Search Results for: Sats

Don’t worry about the SATs!

 I’m feeling for parents of school children at the moment. The complete hash up over the SATs lately must be really freaking them out.

I know most home educators don’t have much to do with tests, SATs and League Tables etc, but I remember when the girls were in school for that short time how anxiety about what was happening there was all consuming. Especially when it didn’t seem to be happening right. I gave daily thanks we’d made the decision to home school – a decision we didn’t regret for one single second – and get away from those invalid processes.

When we are young green parents though, wanting to trust that the big establishment which the schooling system has become is getting it right for our kids, it’s devastating to know that there’s a possibility – let alone proof – that it’s not!

So this is my attempt to offer you a little bit of reassurance.

Whether using school or home educating parents needn’t worry about SATs.

Not doing them is not going to impair your child’s education for life – as propaganda leads us to believe.

Most home educated children are educated to a good standard without ever knowing what SATs are, let alone being subjected to the stress of them.

SATs are just a way the government’s devised of setting a standard bench mark on children’s attainment in schools (which doesn’t work anyway). They are supposedly a way of monitoring teachers and schools and consequently making the politicians look as if they are doing something useful. They are of no use to a learner’s education whatsoever.

Many will argue that they are; desperate as people are to stick to institutional thinking. And argue that, as a result of them, provision will be improved.

But that rarely happens. And tests rarely reflect true ability anyway. What’s standard, for example? And just what are we testing – all questions that I’ve asked in other articles.

There have been some alarming reports in the press recently about what these tests are doing to our children’s mental well being. It’s probably also having the same effect on the parents and teachers! So I think there’s a case for boycotting the whole darn SATs system, let alone a one-off boycott like recently.

But if you’re one of the parents who is worried that your child’s education is going to be damaged by yet another drastic mess up of papers I shouldn’t be. It won’t. Your child’s education is the result of a whole plethora of influences and experiences over a long period of time, not the odd result.

And if you’re new to home educating I shouldn’t let the time wasting procedure of standard testing mess up the opportunity of a delightful learning day of discovery and experience – as education should be!


SATs – the great timewasters

Oh look! At last some action over the wretched SATs testing. About time!

Some schools are boycotting the current tests because they quite rightly believe that SATs disrupt children’s learning, inhibit the good work teachers do and are humiliating to schools, teachers and children. What I’ve never understood is why teachers haven’t done it ages ago.

I do hope it doesn’t make parents panic, conditioned as they are to believe that SATs actually do some good. Many parents want handles to hang onto, in the form of test results, so they can ‘see’ how their child is doing. The sad thing is that SATs results are not a good way of telling how a kid is doing – if you want to know how well your kid is doing get involved and get to know them. If you want to know how well teachers and schools are doing – same – get to know them, get involved.

Ignoring a child’s education for the most part, not being involved with the teachers or schools, and then choosing a test result or a league table as a way of understanding how they’re doing is an absolute disgrace and a cop-out as a parent. Testing is not a way of indentifying individual needs and what’s required to help that child fulfil a potential. It’s just a way of telling how cloned a child is!

It may be of interest to know that while we were home educating our children they never sat a formal test of any sort whatsoever, unless they chose to (swimming, dancing, driving, etc). And neither did many of the other home educating children they were involved with. Yet these children have gone on into further and higher education, integrating back into mainstream education successfully. Perhaps home educated children do so well because they haven’t had their time wasted or their self esteem shot with test taking!

Makes you wonder why all the other thousands of children need to sit them doesn’t it?

Rescue us from norms!

It must have taken a lot of courage for Richard Macer to make the documentary about his son’s Dyslexia. (Hoping it will become available again soon) Especially at a time of his learning life when his future seemed to hang in jeopardy upon his SATs results. (A ridiculous practice I’ve condemned before – and which some schools and teachers are beginning to boycott) The family’s feelings were hinged on it. My heart went out to them.

Richard and son

In the programme they described some of what it’s like for a dyslexic in school, how inhibiting it can be in terms of academic progress, how their son’s brain seemed to work differently to others, as did dad’s, how this could be perceived either as a set back or a potential gift.

And I was screaming at the screen; ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’! No one’s future should be the result of performance in one moment of time at 11 years of age. It’s preposterous. And preposterous that the system has been set up like this and causes so many families so much distress. particularly families of dyslexic children for whom schooling fails so miserably.

