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Another school
is possible
Alternatives to SATs and testing
£1 donation ● an Anti SATs Alliance publication
Another school is possible 1

A modest proposal
Paul Vernell 3

Lessons from over the dyke

Mary Compton 4

Do SATs tell the truth about achievement?

Terry Wrigley 6

A platform for the teaching of English

Alan Gibbons 8

Another school is possible

Nick Grant intervews Bob Peterson 11

Personalised learning as social selection

Hatcher 16

Assessment for learning

Lisa Hayes 19

Government fails 7 year olds

Jane Nellist 20

A question of pedagogy
Paul Phillips and Joel Mcilven 22

2 Another school is possible


A very modest proposal

Paul Vernell, Head of English at Filton High School,

South Gloucestershire, makes a suggestion

Ground down by SATs and targets, shocked and

angered by New Labour’s attacks on teacher
pensions and seething at the continuing war in
Iraq, the Tsunami disaster forced me, more than
any other event in the 16 years I have been
teaching, to consider: what is education’s purpose
in a world where we can spend trillions on
sending people to far away planets but we can’t
solve issues like early warning systems for tidal
waves and the logistics of aid?
In fact so shocked, I wondered if the young
people we teach, the global citizens of tomorrow,
could come up with ideas for dealing with the
devastating consequences of events in South east
Asia. Could the education we offer them provide
the tools to begin to explore and identify answers
to the situation we currently face? Not a rehashed
vocationalism but a truly interesting and relevant
learning experience that is situated in the world.
In short can young people sketch another world
in which natural catastrophes are not
exacerbated by poverty, third world debt,
unemployment and displacement?
So, in a packed Friday briefing, when the
Head was reminding us of litter problems, I put
forward a modest proposal. Would it not be a
good idea to harness the solidarity, Children care and are yearning to act
internationalism and curiosity generated by the
Tsunami disaster? Spending a week, perhaps more ideas poured forth.
working alongside NGOs such as Oxfam, our Each day of the week will focus on one year
students should have the chance to analyse and group. After showing a collated video of scenes
explore the problems and the possible solutions from the area and an assembly provided by the
to the situation we were witnessing on our Christian Aid website, a series of questions will
screens each night. Not a week of regurgitating then be shown followed by a starter on problem
tired facts but a week when every curriculum area solving skills Then off to lessons. And it doesn’t
would offer each year group from 7-11 a real matter what lesson they are in, students will
context and purpose for the skills we teach. explore the big questions thrown up. The last
Yes, came the answer and I thought I heard a period of the day will be a whole year group
collective sigh of relief. The Head of Maths wants plenary sharing their solutions to the questions
to look at the speed of waves and the raised at the beginning of the day.
effectiveness of early warning systems, the Design The school council has proposed that the final
and Technology teachers want to look at the day be a non uniform day with students
constructing new houses, in English we will look contributing their money to the DEC fund.
at discursive and argumentative writing around So we’re off! And the theme for the week? Is
the theme of debt: relief or abolition, and many another world possible?
Another school is possible 3

Lessons from
over the dyke

Mary Compton, President of the NUT,

writes how the Welsh Assembly’s abolition of
KS1 SATs has improved education
t an NUT meeting in Radnor shortley Welsh Assembly has gone some way towards

