challenged the ‘test and table’campaign.There needs to be a concerted effort to raise standards through creativity and pedagogical freedom. This is, after all, what exists in Finland, the country which tops the OECD rankings for educational success. It might look something like this.

Ofsted should be abolished and replaced with a new model, supporting and advising teachers. A mark of goodwill might be for all inspectors to teach a sample lesson to prove they are able practitioners. Advisors should teach alongside teachers in the classroom, not lecture to them at INSET meetings.
Teacher training

A platform for literacy
1) Reading development

To develop a literate classroom the library should be central. There should be a chartered librarian in every High School administering a ring-fenced book budget. The librarian should lead a team interacting with small groups of children, linking their reading to personal interest. The librarian should have responsibility for the feeder primaries in the locality. Children’s writing should be prominently displayed throughout the school. The teacher should regularly read aloud to the class. Children should read silently in class for pleasure and have time to browse. There should be book weeks and author visits on a regular basis. The Government should campaign nationally for school bookshops.
2) Writing

This should be on a pedagogic, not a managerial model. The ability to maintain the attention of a class is more important than the ability to maintain a laminated folder of objectives and outcomes. Children’s literature should be a central module, as should the teaching of reading. The teacher should be seen as an exemplary adult who reads for pleasure and celebrates the accumulation of knowledge. To achieve this, there should be time set aside for the teacher’s own intellectual development. You don’t get dynamic, inspirational teachers in the classroom by driving them to distraction through bureaucratic red tape.

The drive for standards has served only to drive many good teachers out of the profession and to drive children crazy with boredom. Working with teachers and students to develop a curriculum which they find stimulating could pay dividends. A move in that direction is long overdue.
Alan Gibbons is a writer and independent educational consultant. After twenty years as a teacher at KS1, 2 and 3, Alan turned to writing full time. Twice shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, twice shortlisted for the Booktrust Teenage Prize, Alan has won the Blue Peter Book Award and the Leicester and Angus Prizes. Alan is a popular speaker at schools, libraries, colleges and conferences. He speaks at 150 schools a year. He has toured Spain, France, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Switzerland, and is due to visit Hong Kong and Taipei. Alan is the coordinator of Authors Against the SATs. He lives with his wife and four children in Liverpool where he is a columnist for the local paper, the Liverpool Echo.

There should be a balance of directed and free writing with the accent on the child’s individuality and creativity. Writing should be encouraged throughout the curriculum, eroding the arbitrary subject divisions. There should be a national magazine for young writers, subsidised by Government funds but not subject to the editorial control of its agencies. There should be a pilot of ‘Integrated English’ in which English, drama and the arts would be taught as an integrated whole. One survey showed that 33% of students had Drama as their favourite subject but only 6% English. Could
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Ealing National Union of Teachers branch secretary Nick Grant interviews American activist Bob Peterson him about his work
What are the core ideas of the Rethinking Schools organisation? We advocate the reform of elementary and secondary public schools in the United States with an emphasis on urban schools and issues of equity and social justice. We stress a grassroots perspective combining theory and practice and linking classroom issues to broader policy concerns. We are an activist publication and encourage teachers, parents, and students to become involved in building quality public schools for all children. What are the key aims of the RS organisation? Rethinking Schools seeks to build a movement for more equitable, just, and critical education for all students. We understand that a key part in winning the struggle for educational justice is the linking of those struggles with broader social movements. This linkage, however, should take place not only in the general political arena where teacher unions fight for socially just policies, but in the very curriculum and structure of schooling itself, where teachers and their organizations promote critical global justice pedagogy and create structures that promote access and power to the most disenfranchised sections of our society. Rethinking Schools tries to promote these kinds of activities through clear analysis of policy issues, thoughtful descriptions of critical teaching practices in all subject areas, reviews of progressive resources, and reporting on organizing for educational justice. We do this in our monthly magazine, the books we’ve published and our web site Recently we’ve initiated a program called “From the World to our Classrooms” in collaboration with the group Global Exchange. We’ve organized curriculum tours of educators from the United States to go and visit social justice activists on the border of Mexico and the US so that teachers can meet and learn first hand from workplace, women’s, community and environmental activists. On return to their schools teachers advocate solidarity policies within their union and create curricula to help teach about these matters. How is your organisation structured? Rethinking Schools started in 1986 from a study circle of teacher and community activists. Many of us had been active in the civil rights, anti-war, and women’s movements and we wanted to bring the same kind of critique and activism to work around schools. We started small on my kitchen table with a can of rubber cement and an old Apple IIe computer. We’ve grown a lot in the last 18 years! We are a “non-profit” independent organization that is not affiliated to any trade union or political party. We operate as a non-hierarchical organization with no “executive director” and try to make major decisions through consensus. We are based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but have editors on both the east and west coast of the
Another school is possible 11