Towards the end of the programme, after tears and relief that the son did okay in his SATs, dad made a comment about his son’s ‘faulty’ brain and I was really saddened to hear that. Because dyslexic brains are not ‘faulty’. And no one seems to be saying what’s glaringly obvious to me: That they are only ‘faulty’ within the context of schooling. Take the dyslexic out of school, take away the label Special Educational Needs, and meet the child’s individual needs in alternative ways (which should be open to everyone instead of the single track approach of academic practise that schools use) and the child can learn and achieve. Those dyslexics within the home educating community are proof of that.

The trouble with the system is that it measures to norms. It proposes a pattern of normal and then tries to make each child fit. Those that don’t fit are deemed as ‘behind’ or ‘failing’ or SEN. But what the heck is normal? And heaven preserve us from fitting it, for it is often those who don’t who go on to do great things; invent things, find cures, have ideas, create solutions. In fact a wonderful piece towards the end of the programme looked at a body of research to uphold the idea that our survival as a species is dependent on those abnormalities, dependent on those who can see beyond the norms and continue to diversify. It’s diversification we need for perpetuation – not normal!

So rescue us from norms, I say, celebrate those who are different – dyslexics among them, and see the limited schooling system for what it really is – the cloning of diverse intelligences into sad souless sameness.

And all the best to father and family.


Take back learning from the bureaucrats!

Education is important. I guess all parents would agree.

But how many of you, I wonder, have really thought what education is? How many are not thinking about education at all, but are thinking instead about schooling and qualification. About the systematic and mechanical process in schools that bureaucrats tell us education is.

The majority of people I suspect. But this is not true education and it’s having a disastrous effect on the children. It’s also making education, which should be a broadening, developmental, personal experience, into a tightly mechanised priming of kids for outcomes outside the personal – like school league tables for example.

We can never truly predict the outcome anyway, for kids are never finished – and isn’t education about the kids! And without the development of personable skills, test results and qualifications are useless. Useless to the learner. A bane to teachers. And are stunting our children’s wellbeing, as more and more are heaped upon them. 

Listen to some of Ken Robinson’s talks on Youtube. Here’s one. He doesn’t want reform of the old model we already have – he wants something completely different – something more personal – as our kids need. As our world needs.

And it’s time we demanded things to be different, time to make the bureaucrats listen.

Parents could make different decisions about their child’s education.

Not every parent can home educate, but every parent can vote and make their feelings known about the things that concern them in the system.

You could demand that all this testing should stop, for a start, or boycott them. Like this brave head teacher who decided not to do the SATs. Knowing as she does that SATs have little benefit to a child long term, but can be damaging to their generic educational experience.

You could think about what kind of educational experience is important and what you want the outcome to be – in your child, not in terms of qualifications. But in terms of their talent. Speak out at schools. Speak with other parents.

You could tackle your local MP and raise your concerns. Go talk to them at one of their surgeries. Write to the education minister. Join a petition for change.

And you could take a look at your political party’s educational manifestos before you vote.

Stop being so desperate about qualification and ask what qualifies you for a happy life?

Parents have an extremely powerful collective voice. Make your concerns known and take your child’s education and wellbeing back from the bureaucrats.

For most of them don’t understand children’s – or families’ – needs at all.

Have some fun on May 3rd won’t you!

Testing – not something home educators do much! 

Yeah – that’s right – most go through the whole of their child’s education at home without doing any school style tests. Yet those children still go on to pass exams at a later date and most of them end up where there school peers get to; qualified, intelligent, competent, some at Uni, some in work.

So it does beg the question what really is the point of all those tests in schools? They’re not for the benefit of the children that’s for sure. (I’ve often blogged about it)

The obsession with testing and measuring the children’s education throughout their school life is often a reason parents give for choosing to home educate instead. But it seems that home schooling parents are not the only ones who are sick of this regime. Parents of school kids and teachers too are all adding their support to a campaign to boycott the tests to be taken on 3rd May.

Maybe we should join in?

For I guess the group Let Our Kids Be Kids would probably welcome your support too.

Since we are all in support of a real living education I thought I’d mention it. And although many in the home education community have no time for schooling I do believe we share some of their values; to challenge government policy, deplore high stakes testing which gives schools no choice other than to teach to the test, to see a curriculum full of joy and wonder… not overwhelmingly focussed on grammar and spelling which makes lessons dry and limits curiosity, and allow children to be children again – playing, being outdoors, painting, singing, dancing, learning through fun.

Sounds fairly akin to home educating values don’t you think?

I think that’s what we all want for our kids, isn’t it? So maybe you could support their campaign, sign it, and hopefully lighten the days of some of the kids in schools who are not lucky enough to be enjoying the opportunity of home educating as our children do.

The slaughter of good teaching lambs

I met a new young teacher the other day. She had only been teaching a few years and was fresh with the fire of enthusiasm, love of children, and her new job.