A after the Tory government introduced

SATs, an experienced primary school
teacher described how she was sitting
with her Year 2 class, wading through
preparation for the forthcoming tests when one
of the children looked out of the window and
noticed that a sheep in the field outside was in the
releasing teachers from their straitjackets—let us
say that at least we no longer have our arms tied
behind our backs.
Even before the Welsh Assembly came into
being, there has been a history in Wales of more
progressive educational thinking and practice. For
example, there are very few opted out schools in
process of giving birth. Wales. And since the inception of the assembly it
Her first reaction to this was to think, ‘We has so far resisted most of the excesses of White-
haven’t got time for this, the SATs are in a few hall policy. For example, as yet there are no plans
weeks, we’ve got to get on.’ Almost immediately, for academies or specialist schools.
however, her better instincts as a teacher took Estyn is marginally more enlightened than
hold of her and asking herself what education was OFSTED and has never made the kind of abrasive
after all about she took the whole class outside to statements about teachers which were continually
watch the lamb being born. emenating fron Woodhead. The Assembly fought
I am aware that by starting an article about a rearguard action against the linking of teacher
developments in Wales with a story about sheep I performance to pay and has not embraced the
am in danger of reinforcing ignorant stereotypes idea of teaching assistants taking whole classes
of life on the other side of Offa’s Dyke. However, with any enthusiasm. But more importantly for
what I hope this story illustrates is the dilemma the purposes of this article, there are no primary
teachers face between trusting their own judge- school league tables and Key Stage 1 SATs were
ment and submitting to the straitjackets imposed abolished several years ago.
on them by a succession of control-mad govern-
ments. The fact that one of the latest primary doc- Assessment
uments issuing from Whitehall cynically tacks the However, the most significant development of all
word ‘enjoyment’ onto the policy—it will surely be has been the establishment of the Daugherty
only a matter of time before we are instructed to review of assessment in Wales, which has recom-
provide enjoyment for five per cent of teaching mended the abolition of all SATs and their
time—only makes the teacher’s confinement more replacement by a system of teacher assessment at
painful. However, I am pleased to say that the the end of Key Stages 2 and 3, and the introduc-
4 Another school is possible

tion of some testing in Year 5 for the purposes of confidence to innovate and be creative suffers as a Can Wales
improving children’s learning. Of course this is a result. We do not yet know what the Year 5 tests show England
great leap forward for Wales and one all the more are going to be like and we must be vigilant that the way
significant since we have tried the English model they are not just a new Welsh form of SATs. forward?
of SATs and found them seriously wanting. And we also suffer from the fact that many
Daugherty took evidence from all interested young teachers know nothing but SATs and are
parties—parents, teachers, pupils, academics and nervous at the idea of managing without them. It
teacher unions. We therefore join Scotland to is almost like our hands have been tied behind
leave England totally isolated in its adherence to our backs for so long that our muscles are starting
SATs. Many countries are looking at what is going to whither away and now that we are almost free
on in England and, impressed by England’s appar- again we are going to need some intensive and
ently good showing in the PISA study of achieve- sometimes painful phisiotherapy to get them
ment at 14, are thinking of introducing similar working again. But I have no doubt that the teach-
systems themselves. The Daugherty report will be ers of Wales will rise to the challenge and that the
an invaluable help in combatting these misguided country which has traditionally such respect for
plans. education and teachers will not have reason to be
Of course not everything in the Welsh valleys is disappointed in them.
green. Funding is appallingly low and many Offas Dyke was built by an English king to keep
schools are struggling with deficit budgets. the barbarous Welsh hoards from its land. Well
Although the Assembly was not keen on some of now we in Wales have managed to repell the Eng-
the workload reforms, I have no doubt that cash- lish idea of punishing and deadening testing. Per-
strapped heads will be using unqualified staff to haps it is time for the barbarians on the English
‘teach’ just as their colleagues in England are side of the border to take some lessons in civilisa-
doing. We are still inspected and our power and tion from this side of the Dyke.
Another school is possible 5

Do SATs tell the

truth about
Terry Wrigley, lecturer in school
development at the University of Edinburgh
asks the fundamental question
he answer appears to be—the whole also very little improvement for the most advances

T truth, twice the truth, maybe three

times the truth. The government con-
stantly uses rising SATs scores in claims
that their policies are working, but
recent research raises serious questions about the
SATs can be trusted. The British Educational
Research Journal (BERJ) is probably the highest
pupils in the class.