12 Another school is possible

Another school is possible 13


Above: testing in a US school. Previous pages: British school students demonstrating against the war

U.S. We have 11 volunteer editors, a small staff of five people and a network of supporters, friends and volunteers. Individual editors are connected to other union, professional or political organizations in which we organize. In the UK City Academies are modelled on the US Charter school idea. The recent collapse of a Charter school company in Los Angeles and the underperformance of Charter school kids in national tests suggests that this flagship of outsourced education is not working. Would you agree? To any rational observer one would have to say such experiments are not working, but that doesn’t stop the folks who are pushing privatization of public services and market-based “solutions” to the educational problems that exist in the United States. There is a very well-financed network of foundations, think tanks, wealthy individuals, and rightwing political organizations that have significant capacity to continue the political campaigns on these issues. Their goal isn’t the betterment of education, so they are not deterred by reports of school failure. Their goal is clearly privatization of one of the few remaining public sector institutions in the United States, along with the destruction, or at least the weakening, of the two major teachers

unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. But these folks are smart. They’ve used the problems of the public school system to their advantage. For example, in Milwaukee, the city with the nation’s largest publicly-financed private school voucher program, the right wing foundations have been able to buy off a group of leaders in the African-American and Latino communities so that they support vouchers and have turned against public schools. The fact is the teacher unions and progressives who support public education have to realize that it’s not enough just to expose the aims of the right-wing but to figure out ways to act on the legitimate concerns of oppressed nationality communities. This is particularly difficult given the significant cut backs in school budgets. It’s the fine line that most public sector unions have to walk; on the one hand to defend the public sector and services, and yet be critical and pressure those in power to improve them. If we don’t do this strategically, we open ourselves up to losing the battle for the hearts and minds of significant section of the urban community. The anti-war editions of your journal must have made an impact. Were they well received?