Why then did I have that sinking image of yet another lamb going to the slaughter on the altar of the education system?

Because I’ve seen it happen so many times. And because only a few minutes into our conversation she’s voicing her shock and dismay over the incessant and destructive testing of children, the disruptive effect of SATs and learning objectives wasting their time when all she wants to do is inspire kids to learn. She also talks about the awful pressure teachers are put under, often bringing out the less pleasant side of personalities, in their fear to survive.

Since she and many, many other teachers think that schooling is totally losing its way with the education of the young, since thousands and thousands of parents are opting to home educate, since parents of school children are becoming increasingly anxious, and since many teacher/parents are also taking their children out of school because they know that what goes on there is not good for kids’ development, it beggars belief that the politicians who’ve created this increasingly damaging system can remain so staggeringly blind and ignorant to what’s really happening

What’s really happening is that parents and teachers and children are leaving the system in droves. You’d think politicians would at least be intelligent enough to ask why that is.

I worry this new teacher will be another one, poor lamb! I wonder how long her enthusiasm and passion will last before it’s tarnished by the pitiful processing of kids that politics demands of teachers and another enthusiastic teacher is lost.

A good teacher can ignite the fire of learning passion.

I see too many ending up doing the opposite because, so sadly, their own fires inevitably become extinguished.

Clockwork straitjackets…

001  Hours and hours of uninterrupted chat! Couldn’t have ever conceived of it when we were home educating our children and had little ears tuned into every conversation.

My friend and I can now chat for ages although even without all the kids at home full time we still talk about them.

Between us we have one working, two at Uni, one at college, and one undecided. And the great thing about home education is ‘undecided’ doesn’t matter. Because time scales don’t matter. Children can learn as it’s relevant.

Home educators can ditch ridiculous time scales that suit the institutions of schooling but don’t suit many a child. They can make their own time scales, whether it means getting up late and learning later in the day, or doing it at the crack of dawn even before washing if they’re keen. It means they can learn when they’re motivated and stick at for hours if they want instead of having to stop and shuffle off to different lesson. It means they can read when they’re ready not when others deem they’re ready. They can stop wasting time doing tests and SATs and continue with real live learning. They can do GCSEs when they’ll get the best value from them whether that’s at fourteen or twenty four or if at all!

And our experience is that they can do all this and still become educated, motivated, intelligent and qualified and go forward into productive lives, despite not sticking to time scales which schools terrorise parents into believing are of value.

Nothing is worse than believing your child is ‘underachieving’. Underachieving in school terms only means they are not achieving set outcomes within set timescales. It doesn’t mean they’ll never achieve them, although in school they may not get another chance. Learning doesn’t have to be like that.

When home educating, you begin to see that these time scales don’t really matter at all and it’s shocking that thousands of parents are made to feel bad about their kids because of them.

What’s so ironic about this is that home educating families very often find that once you remove those time constraints children very often achieve what all kids are achieving within a very similar framework. And without having to feel bad about it.

When kids are twenty who would know if they talked early, or read late, or didn’t understand fractions till they were fifteen?

Keeping education within a rigid timescale is making an unnecessary strait jacket for it. And it’s positively terrifying to think that they are told they have to make decisions about the whole of their future by the time they’re choosing options at thirteen.

‘Undecided’ in my view means keeping options open. It means recognition of the fact that we are all different, and that the best way to approach education is the best way to approach life; with flexibility and an open mind. Let’s stop making young people feel bad because of clockwork straitjackets!

The GCSE farce and educational worth…

The half term over, the children go back to school with both anxiety and excitement and I’m just the same as I launch back into my morning routine without my home educators!

Up in the village on Monday morning I saw the tiny tots dragged to school when it’s barely light, the older kids with rebellious slants to their so-called uniforms, and the trendy ones waiting to catch the college bus eyeing each other up. And I can’t help thinking about all the home educators who don’t have this to do. Brilliant isn’t it!

It seems ages since we were home educating. When we didn’t have to worry about uniforms or pack-ups, tests and SATs. When our learning routines revolved around all the wonderful things there are to learn about the world, to go out and do and see. When we could schedule our day to completely suit the needs of the developing child, rather than drag them from bed in the morning when their brains and bodies are switched off. When we could make best use of their potential by shifting our learning routine to later in the day and evening. I miss showing the kids our world and how to increase their understanding of it, even though it was a challenge at times.

Despite those challenges, home educating was a wonderful way of life, a learning way of life, a life of learning about the real world outside the synthetic one determined by a system that is far too out of date for our contemporary children. There is something almost archaic about seeing these uniformed school kids bound by this dated routine filing into dated buildings when there are so many other options available now in our progressive technological culture.