Some high attainers in this case study also expressed

to us their frustration at their progress being held
back by the whole class teaching emphasis, which
tends to be pitched at the needs of the middle
group. (BERJ, October 2003, p662)
ranking educational research journal, and articles
that appear in it are rigorously checked by other The research cast doubt on government claims
experts before being published. Yet in the last two that their strategy has worked miracles. A press
years, it has published some damning studies release in March 2003 claimed:
which suggest that the SATs just cannot be
trusted. Recent improvements in pupils’ achievements in lit-
The National Numeracy Strategy has forced eracy and numeracy have been substantial. 73 per
teachers to teach Maths in a particular way, with a cent of 11 year olds achieved at least level 4 in Maths
big emphasis on whole-class practice of mental in 2002—a 14 point increase since 1998.
arithmetic. It costs £400,000,000, yet according to
researchers it has brought about only two months The researchers have spotted that the govern-
progress—and may have led to a deterioration in ment spin doctors chose 1998 as their base line (a
mathemetical skills other than calculation. very poor year), and if they had chosen 1999, just
Professor Margaret Brown and her colleagus at before the strategy was introduced, the improve-
King’s College, University of London, point out ment would have been only 4 per cent. They also
that two thirds of the schools in their sample state that improved SATs scores are largely the
showed progress, but in a third of the schools result of careful coaching for the test.
results went down. They also showed that results One of the most expert research units for
got worse for the low attaining pupils, probably assessment results is the CEM at the University of
because teachers were now focussing on the aver- Durham. In a report of August 2004 (BERJ,
age child in the class and no longer paying atten- pp477-494), Professor Peter Tymms asks, ‘Are
tion to their needs. The gap got bigger between standards rising in English primary schools?’
the lowest attaining pupils and the rest. There was He carefully compares the data from SATs with
6 Another school is possible

eleven other sources of data, including govern- reading that has some meaning. They called these Government
ment departments and universities. These alterna- ‘holding activities’ which ‘occupied pupils but did figures just
tive data sources involved well-established tests (as not develop or consolidate their literacy skills’ and don’t add up
opposed to the SATs which keep changing), and a reduce interest and motivation. (National Literacy
very large sample (nearly half a million pupils). He Strategy: the Third Year, HMI 2001, www.ofsted.
concludes that, according to the alternative data,
the proportion attaining a level 4 in reading at the Some schools had abandoned independent
end of primary school should have risen from 48 reading, which did not fit into the official pattern
per cent (1995) to 58 per cent (2000), rather than of the Literacy Hour. Boys were responding badly
the 75 per cent shown by the SATs. (After 2000, to one lesson in eight (even when the inspectors
little change has occurred in results). were watching!) and the gap between boys and
girls was not closing. The curriculum was narrow-
Simple questions of fact ing, as teachers focused more and more on tests:
When the SATs were tried out on pupils in North- ‘The development of enquiry skills in history and
ern Ireland, who have a different system of educa- Geography, and refining of technical skills in
tion and had not been coached for the SATs, the practical subjects is being neglected’. The inspec-
pupils also said they were getting easier. tors suggest that teachers connect reading with
Mary Hilton (University of Cambridge) also real knowledge in History and Science, for exam-
found that the tests were being made easier. ple—which is just what many primary teachers
There was a switch from more subtle questions used to do before the government stopped it!
involving inference or deduction1 to simple ques-
tions of fact. The most dramatic year-on-year Terry Wrigley is a lecturer in school development at
improvement in SATs scores happened because the University of Edinburgh. He edits the journal
of a shift from a thoughtful personal account of a Improving Schools, and has written two books, The
writer’s childhood to a much simpler passage Power to Learn (2000) and Schools of Hope (2003).
about spiders. (Reading, 2001, no 1) He has worked in education for over 30 years, as a
Altogether, it seems, the tests are being simpli- secondary school teacher, staff development
fied so that the government can claim their poli- manager, inspector and university teacher.
cies are working. And teachers are getting better
at judging exactly what they need to teach so that Note
more children will pass the tests. But what is hap- 1 For example, reading between the lines;
pening to educational standatds? understanding something the writer had hinted at
Inspectors have pointed to an increase in basic rather than directly stated; reaching a conclusion from
excercised where children just practice rather the writer’s evidence which hasn’t been fully spelt out.
Another school is possible 7