14 Another school is possible

Our special editions that we put out, both after the September 11 attack and after the launching of the second Iraqi war, were well received in some quarters, and of course, hated in others. We distributed over 100,000 copies of our special print edition of “War, Terrorism and Our Classrooms,” and another 100,000 pdfs of the issue were downloaded from our web site. That certainly shows some serious interest in our work. At the same time, the right wing, especially the rightwing media, went ballistic on this matter. For example, a Milwaukee-based radio talk show personality got hold of our special edition on Iraq and used it to try to get me fired. For 16 straight days my school principal, the school superintendent and I received phone calls and emails demanding that I be fired or worse. Actually a couple people suggested I move to France, but they never offered to pay my way so I rejected that idea. Seriously, it got ugly, and in a few cases in other parts of the United States teachers were fired. For the vast majority, however, the post-9-11 and post-Iraq-invasion, flag-waving jingoism had the effect of intimidating teachers from teaching about this and other controversial subjects. Resistance to this kind of wide-spread acceptance of the status quo is one of Rethinking Schools’ key messages: We believe that teachers have a civic and moral responsibility to have their students study issues of global injustice, and ask deep questions, probe “received” wisdom, even at the risk of being labeled “unpatriotic.” Is the US anti-war movement generally still growing? Yes it is very much alive, but it still hasn’t regained the strength it had in the pre-Iraq invasion days of February 2003. The recent demonstration of a half a million people in August in front of the Republican convention, however, shows significant sentiment against the war. It was the largest demonstration in the history of our nation at any political convention. While Kerry supporters were evident in the demonstration, the vast majority were focused on anti-Bush and anti-war messages. In one section of the march, people carried nearly 1,000 black cloth-draped coffins, representing the number of US personnel who’ve died in the war. It was very moving. Comments by Kerry that he’ll “do a better job of winning the war” than Bush, upset big chunks of the anti-war movement. I think the Kerry voter registration efforts have drawn mainly from the labor movement and other social movements, like the environmental and women’s movement, although some from the anti-war movement. Mobilizing hard core anti-war folks to work for Kerry has not been as easy. That’s not to say people won’t end up voting for him. Bush is so reactionary on virtually every domestic and international matter, that people know it’d be a disaster if the Bush-led cabal of right wing ideologues, free-marketeers and Christian fundamentalists continued in power for another four years. How do you maintain a dissident pedagogy inside otherwise hostile systems? I maintain my pedagogical approaches in a couple of ways. First is my politics and commitment to justice. This may sound corny, but what alternative is there? A lapel pin I like to wear reads “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” Well, I’m paying attention and I’m outraged. If teachers think that they should be “neutral” in a world so filled with injustice, then they are just modelling moral and civic apathy. Is that what we want to teach our children? That being said, I don’t believe the role of political teachers is to didactically teach students and try to convince them of certain political positions. Not in the least. What we need to do is something much more complicated, much more in the spirit of the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire. We need to help students interrogate their world, to use all forms of text and media to better understand it, and to see the importance of being subjects, not objects of history to be acted upon. This means providing alternatives to establishment media and school texts, encouraging debate, questioning, and role plays where all “official” positions and dominant forms of thinking are fair game. Ultimately it means engendering the kind of social action we know is necessary to help create a more just world. The second way I maintain my sanity is through my close friends and comrades in Rethinking Schools and other political organizations. History teaches us that social change comes through social movements, and I am inspired by the social movements—whether they be in Chiapas or Palestine or in the barrios of East Los Angeles in the United States. More importantly I know that only by working together in our political collectives, our trade unions and broader political organizations and parties can we move forward. My hope is that people will see the need to move beyond much of the left-sectarianism that has plagued progressive forces for so many years and understand that a new world is only possible with a bold, non-sectarian approach to social justice politics.
Bob Peterson, editor of Rethinking Schools, is a fifth grade teacher at La Escuela Fratney, a bilingual (Spanish/English) school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is also a writer, activist, and co-editor of the book, Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World available at
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Personalised learning as social selection
Richard Hatcher, from the University of Central England, in Birmingham, shows us the bigger the idea the harder it falls


ersonalised learning is one of Labour’s new ‘big ideas’ for education. First launched by Tony Blair at the 2003 Labour Party Conference, it was defined by David Miliband that year as ‘an education system where assessment, curriculum, teaching style, and out of hours provision are all designed to discover and nurture the unique talents of every single pupil…’1 In 2004 the DfES published a pamphlet by Charles Leadbetter of Demos, Learning about personalisation: how can we put the learner at the heart of the education system?2 Personalised learning is one of the key themes of Labour’s 2004 Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners. At first sight, this seems to be one government education policy we can all agree on. But a closer look shows that what Labour means by personalised learning is a crude categorisation of pupils’ abilities as the basis for social selection into different job-related pathways.

Categorising or connecting?
According to Miliband, ‘:...the most effective teaching depends on really knowing the needs, strengths and weaknesses of individual pupils. So the biggest driver for change and gain is use of data on pupil achievement to design learning experiences that really stretch individual pupils...3 But ‘pupil data’ generated by a regime of tests and targets does not provide the basis for really know16 Another school is possible

ing pupils. As the authors of the book Learning without Limits4 say, ‘Tasks can be successfully ‘matched’ at an appropriate level of demand for young people of different abilities or levels of attainment without any genuine connection being achieved between young people’s hearts and minds and the tasks they are asked to undertake.’ (p182). It is a way of thinking exemplified by Miliband’s advocacy of the spurious concepts of ‘Gifted and Talented’5 and of ‘individual learning styles’,6 recently exposed as largely without scientific basis.7 It leads teachers to conceptualise their pupils in terms of categories of relatively stable ability and creates a disposition to accept failure. It results in differentiated provision, justified on the basis of innate ‘aptitudes’, which reinforces, not reduces, patterns of social inequality. As Learning without Limits says, ‘Teaching that seeks to foster diversity through co-agency is concerned not with match, but with connection, achieving a genuine meeting of minds, purposes and concerns between teachers and young people…’ (pp182-3). This means ‘teaching in a way that does make use of specific knowledge about individuals that is significant for learning, but uses it in a way that does not perpetuate or re-create the limiting and divisive effects that they associate with ability labelling’, but instead ‘to anticipate and lift limits’ to participation and learning, in the context of common learning activities for everyone in the class (p184).


