Category Archives: School

National Numeracy and Literacy Tests – to cram or not to cram?

Another term, another two parental consultations for my eldest children – one leaving me happy and confident that I have made the right choices – and one leaving me simply confused.
I am still no nearer to knowing whether my biggest boy should continue his education through Welsh or English but that’s a story for another time – right now it’s the forthcoming national numeracy and literacy tests that are occupying my mind.

These tests take place next term and in the case of my eight year old, the exam practice began with last weekend’s homework. It was also suggested that we should be using the Easter holidays to work through past papers for the tests – practising the sort of questions that are likely to come up, reinforcing the self-checking, encouraging good exam technique eg not lingering over problem questions if they are only worth one mark.

I don’t have a problem with extra work at home where necessary to support a child’s development – in fact I have been actively seeking support on this from school. But I’m really not sure how I feel about practising for these tests, because I’m not clear on the benefit of ‘good’ results. Last year I toed the party line and insisted my son practise really hard, and he came out eighteen months to two years above average for his age. Yet in real life, he is constantly hovering just above the line where he is deemed as in need of extra help. So clearly the results don’t bear that much relation to what’s actually happening, and if that’s the case, why bother?

I imagine the test results contribute to those all important league tables and possibly individual teacher performance ratings. And I do have sympathy with this – it must be immensely frustrating for educational professionals to be graded by how well pupils can pass exams.

But that still leaves us in a situation where we are being asked to spend time on an exercise that is pretty irrelevant as far as the kids go, in place of spending time on what they actually need support with.

So – do I do as I’m told and insist on my son practising for the tests? Or do I spend some time with him in the holidays working on the areas he needs to improve – in his case, fluency and confidence in Welsh? Or – given that he has a homework assignment plus spellings plus times tables plus a reading book every weekend in term time, maybe he should enjoy being a child and have a complete break over Easter!

What would you do?

I’m an unemployment cliché, get me out of here!

I was listening to the radio walking home from work yesterday, when the actress Jenny Seagrove came on for an interview during which she mentioned the Everton Free School. Whatever your thoughts on the concept of Free Schools generally, Everton Free School looks like it does some pretty good work – set up by Everton Football Club, they offer alternative education to kids aged 14-19 who are excluded from mainstream provision.

Here’s what Jenny had to say about it…‘D’you know, it’s an amazing place…this school takes in kids who literally are three generations of unemployment. And they’re kids who are I hate to use the expression, but I would think it’s their last chance. They’ve dropped out of school, and the system’s failed them’.

Not much to argue with there – except, oh yes, this: THREE GENERATIONS OF UNEMPLOYMENT. That old chestnut. These kids are on their last chance because their feckless parents, grandparents, AND great grandparents were all unemployed. Right. No other factors.

There was some fairly well publicised research done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation not too long ago, looking at the much hyped culture of worklessness. Despite actively and intensively searching for families with three generations of unemployed in two of the most deprived regions of the UK, they were unable to find even one such family. They did – just about – manage to find 20 families who presented with two generations of unemployment, but noted that there were a variety of long term and complex factors at play in these families, a major one being ill health. So on balance, whatever the issues faced by the kids at the Everton Free School (and I don’t doubt that the issues are are many, and real) it seems fairly unlikely that three generations of unemployment is one of them.

It’s really great that wealthy folk in the public eye are in a position to promote initiatives that work with excluded and disadvantaged kids, and clearly Jenny Seagrove is doing a good thing by supporting them. But I can’t help thinking that it would also be a great thing if the same celebrities took some time to understand the back story, and used their influence to help break down the negative myths and stereotypes, rather than perpetuating them.


You can access a summary of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation study, or indeed the whole report, here.

When a child is overtaken by a younger sibling

As soon as I came in from work today, my daughter grabbed my hand and led me to the kitchen where the Husband was cooking tea.

‘Mummy and Daddy, I have something very important to tell you! I did reading in school today and my teacher moved me up TWO reading stages! She said I was a reading superstar!’

This is such lovely news for my daughter, who has developed a real love of reading over the  last few months, and who has been trying very hard with her books, and at school generally. I’m so proud of her, and so happy to see her so proud of herself – she really deserves it.

I just wish my delight for her wasn’t tempered with the worry for what this will mean for my biggest boy’s confidence – because she’s basically leapfrogged him. He’s been stuck on the same reading stage since June, despite doing a huge amount of reading over the Summer holidays, and now he’s a stage behind his younger sister – who is two years below him at school. Seeing his face crumple as she bounced around the kitchen was just heartbreaking. All the more so because although she has worked hard, he has without doubt put a lot more time into practising his reading.

We’ve obviously had a family chat this evening about how some people are good at some things, and some at others, and that’s the way things should be because we can’t have a world filled with engineers but nobody to be a pilot, or super duper rugby players but nobody to be a teacher, etc etc. But despite a wobbly brave face from him after the initial shock, it’s just another confidence knock on top of the many he’s already taken since starting this school year.

As well as being gutted for him, I’m feeling particularly let down because I raised this specific scenario with school a couple of months ago, knowing that it was a probability in the near future and knowing what it would do to his confidence. I asked for extra Welsh reading books that my son and I could read together and was told that we could not have them because ‘if you get extra books, everyone else might want one too’. Really? REALLY? Instead it was suggested that I could get Welsh books from the library for him, which would be great if a) the library had a decent selection of Welsh books, which it doesn’t, and b) Welsh wasn’t my second language by a long chalk, making it fairly difficult for me to pick up a reading book and gauge whether it’s at the right level, or likely to be of interest for an eight year old reluctant reader. Which is why I’d wanted reading books from school rather than sourcing them myself in the first place.

So. A mixture of emotions. Chuffed for my girl, gutted for my biggest boy, and frankly pissed off that even though I could see this coming and asked for help, there was no support to even try and stave it off.

Parenting is hard, sometimes.