A platform for
the teaching
of English
Award winning writer Alan Gibbons is
coordinator of Authors Against the SATs. Here
he gives his vision of an alternative to testing
ometimes I wonder, if we were to

learn to talk or walk by means of some Though less draconian and punitive than in the
Government-inspired strategy, would Woodhead years, Ofsted remains a ‘from above’
we get there at all? If we went through approach. There is still little attempt to work
the prescribed stages of level one, with schools. Externally imposed league tables
rock on your belly, level two, crawl, level three, and drives for standards continue to define its
totter towards the couch, level four, stagger inde- operation.
pendently, would we ever manage to boldly go
anywhere? The National Literacy Strategy
In the course of my career as a children’s While I work with many creative and intelligent
author and educational consultant I visit some 150 people in the NLS, the strategy is still marked by
schools a year. I find a huge amount of common the conditions of its birth, the testing regime and
ground when it comes to the teaching of English. Ofsted. Liberated from those shackles it could
This broad agreement, needless to say, generally potentially develop into something much more
runs counter to official Government policy. exciting and holistic.
The current regime in schools generally rests A recent survey by the NLS in Surrey confirms
upon three foundations: what many already know. Consider these two
● the testing regime damning statistics:
● Ofsted What percentage of level 3 pupils at Year 6 did
● the National Literacy Strategy. not move at all between KS2 2000 and KS3 2003
in English? 30 per cent.
The testing regime What percentage of level 4 pupils at Y6 did not
SAT results have been more or less static for move at all between KS2, 2000 and KS3, 2003 in
some years. In the early years of a testing regime, English? 19 per cent.
teaching to the test can inflate test scores. You For a third of pupils at level 3 and a fifth of
learn to cram the children. This approach has pupils at level 4 to make no progress between
crushed the life out of English schools, subordi- eleven and fourteen years old should set alarm
nating everything to the stultifying mantra: teach bells ringing and cast doubt on the effectiveness
to the test. But, after the initial rise in test scores, of the Government’s approach. The evidence of
any illusory progress soon fades like the smile on a desire for change is everywhere. Wales is drop-
the Cheshire cat. ping the SATs. Scotland didn’t have them in the
8 Another school is possible

Another school is possible 9

this have something to do with a stale diet of

3) Assessment
SATs and league tables should be abolished. Few
believe they serve any valid purpose. Just because
the SATs boycott didn’t materialise doesn’t mean
that SATs are in any way valued by teachers or chil-
dren. The tests should be replaced by moderated
teacher assessment with a minimum of paper work.
The watchword should be: minimise administra-
tion, maximise learning. Assessment of writing
should be by a portfolio of children’s work. There is
already such an experiment in Birmingham.

4) Inspection and advice

Ofsted should be abolished and replaced with a
The Anti-SATs first place. The National Association for the new model, supporting and advising teachers. A
Alliance’s Teaching of English, Authors Against the SATs, mark of goodwill might be for all inspectors to
founding the Meetings with the Minister pamphlet and teach a sample lesson to prove they are able prac-
conference the Times Educational Supplement have all titioners. Advisors should teach alongside teach-
challenged the ‘test and table’campaign.There ers in the classroom, not lecture to them at
needs to be a concerted effort to raise standards INSET meetings.
through creativity and pedagogical freedom.
This is, after all, what exists in Finland, the Teacher training
country which tops the OECD rankings for edu- This should be on a pedagogic, not a managerial
cational success. It might look something like model. The ability to maintain the attention of a
this. class is more important than the ability to main-
tain a laminated folder of objectives and out-
A platform for literacy comes. Children’s literature should be a central
1) Reading development module, as should the teaching of reading. The
To develop a literate classroom the library should teacher should be seen as an exemplary adult who
be central. There should be a chartered librarian reads for pleasure and celebrates the accumula-
in every High School administering a ring-fenced tion of knowledge. To achieve this, there should
book budget. The librarian should lead a team be time set aside for the teacher’s own intellectual
interacting with small groups of children, linking development. You don’t get dynamic, inspira-
their reading to personal interest. The librarian tional teachers in the classroom by driving them
should have responsibility for the feeder primar- to distraction through bureaucratic red tape.
ies in the locality. Children’s writing should be
prominently displayed throughout the school. Conclusion
The teacher should regularly read aloud to the The drive for standards has served only to drive
class. Children should read silently in class for many good teachers out of the profession and to
pleasure and have time to browse. There should drive children crazy with boredom. Working with
be book weeks and author visits on a regular teachers and students to develop a curriculum
basis. The Government should campaign nation- which they find stimulating could pay dividends.
ally for school bookshops. A move in that direction is long overdue.