All students deserve personalised learning

This very different concept of learning, personalised and collective at the same time, has resource implications which are ignored in Labour’s version. Class sizes need to be smaller, and in secondary schools so does the number of students each teacher has to relate to. ‘Personalization’ is one of the principles of the progressive high school Coalition of Essential Schools in the US, and it entails no teacher having to teach more than 80 students in total because it is impossible to make that meaningful ‘connection’ with more.

Personalisation and choice as social selection
The key aim of Labour’s Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners is to ‘promote personalisa-

tion and choice’. Charles Leadbetter in his DfES pamphlet stresses that: ‘The biggest challenge to the personalized learning agenda is its implications for inequality.’ He warns that differences in provision, and choice, will benefit the middle class at the expense of the working class unless there is substantial state action to compensate. He is naïve. The Five Year Strategy itself recognises the huge and widening class gap in education, but proposes no radical policies capable of reversing it. On the contrary, the reality is that the fundamental purpose of the personalisation and choice agenda is social selection for the labour market. Charles Clarke in his foreword to the Five Year Strategy advocates ‘as young people begin to train for
Another school is possible 17

work, a system that recognises individual aptitudes and provides as many tailored paths to employment as there are people and jobs.’ In other words, a hierarchy of different academic and vocational pathways.

Three principles of education for all
In response we should say clearly three things. First, what is good for some is good for all. If a privileged enriched curriculum is right for the five or ten per cent so-called ‘gifted and talented’, how much more is it deserved by those less advantaged? If an introduction to the ‘world of work’ is thought right for some at 14, it is right for all, though as part of a critical education, not as premature job training. Secondly, a high quality education for all, allowing entry into the culture of knowledge and full citizenship, requires a broad common core curriculum until age 16. In that context there is of course room for an element of choice, provided it does not serve to reinforce social inequalities. Thirdly, the way to tackle the deep class inequality in our school system is not governmentstyle personalisation, choice and diversity but to adopt the radical measures needed to provide working class children and young people with the intellectual tools for educational success.
Richard Hatcher works at the University of Central England, Birmingham. Any correspondence to Notes 1 David Miliband, in his speech to the National College for School Leadership in October 2003, quoted in Personalised Learning—an Emperor’s Outfit? by Martin Johnson, IPPR, March 2004. See 2 3 Miliband as in 1. 4 S Hart, A Dixon, M J Drummond and D McIntyre, (2004) Learning without Limits, Maidenhead: Open University Press. 5 D Miliband (2004) ‘Choice and voice in personalised learning’, speech to the DfES/Demos/OECD conference on Personalising Education: the future of public sector reform, London, 18 May. See the critique by Robin Alexander (2004) ‘Excellence, enjoyment and personalised learning: a true foundation for choice?’ Education Review, 18 (1). (Edited version of keynote address given to the NUT National Educational Conference on 3 July 2004.) 6 Quoted by Johnson, as in 1. 7 F Coffield, D Moseley, E Hall and K Ecclestone (2004) Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say to practice. At See the DfES booklet Learning Styles, which recommends the vacuous VAK model. 8 See the critiques at 9 Quoted by Alexander, as in 5. 10 Independent 13 December 2004, p18. 11 TES 7 January 2005, p1.

