Thursday, 5 April 2012

Testing and tuition - is it right for small children?

Holiday homework. It seems wrong but that's what we've got for Monkey - 3 books to read, some maths and some words. Oh yes, of course, it's SATs next term. Until now, the teacher has not been very pushy about their SATs but a note in his bag says she doesn't want them to be rusty when they return. I know that SATs are marked by the school these days but personally I'm uncomfortable with testing children as young as 6 - well, at least to make a big deal of it anyway. When you hear of parents issuing "incentives" to children of that age to "do well" in them, I feel that something is wrong.

Last week, I was offered some tuition for the children in return for a review. They hadn't got the ages of my children wrong, their tuition is aimed at 5 - 14 year olds; basically, from the moment they enter school through until high school. This was mentioned in association with issues of children worrying about tests or exams or to improve their confidence.

Firstly, I find it extremely sad that young children could be worried about tests or exams. The pressure to do well in them can only be external at that age - what child understands what a standard is? KS1 SATs results are not published nor are they externally marked  (KS1 is Key Stage 1, which ends by the end of the school year in which they turn 7, just in case you didn't know). Doing well in SATs is great, but nor is doing badly a huge problem. School have underplayed the tests so far but I understand that they have an interest in the children doing well, because that is how they are judged by others, which can affect how many children come to the school and ultimately, how much money they get. I feel lucky that I believe that at our school, they just want the children to achieve what they are capable of, rather than pushing them to over-achieve.

As for confidence, you may remember I blogged about this problem with Missy Woo six months ago although it seems like longer. We overcame it by speaking with the teacher who came up with some new approaches which worked a treat, but also by giving her a boost at home. Since then, she's just got better as she's realised she can read and it's been beautiful to observe. I'm sure many children need a confidence boost from time to time and I suspect most problems can be solved by giving the children help, love and support, with parents working with the teachers. Does extra tuition need to be part of the solution? I doubt it.

You may say that I'm lucky in that I don't need tuition for my children. I'm not worried about SATs. Perversely, Monkey seems to enjoy tests and treats them as a challenge, which is great. He knows we expect him to try his best, rather than set a standard to live up to that he doesn't understand. All he cares about is what reading level he is on compared to his friends.

Would I consider tuition at his age if he wasn't doing well? No. To me, that suggests that parents aren't happy with their child's progress and don't feel that school can resolve them, which is equally sad. I'd like to think that I'd be working with school in that position and discussing it with the teachers. If you can't, that's a pretty fundamental problem that I don't believe extra tuition alone can solve. I don't blame the people offering tuition; they are only offering a service because there is a demand.

Of course, as well as SATs this year for year 2, Missy Woo in year 1 will be subjected to a  new phonics test in June. She will still be 5 when she is tested and as one of the first pupils to take this test, no-one really knows what to expect, although it is believed to be quite rigorous. I hope she will take this in her stride as she is much less confident about tests than her brother but her overall reading is already ahead of what is expected of her age. No-one yet knows what happens if children don't reach the expected standard, something two thirds of pupils failed to do in pilot tests.

As I said in my polite refusal of the review of tuition, I don't believe in pushing my children hard, so the maths sheets will get done as a very low key activity as and when it suits; this is a holiday after all. For all the testing that children are facing next term, I think it's far more important for them to have a love of learning and reading at their age than them to achieve a standard set by someone else.

Isn't that what school is about?

What do you think? Is your child facing a test next term in year 1 or year 2? How has school approached these tests and what preparations are you aware of? Is your child worried about these tests and if so, why or how do they feel worried? Would you consider, or have you considered, tuition for a child aged 5 to 7? If so, why? Do please have your say below. 

Photo credit beni_bb
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