2) Writing Alan Gibbons is a writer and independent

There should be a balance of directed and free educational consultant. After twenty years as a teacher
writing with the accent on the child’s individuality at KS1, 2 and 3, Alan turned to writing full time. Twice
and creativity. Writing should be encouraged shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, twice shortlisted for
throughout the curriculum, eroding the arbitrary the Booktrust Teenage Prize, Alan has won the Blue
subject divisions. There should be a national mag- Peter Book Award and the Leicester and Angus Prizes.
azine for young writers, subsidised by Govern- Alan is a popular speaker at schools, libraries, colleges
ment funds but not subject to the editorial control and conferences. He speaks at 150 schools a year. He
of its agencies. There should be a pilot of ‘Inte- has toured Spain, France, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and
grated English’ in which English, drama and the Switzerland, and is due to visit Hong Kong and Taipei.
arts would be taught as an integrated whole. One Alan is the coordinator of Authors Against the SATs. He
survey showed that 33% of students had Drama as lives with his wife and four children in Liverpool where he
their favourite subject but only 6% English. Could is a columnist for the local paper, the Liverpool Echo.
10 Another school is possible

Ealing National Union of Teachers branch
secretary Nick Grant interviews American
activist Bob Peterson him about his work
What are the core ideas of the Rethinking educational justice. We do this in our monthly
Schools organisation? magazine, the books we’ve published and our web
We advocate the reform of elementary and sec- site
ondary public schools in the United States with an Recently we’ve initiated a program called
emphasis on urban schools and issues of equity “From the World to our Classrooms” in collabora-
and social justice. We stress a grassroots perspec- tion with the group Global Exchange. We’ve
tive combining theory and practice and linking organized curriculum tours of educators from the
classroom issues to broader policy concerns. We United States to go and visit social justice activists
are an activist publication and encourage teach- on the border of Mexico and the US so that teach-
ers, parents, and students to become involved in ers can meet and learn first hand from workplace,
building quality public schools for all children. women’s, community and environmental activists.
On return to their schools teachers advocate soli-
What are the key aims of the RS organisation? darity policies within their union and create cur-
Rethinking Schools seeks to build a movement for ricula to help teach about these matters.
more equitable, just, and critical education for all
students. We understand that a key part in win- How is your organisation structured?
ning the struggle for educational justice is the Rethinking Schools started in 1986 from a study
linking of those struggles with broader social circle of teacher and community activists. Many of
movements. This linkage, however, should take us had been active in the civil rights, anti-war, and
place not only in the general political arena where women’s movements and we wanted to bring the
teacher unions fight for socially just policies, but same kind of critique and activism to work around
in the very curriculum and structure of schooling schools. We started small on my kitchen table with
itself, where teachers and their organizations pro- a can of rubber cement and an old Apple IIe com-
mote critical global justice pedagogy and create puter. We’ve grown a lot in the last 18 years! We
structures that promote access and power to the are a “non-profit” independent organization that
most disenfranchised sections of our society. is not affiliated to any trade union or political
Rethinking Schools tries to promote these party. We operate as a non-hierarchical organiza-
kinds of activities through clear analysis of policy tion with no “executive director” and try to make
issues, thoughtful descriptions of critical teaching major decisions through consensus.
practices in all subject areas, reviews of progres- We are based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but
sive resources, and reporting on organizing for have editors on both the east and west coast of the
Another school is possible 11
12 Another school is possible
Another school is possible 13