The dualised curriculum
This agenda is not unique to New Labour, it is a deliberate European Union strategy to make education conform to the needs of employers under the cloak of the apparently user-friendly language of ‘personalisation and choice’, as the recent Thélot report in France illustrates.8 The aim is the abandonment of any pretence of education providing high quality access for all to a common culture of knowledge, which is regarded both as unnecessary for increasingly dualised labour market needs and undesirably expensive. The dualised labour market dictates a dualised curriculum comprising a narrow and dumbed-down common core of basic competences and a broader subject curriculum which is marginalised in the primary school and becomes reserved in the secondary school for the largely middle class higher achievers. In England it starts in the primary school. In February 2004, at a conference for Primary Strategy leaders, Michael Barber, responsible for the ‘delivery’ of government policy, demanded ‘Is enough time devoted to literacy and numeracy in every class? If it’s less than 50 per cent then it’s not enough.’9 On top of this additional time was needed for extended writing. That leaves about 40 per cent for everything else. It is working class children who pay the price, while for middle class children the impoverished school curriculum is supplemented by the ‘curriculum of the home’. In secondary school the curriculum begins to divide, cementing social segregation between and within schools. The common curriculum ends at age 14, from when foreign languages, the arts and humanities become optional. It is mainly schools in working-class areas which are abandoning these subjects, while they remain an indicator of academic success in middle class schools. For the majority of working class students the diet is a basic core—exemplified by Tomlinson’s proposed school-leaving tests in functional English, maths and information technology—and vocational training. First came the decision to allow FE colleges to take students from 14 part-time, again mainly working class. The latest government plan, to be published shortly in a White Paper, is that 14 year old students can go to FE college fulltime, or take up a trade such as plumbing under a ‘young apprenticeship’ scheme on a split week basis between college, school and work—all justified in the name of personalised learning.10 And Bell, the chief inspector, is due to call for new vocational schools for 14-16 year olds.11
18 Another school is possible


Assessment for learning

Primary school deputy headteacher Lisa Hayes argues this can provide an alternative to SATs

Assessment for Learning is nothing new. Many teachers have been using techniques that fall within the broad spectrum of work that it encompasses for years. What is new, is that within the framework provided by the Primary Strategy Document—Excellence and Enjoyment, it can be seen as an alternative to SATs. AfL is about demystifying learning at the same time as allowing children to understand how curricular targets can help them track their own improvement. With curricular targets replacing numeric targets we do away with the current simplistic and dangerous reduction of the measuring of attainment and replace it with the ongoing commitment to a child centred inclusive approach to maximising achievement. This is just as important in gauging the quality of schools but removes the unhealthy domination of league tables and the current one size fits all approach to national testing. The principles behind AfL are simple. q It involves telling children what they are going to learn and why so that they can become actively involved in their own learning q It is about teachers adjusting their teaching during lessons to take into account the needs of pupils q It is based on the notion that feedback given to children about their work or performance can only be effective if it allows them to progress as a result of being given that feedback q It is about recognising the effect that assessment and feedback can have on a child in empowering them to want to learn more or demotivating them and switching them off. q It is about children being able to assess themselves and understand what they need to do in order to improve. The government is greatly encouraging primary teachers to adopt these broad principles and adapt the implementation of them to meet the needs of their own teaching style and the needs of their children. The DfES has produced a lot of training materials that support teachers and schools wishing to move towards this approach.

Is this the best way of maximising achievement?

Teachers have never been in a better position to win the argument that supports Assessment for Learning as the core to effective teaching as opposed to Assessment of Learning which is all about summative assessment, tests, targets and tables. The current argument which claims that league tables make schools accountable can be easily rubbished when you consider that AfL if well used by skilled teachers can make an enormous difference to children’s achievement. The measure of achievement is against curricular targets and not simplistic numeric thresholds.
Lisa Hayes is a Deputy Headteacher of a Primary school in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, where she is leading the implementation of Assessmemt for Learning. Lisa is also the President of North Hertfordshire NUT and past President of Hertfordshire Division.
Another school is possible 19


Government fails 7 year olds
Primary teacher from Coventry, Jane Nellist, asks if the new plans for testing at Key Stage 1 are really any different


uring the height of the anti-SATs movement, teschers, parents, pupils and academics all urged the government to abandon SATs, especially the Key Stage 1 SATs for seven year olds. Every anti-SATs stall and campaign meeting organised by parents and teachers heard horror stories about unneccesary stress parents thought their children at seven were subjected to as a direct result of the SATs. In 2003, the NUT surveyed members in 12 LEAs around the country. More than 92 per cent of Key Stage 1 teachers wanted the SATs abolished. In a more recent survey this year, conducted by FDS (First Destination Surveys), over three quarters of parents surveyed wanted to see an end to Key Stage 1 SATs. All major parent groups support this move. So why hasn’t the government listened and scrapped these damaging tests in England as has happened in Wales? The government’s response to the tidal wave of public and professional opposition was limited to a pilot scheme in 35 LEAs in England. The pilot, having been assessed by Leeds University, will now be rolled out throughout England in 2005. However, we need to be clear, Key Stage 1 SATs are still firmly in place. The only difference is that teachers can now choose which SATs papers and task materials they use and when they carry them out. The fact that teachers only have to report teacher assess-

