Reading recently that Wolverhampton Grammar School is going to take pupils at the end of Year Five of the primary school, instead of at the end of Year Six, because the headmaster feels that pupils waste the whole of the final year preparing for SATs exams at 11 to the exclusion of everything else, I felt quite puzzled.
I couldn't understand how anyone could decry an attempt to make sure that as many children as possible go up to secondary school equipped to cope with the curriculum of a secondary school.
Surely, basic competence in spelling, grammar, reading,
writing, maths and science must be a good thing and time spent in teaching such essentials could hardly be described as a "waste of a year".
Then the thought came to me that since Wolverhampton Grammar is a highly academic selective school, one might reasonably expect their new pupils to have had the basic skills needed to pass the SATs long before Year Six and so would not need the extra year. Especially if all that is taught is SATs work and nothing else.
Next came the thought that it shouldn't really be necessary to spend a whole year on preparation for the exam. Surely, the acquisition of skills in English, maths, science, should be a cumulative process, taking place over the whole primary school career, not just being jammed into one year? What, I wondered, have teachers been teaching in those years up to Year Six?
I really cannot believe that truly competent teachers cannot ensure that children are ready to cope with an exam, while at the same time being able to find time to teach a wider curriculum such as art, music, sewing, drama, etc.
Sixty years ago, when I was in an ordinary state primary school, we were all offered the chance to acquire the skills that would enable us to take the 11+ exam.
At the same time we did art, sewing, singing, recorder playing, putting on school plays at the end of term and when I left, at the age of ten, I was fully prepared to cope with a grammar school education.
Why, I wonder, are teachers so paralysed at the thought of preparing their pupils for the SATs exams and so fearful of the dreaded league tables that they have to drop everything in Year Six in order to get the children ready to take the exam?
Could it be that in the "child friendly," informal primary school class rooms of 2006, so little real work goes on, with so much time wasted by wandering about, choosing what to do (70 per cent was the estimate in one study), that a frantic scramble in the final year is essential to get the children to know enough to help them when they go up to secondary school?
Could the lack of structured learning of basic skills during the whole of the primary school experience be down to the fact that too many teachers do not feel themselves competent to teach the skills that are to be tested and so have to mug up the basics of spelling, parts of speech, punctuation, addition, subtraction, fractions and elementary science just before Year Six, when they will have to try to get children through a national, externally assessed exam? ..SUPL: