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Better things to do – using the time saved by the abandonment of the SPAG test

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By way of celebration to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday, Diana Strauss proposes a challenge to all readers of the Considered blog.

Man pulling back clock handsThe Department for Education has informed teachers and parents that the national spelling test for seven year olds, due to take place in May 2016, is now cancelled. This unexpected situation, caused by an administrative error at the DfE, is due to the wrong test paper appearing on the government website – instead of the practise paper, the actual test was made available four months ago. This came to light when one child was heard predicting the next test words that were due to come up, making the test completely invalid as a benchmark for children’s spelling knowledge in England and Wales.

True, this is a rather unfortunate set of events, but is it actually an opportunity for teachers up and down the country to do things more interesting with the time saved? By way of celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday, how about we think of 90 more interesting things to do?

I’d like to get things kicked-off with the first five. All the ideas can be shared amongst teachers because now they can plan some much more exciting educational experiences. Imagine! Half a million seven year olds, with their teachers, have all this time on their hands. The possibilities are endless! Join us and keep the conversation going within this Considered blog community and collaborate in this endeavour by suggesting a further 85 ideas.

Suggestion one: share an inspirational novel, poem, or song and plan some conversations for debates using these as stimuli. The educational potential far exceeds the obvious and significant impact that is pleasure and joy when sharing rich literary experiences. For example, aim to provoke children’s responses, reflections and questions. Build your own confidence and equip yourself to lead such a debate. Plan and prepare by following this simple online and framework presented by Trickey and Topping (2004, p.369) and/or by looking at Christopher Gilmore’s article on philosophy with young children (pp.290-297)

Suggestion two: select a piece of music (classical music works well) to stimulate children’s movement/dance, imagination, language and visualisation skills. Then choreograph creative and imaginative responses with the children. To find out more on the why?- the how? and the where? – visit this or read this piece by Michael Jones.

Suggestion three: Get involved with Room 13 International and find out how children in Scotland (who’ve never had SATs in the first place) are using their time for learning.

Suggestion four: Watch this short film ‘The Shop of Possibilities’ and work with six and seven year olds on story-boarding a film that tells a story about something they want to share.

Suggestion five: Enable children to document and record the experiences and learning that have replaced the time that was to be spent on preparing for and taking the spelling test. Publish their work on the school website or blog. Advertise and promote wider community involvement. Report good news!

The government’s lack of due diligence that has led to this catastrophic error has given schools an unexpected gift of time, a silver lining. Sadly, much time has been already been wasted in terms of the many hours lost preparing children for the spelling test. However, at least there is an opportunity to not waste any more and to use the timed spared more productively. Do what you can by taking up this challenge and by coming up with your ideas of how you will use the time. In the words of Kung Fu Panda:

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift and that is why they call it the present.”

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4 Responses to Better things to do – using the time saved by the abandonment of the SPAG test

  1. Chris Carpenter
    Chris Carpenter Wednesday, 27 April 2016 at 12:56 #

    A lovely piece, thank you. Reminds me of all the really meaningful things that happen when we have snow and can’t get to work/ school!!

    I can see I need to read more widely. Is Kung Fu Panda refable?

    Your article sent me back Stephen Ball’s piece on performativity.
    “The performances (of individual subjects or organizations) serve as measures of productivity or output, or displays of ‘quality’, or ‘moments’ of promotion or inspection. As such they stand for, encapsulate or represent the worth, quality or value of an individual or organization within a field of judgement. The issue of who controls the field of judgement is crucial.” (Ball 2003; 216).

    I think it was George Monbiot who argued that part of the reason that neo-liberalism has gained such a hold is partly a reflection of the inability of what we might term as the political ‘left’ to marshal any significant counter narrative. What do you think?

  2. Diana Friday, 29 April 2016 at 19:03 #

    Thank you Chris, your contribution and comment is indeed thought provoking. I think politics is too important to leave to our politicians.

    I am aware that a ‘kids strike’ is planned for the approaching Standardised Assessment Tests in Key Stage 2 next month. This protest is a direct challenge to the neo-liberalism to which you refer. Maybe this return to direct action, by these youngsters, is a lesson to us all.

  3. tracey grant Tuesday, 10 May 2016 at 21:57 #

    Great article Dee. X