ment scores is a smokescreen—the tests still have to be carried out! As for workload, my colleagues carrying out the pilot did comment on reduced workload as long as the school gives the teacher time to plan and mark the tests as well as the moderation that is required. With pressures on schools to provide PPA time, time for KS1 SATs may disappear. So has the government got it right? The simple answer is no! They have missed the golden opportunity to announce to the country that Key Stage 1 SATs do not serve any educational purpose. The education spin merchants have missed their chance. Just imagine the spin that could have been: q that the Tories got it wrong when they introduced them in 1991 q that they have listened to the views of parents and educational experts—the teachers q that rather than enhance and improve education in the most formative years of a child’s life, they have been damaging and have stifled the curriculum and educational opportunities and duly abolished them, and q that they TRUST teachers’ professional judgement. That would have been the sensible thing to do, but no, we still have a system of testing in place for seven year olds in England. Is it that they don’t trust teachers? Do they not want to appear to have given in to the NUT?

20 Another school is possible


The answer cannot be that they are listening to reasoned arguments, nor that they have based their decisions on logic and research. All the research is in our favour! It’s interesting to read comments by Stephen Twigg in September about the findings from the pilot. He said, “We are putting all our faith and trust in teachers. The trials have shown that teacher assessment is robust and we have confidence in the profession. So why the tests? Surely there is a big contradiction here. If teacher assessment is robust, then why the need to impose national SATs tests on seven year olds? The problem with SATs at Key Stage 1 is that it depends very much on the attitude of the school management. One would hope that schools try to carry out the statutory requirements with little impact on the stress levels of the pupils whilst maintaining a broad and ballanced curriculum that we should expect for seven year olds. Ensuring the enjoyment and exploration part of the

curriculum remains crucial. Even with the new arrangements for KS1 SATs in 2005, I am afraid that fundamentally, KS1 SATs are still enmeshed in our school systems and will continue to distort the curriculum and learning opportunities for our youngest pupils. Is it any wonder that we are experiencing record numbers of disaffected pupils at such an early age? Undoubtedly the government has missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate that it has listened for a change. Teachers will still be forced to carry out the tests—whether they be this year’s or next year’s version. Children will still be subject to sitting them. The government has failed in its duty and responsibility for our young pupils by holding on to SATs against the odds. So the question still remains. Why is the government intent on keeping SATs at KS1? The answer I’m afraid is that it is perfectly content with playing politics with our children’s education.
Jane Nellist Primary teacher and Coventry NUT

Pupils don’t have to be disaffected

Another school is possible 21


A question of pedagogy
Classroom teachers from East London, Paul Phillips and Joel Mcilven, remember their favourite teachers
he often-quoted saying is that when you leave school you always remember the teacher that you liked best. It is often within these fond memories that we find the teacher that was most like ourselves as students or pupils, the one that could relate or empathise with us and the teacher that seemed most in tune with young peoples ideas. Sadly these teachers were few and far between. Yet we need to ask why that is, given that we were often told that the days in school are the happiest of our lives, free from the pressure of adult life. Something then is clearly wrong. The question of pedagogy, the science or art of teaching is a serious issue that needs to be discussed as part of the struggle for an improved education system. Indeed when talking about teaching we need to consider the current situation and methods applied and what the possibilities are for further improvement. When we consider the situation in the class it should come as no surprise that pupils often find it difficult to relate to the role of the teacher. Teaching becomes simply a matter of transference, the transference of knowledge from the teacher to the pupils. The pupils are seen as little more than containers of information, and if obedient enough, will be filled with the great wisdom of the teacher. Yet this itself throws up a contradiction in the form of the student and teacher relationship. In order for teaching to occur a process