I know there is nothing more inspiring than a good teacher and home educating sometimes misses out on some of those. But they’re rare. Good teachers are often destroyed by the process they’re forced into; trying to teach kids who often don’t want to learn what the schools want them to learn, in a place they don’t want to be, in a way that isn’t working for so many. We read about the great grades that children get. But we rarely read about the thousands of children who are let down and don’t get the grades. And now some are having to re-sit because of the recent bungle over GCSEs, it’s importance sidelined because of hot election news from America. (Read about the GCSE bungle here). How awful that must be for those kids. But it’s indicative of what a farce the educational system has become; a commercial-like system that promotes the product – exam results – as more important than the process; the education and care and worth of developing human beings.

By home educating, parents have saved many kids from this big let down and made their education a successful demonstration of the value it brings to life and makes our kids feel worthy rather than let down.

It’s time to recognise that we perhaps need schools now for something quite different from merely schooling for grades and controlling what kids wear.

We need education to show our kids how important they are for our future and that their individual education matters more than the system.

(Read more about our family learning life in A FUNNY KIND OF EDUCATION – extracts on my books page).

Boiling blood…

You wouldn’t think one piece of paper could set blood boiling! But that’s what happened to a friend of mine the other day when she unearthed an old forgotten page from nearly ten years ago.

It had on it the CAT scores for her then eleven year old daughter. These are the Cognitive Ability Tests used in schools, a bit like SATs, which are supposed to predict future grades and establish where to place a child within the school system.

Those of you who read this blog will know that schools’ obsessive testing of children is one of my biggest hates. Tests are an unreliable and inaccurate assessment of a child’s ability. They can damage a child’s progress for life with labels that stick. They influence decisions which in the long term can inhibit opportunity and therefore achievement. And this is exactly what happened to my friend’s daughter.

Her predicted grades at eleven years of age were D and E. Shocking to think of a child’s future potential determined at the grand age of eleven. She was placed in a class of disruptive children who didn’t want to learn where she was extremely unhappy. And the decline set in.

Her mum was incensed. Both she and I knew that her child was not a ‘low achiever’ as the label implied, wasn’t at the time and certainly wouldn’t be for the rest of her life as this score seemed to suggest. She was hard working and intelligent.

But she was separated from her friendship group, who were in a high achieving class, and she couldn’t settle. She couldn’t pay attention in lessons because of the behaviour of the rest of the group. She regularly became ill and hardly managed a full week at school. In the end her mum decided to remove her from school to home educate, work with her at home to improve her grades in the hope of her moving back into the class she had grown up with.

It wasn’t just the grades mum had to change but also the attitude of the teachers who took these results as gospel, didn’t want to change their view of her child, and had her down as an interfering parent.

It’s a good job she was an interfering parent. Thanks to her interference and work the child gained a place in a more appropriate class when she returned to school. She went on to achieve As and Bs and is now studying at University. So much for CAT scores!

My friend is glad she didn’t tear them up as she wanted to do at the time because she now has proof how wrong test results – and schools – can be. Without the faith of an ‘interfering’ parent the outcome would have been very different.

I wonder how many children who don’t have ‘interfering’ parents are graded for life at the age of eleven, or younger, and miss out on opportunities they have a right to? It sets my blood boiling too at the thought of it.

Inspiring kids to write…

A friend sent me this fascinating article about writing with primary school children that she found on the Guardian website from a while back. I wanted to put it here because it is so inspirational:

Nonsense that makes sense

Why does creative writing in schools bear so little relation to what writers actually do, asks Diane Samuels

Ten-year-old Tolga has offered to hand out the pencils. The other 28 pupils in his literacy set are sitting on the carpet opening their writer’s notebooks. Even as they begin to note the date, a transformation takes place: no longer a class of year 6 school students, but authors practising the art of writing.

For two years we have been working together on an evolving scheme of practice modelled on my own continually developing methodology as a professional writer. Original Creative Practice aims to inspire courage, authenticity and free-flowing expression through the written word. This morning, they take a few moments to write in preparation for a field trip. We choose an “anchor” phrase, “I am a writer and today…”. They know the score. They use these words to kick off the writing and keep it going whenever it threatens to dry up. The imperative is to write without stopping. Silence descends. The teachers are engrossed, too. If anyone pauses, I remind them: “Keep writing.”

The writer’s notebooks are decidedly not exercise books. They have bright covers, they are never scrutinised or marked, and in here the emerging writer is encouraged to liberate whatever voice wants to speak, experiment and play. In order to keep writing, they can abandon all concern for correct spelling and punctuation, make no corrections, avoid crossing out. There is an invitation to write nonsense, and if it happens to make sense, then that’ll do just as well. Trust that intuition.

