The march of progress leaves too many be­hind

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - JO BRIGHOUSE -

MY YOUNGER child starts school in Septem­ber. I don’t think he’s ready. At his age, our el­der child was count­ing be­yond 100, writ­ing and read­ing a host of words and colour­ing in­side the lines. This one stops count­ing when his fin­gers run out and if you gave him a pen­cil he’d eat it.

“What on earth are you wor­ry­ing for?” said my mum. “Of course they’re not the same: they’re dif­fer­ent chil­dren. Com­par­isons are point­less.”

I shook my head sadly. What did she know? She fin­ished her 40 years in the class­room a decade ago. She still be­lieves the job of a teacher is to look at every child’s start­ing point and move them on as far as you can re­gard­less of what those around them are do­ing.

Of course, in this en­light­ened age we recog­nise that isn’t enough. We need com­par­a­tive data. We need to com­pare chil­dren, co­horts, schools, even coun­tries.

Of course I don’t think all com­par­i­son is bad, but surely bench­marks should be tools to aid teach­ing rather than pres­sure-in­duc­ing score­cards to beat you over the head with?

When we teach SRE top­ics, we place huge em­pha­sis on the mes­sage that every child is dif­fer­ent, that they will all de­velop at dif­fer­ent times and this is per­fectly nor­mal and ac­cept­able.

But when it comes to other aspects of their ed­u­ca­tion, this mes­sage is not so con­sis­tent. Sort­ing chil­dren by who achieves “age-re­lated ex­pec­ta­tions” au­to­mat­i­cally places those be­low into a fail­ing cat­e­gory of chil­dren who are fall­ing short of your ex­pec­ta­tions.

Some of th­ese chil­dren will be your pupils with SEND: chil­dren who, for a mul­ti­tude of rea­sons, sim­ply take longer to get there. They may work their socks off, they may have made great progress but, sta­tis­ti­cally, their year will end in fail­ure.

The sys­tem, at the mo­ment, seems hope­lessly in­ad­e­quate when it comes to chart­ing and cel­e­brat­ing the real progress that some chil­dren make every day.

Chil­dren like Jay­den, who I taught in Year 4 and who, de­spite the many fac­tors that made learn­ing for him so much more of a strug­gle, al­ways came to school with a beam­ing smile.

Jay­den could read very lit­tle and strug­gled with writ­ing. It took a month for us to teach him to write his sur­name and we worked with him end­lessly on read­ing and ba­sic com­pre­hen­sion skills. One day, when his teach­ing as­sis­tant was away I gave him a book and a com­pre­hen­sion sheet and told him to give it his best try.

At the end of the les­son he si­dled up to me, sheet in hand. He’d an­swered every ques­tion (mostly cor­rectly) and he had done the whole thing com­pletely in­de­pen­dently.

Look­ing down at him I felt a surge of ex­hil­a­ra­tion. This was no small step but a gi­ant leap: a huge achieve­ment for a child who, just weeks ago, strug­gled to put pen­cil to paper with­out su­per­vi­sion.

On the of­fi­cial scale of progress

Jay­den re­mained ex­actly where he was but both he, I and the rest of the class knew what had been achieved. Some­times in teach­ing we see progress that is sim­ply be­yond com­pare.

Jo Brig­house is a pseu­do­nym for a pri­mary school teacher in the Mid­lands. She tweets @jo_brig­house

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