of learning has to take place and vice versa, both dependent on each other. However in the above instance only a form of dictatorial control has actually occurred The role and place of pupils’ personal experiences and opinions of the world are often negated for the importance of further information learning that can be crammed into a one hour session. It should come as no surprise that pupils often sit in the class bored, frustrated, wondering and often remarking that “this has nothing to do with me”. No matter how hard we try as teachers the pupils often just don’t care. Part of this problem is the way in which the learning of knowledge is not seen as an action taken by both teacher and pupils together, but by the activism of the teacher on behalf of the pupil. The creativity of both teacher and pupils are destroyed and replaced by obedience, institutionalisation and behaviourism. And as for democracy in the class, forget it. To understand this better we need to look closer at the education system itself and in particular the national curriculum. The National Curriculum introduced under the Tory government during the years of Margaret Thatcher set out to determine what subjects and knowledge had to be taught within a limiting framework. As with the method of teaching already explained subjects become categorised and dichotomised. Geography is geography; history is history. It is within

22 Another school is possible


this sense that subjects lose their historical and social context. Take the way a pupil might learn that Rome is the capital of Italy in a geography lesson. This alone does not explain how, why or when it became the capital. The curriculum also highlights another problem that of the lack of say or influence that the pupils and teachers, the very people who are supposed to benefit from education, actually have. The very structure of the system is one of a top—down approach, in which education is thrust upon them.

The continual and over aggressive testing and assessing of student, whether through SATs or other examinations is just one aspect in which both teacher and pupil become further alienated by the education process. The system becomes a system that seeks to evaluate the personalities of its children by assigning them numbered levels. Both pupil and teacher feel this alienation and pressure, as the need for results to prove your worth takes place and any level of creativity is strained in order for schools to out do other competing schools. But what would a better way of teaching look like. For a start we need to replace the abstraction of information and start with real lived experiences of the pupils before relating these ideas to the further knowledge that would be gained. A

pedagogy that would involve all pupils in the process of learning and teaching dialectically and not separated, in order to transform knowledge and thus begin the process of transforming society. To move away from the idea that pupils can somehow be assessed via a numbering system and to be valued as a part in the process of learning. To do this the conflict of the teacher—pupil has to be broken and a greater sense of democracy placed within the classroom. In this the activity of teaching and learning, and the development of knowledge is in the hands of those taking part in it. Greater freedom, creativity and value for both pupils and teachers must exist in this process. The transformation of pedagogy is not the be all and end all of the education system. But we need to look to these arguments and to relate them to the bigger picture of the attacks made on the education system as a whole. We should also use these points in order to explain the system itself. The struggle for pay, better resources and finances must be tied with the argument for teaching and learning to improve. Placed on its own a progressive pedagogy does not make sense. Equally to say it can only change within a different system would be incorrect as well. This would lead us to await the glorious revolution without ever taking action. An improved pedagogy won’t change the education or social system but it is an argument worth discussing.

Teaching the teachers

Another school is possible 23

The Anti-SATs Alliance was established at a conference on 28 June 2003, attended by 180 teachers, parents, govenors and others opposed to the SATs. John Illingworth, past president of the NUT was elected chair of the campaign. The conference agreed the following campaign statement: This conference of parents and teachers expresses it’s opposition to the SATs (National Curriculum Tests). We believe 1 They don’t help children learn 2 They don’t help teachers teach 3 Teachers are put under pressure to ‘teach the test’ 4 The tests, not the needs of the children, dominate the work and life of schools 5 They are used for league tables, which are deceptive, divisive and misleading q We agree to establish a campaign to abolish SATs and invite those who share our aims to join with us q We agree to support all practical measures possible to publicise the case against SATs q We agree to support teachers and their unions should they decide to implement a boycott of the tests q We agree to establish a steering committee from this conference which shall be open to parents, carers, education campaigners and teacher representatives, to campaign for these objectives

Contact the Anti-SATs Alliance Jon Berry Secretary Hertfordshire NUT Anti-SATs Alliance, 61 Cambridge Road, St Albans Herts AL1 5LE E-mail or Phone (h) 01727 835 554 (w) 01438 313 011 Reports and campaigning ideas will be posted on the website and on