After 15 minutes, the children are invited to share a fragment of what they’ve written. Kai is keen to read and, whereas two years ago he would write not a word, now he has covered the page in a stream of phrases that skip and rhyme and sing to his mum then turn into peas.

Then we pack our bags and head for the National Gallery. On the bus, the children observe and write or sketch. In the gallery, we “free write” some more in front of European art from the last six centuries. We decide on the anchor phrase “It is dusk and…” in front of Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, and closely observe “What I see is…” to get a handle on what is happening in Joseph Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump.

The extent of the realms that these artistic voyagers explore continually expands. When they were eight years old, we spent a day in Highgate woods collecting objects, making installations and sitting in trees, as William Blake once liked to do, writing silently. All they need is that pen and notebook.

I have been a professional writer for over 15 years, with a focus on playwriting for adults and children. My play Kindertransport was first performed in 1993 and is revived regularly. Most recently I’ve worked on material as diverse as Chekhov’s Three Sisters transposed to my home town of Liverpool in the late 1940s; the epic and quintessential love story of Psyche and Eros; and I am currently finishing a new play for the Unicorn Theatre, Echo and Dorian, in which the besotted nymph of the Narcissus myth becomes a contemporary pre-teen falling for a model in his late teens whose distorting picture lurks in a Wildean attic.

Gathering clay

Writing is the backbone of my life, come rain or shine, and, as any writer knows, it requires the regular sustained practice demanded of all art forms. Each writer has their own particular method. Many keep journals. Most carry their notebooks with them at all times. Mine involves writing freely the minute I wake every morning and again in the moments before I drop off to sleep at night. I also keep a journal, and note what I see and hear as I go about my days. This is the raw material that may feed a developing piece of work, like gathering clay from the river bed. Michael Rosen once talked about catching a passing idea as if it is a butterfly fluttering by. If you miss it, it’s gone.

I am also a trained teacher and once worked in inner-London secondary schools. The question I have asked over and over is why what I have encountered of creative writing in schools bears so little relation to what working writers do. A gap calls to be bridged. I started to develop Original Creative Practice as part of my teaching as a visiting lecturer in higher education. And then an organisation called Text: Writers in Schools sent me to run a couple of workshops at a school in Islington. There, something took off.

Creative practice

Grafton school is a contemporary primary school in a Victorian building. Children from a range of backgrounds, with a host of different needs, come together here. There are not many primary schools that would employ a permanent writer-in-residence, but the headteacher, Nitsa Sergides, in consultation with assistant headteacher Anna Sutton, did not hesitate. And so, at the end of 2006, I was attached to the school to work one day a week with a different year group each half term, right through from years 1 to 6. I also work with the teachers, encouraging their own creative practice and nourishing their artistic lives to inform their teaching.

Over these two years, many brightly coloured writer’s notebooks have been distributed and filled with reams of words. We integrate drama with writing practice, and I always share my professional work with the children and teachers along the way. We spent a term last year writing about giants and looking at sibling bullying, alongside visits to the Unicorn Theatre to see the company’s production of my play How to Beat a Giant. As I was writing a new play, Psyche, the children entered the Greek myth and encountered the jealous wrath of the goddess Aphrodite.

Tolga, Kai and their group are following up their National Gallery trip back in the classroom. They recently became artists with their teacher as model, and drew him sitting, back turned, in front of a projection of the back of a woman in a Hammershoi painting. Their writing from the phrase “He turned his back on me…” was linguistically expressive, brimming with rage, rejection and longing. And then their teacher read to them his free-writing, written as they had sketched him, jagged phrases of disorientation about what he could not see behind him. The real stuff of art. And every single one working as a writer with their own take, practising and developing their craft.

Needless to say, the Sats results reflect this confidence and fluidity. A recent Ofsted inspection of the school was utterly glowing. And we all really enjoy ourselves, too.


To see this story with its related links on the site, go to

How inspirational is that! The ironic thing is that I sat in a primary school the other day doing a piece of writing with nine to ten year olds who were so tied up with the mechanics of tenses, and first or third person, and getting their writing right in answer to the expectations of the National Curriculum and teachers ticking boxes, that most of them couldn’t think of what to say. The complete opposite of the experience described above and a classic case of far too much irrelevant analysis and structure resulting in the children being too inhibited to create and learn.

As most home educators know; get kids inspired and their learning flourishes. Sadly, there is so little to inspire them at the moment because of our rigid obsession with forcing far too much far too soon. A fault with our educational system which is putting our kids off education for life. And destroying their creativity.