Above: testing U.S. We have 11 volunteer editors, a small staff of unions, the National Education Association and
in a US school. five people and a network of supporters, friends the American Federation of Teachers.
Previous and volunteers. Individual editors are connected But these folks are smart. They’ve used the
pages: British to other union, professional or political organiza- problems of the public school system to their
school students tions in which we organize. advantage. For example, in Milwaukee, the city
demonstrating with the nation’s largest publicly-financed private
against the war In the UK City Academies are modelled on the school voucher program, the right wing founda-
US Charter school idea. The recent collapse of a tions have been able to buy off a group of leaders
Charter school company in Los Angeles and the in the African-American and Latino communities
underperformance of Charter school kids in so that they support vouchers and have turned
national tests suggests that this flagship of out- against public schools.
sourced education is not working. Would you The fact is the teacher unions and progressives
agree? who support public education have to realize that
To any rational observer one would have to say such it’s not enough just to expose the aims of the
experiments are not working, but that doesn’t stop right-wing but to figure out ways to act on the
the folks who are pushing privatization of public legitimate concerns of oppressed nationality com-
services and market-based “solutions” to the educa- munities. This is particularly difficult given the sig-
tional problems that exist in the United States. nificant cut backs in school budgets. It’s the fine
There is a very well-financed network of foun- line that most public sector unions have to walk;
dations, think tanks, wealthy individuals, and right- on the one hand to defend the public sector and
wing political organizations that have significant services, and yet be critical and pressure those in
capacity to continue the political campaigns on power to improve them. If we don’t do this strate-
these issues. Their goal isn’t the betterment of edu- gically, we open ourselves up to losing the battle
cation, so they are not deterred by reports of for the hearts and minds of significant section of
school failure. Their goal is clearly privatization of the urban community.
one of the few remaining public sector institutions
in the United States, along with the destruction, or The anti-war editions of your journal must have
at least the weakening, of the two major teachers made an impact. Were they well received?
14 Another school is possible
Our special editions that we put out, both after domestic and international matter, that people
the September 11 attack and after the launching know it’d be a disaster if the Bush-led cabal of
of the second Iraqi war, were well received in right wing ideologues, free-marketeers and Christ-
some quarters, and of course, hated in others. We ian fundamentalists continued in power for
distributed over 100,000 copies of our special another four years.
print edition of “War, Terrorism and Our Class-
rooms,” and another 100,000 pdfs of the issue How do you maintain a dissident pedagogy
were downloaded from our web site. That cer- inside otherwise hostile systems?
tainly shows some serious interest in our work. At I maintain my pedagogical approaches in a couple
the same time, the right wing, especially the right- of ways.
wing media, went ballistic on this matter. First is my politics and commitment to justice.
For example, a Milwaukee-based radio talk This may sound corny, but what alternative is
show personality got hold of our special edition there? A lapel pin I like to wear reads “If you are
on Iraq and used it to try to get me fired. For 16 not outraged, you are not paying attention.” Well,
straight days my school principal, the school I’m paying attention and I’m outraged. If teachers
superintendent and I received phone calls and think that they should be “neutral” in a world so
emails demanding that I be fired or worse. Actu- filled with injustice, then they are just modelling
ally a couple people suggested I move to France, moral and civic apathy. Is that what we want to
but they never offered to pay my way so I rejected teach our children?
that idea. Seriously, it got ugly, and in a few cases That being said, I don’t believe the role of polit-
in other parts of the United States teachers were ical teachers is to didactically teach students and
fired. try to convince them of certain political positions.
For the vast majority, however, the post-9-11 Not in the least. What we need to do is something
and post-Iraq-invasion, flag-waving jingoism had much more complicated, much more in the spirit
the effect of intimidating teachers from teaching of the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire. We
about this and other controversial subjects. Resis- need to help students interrogate their world, to
tance to this kind of wide-spread acceptance of use all forms of text and media to better under-
the status quo is one of Rethinking Schools’ key stand it, and to see the importance of being sub-
messages: We believe that teachers have a civic jects, not objects of history to be acted upon. This
and moral responsibility to have their students means providing alternatives to establishment
study issues of global injustice, and ask deep ques- media and school texts, encouraging debate,
tions, probe “received” wisdom, even at the risk of questioning, and role plays where all “official”
being labeled “unpatriotic.” positions and dominant forms of thinking are fair
game. Ultimately it means engendering the kind
Is the US anti-war movement generally still of social action we know is necessary to help cre-
growing? ate a more just world.
Yes it is very much alive, but it still hasn’t regained The second way I maintain my sanity is
the strength it had in the pre-Iraq invasion days of through my close friends and comrades in
February 2003. The recent demonstration of a Rethinking Schools and other political organiza-
half a million people in August in front of the tions. History teaches us that social change comes
Republican convention, however, shows signifi- through social movements, and I am inspired by
cant sentiment against the war. It was the largest the social movements—whether they be in Chia-
demonstration in the history of our nation at any pas or Palestine or in the barrios of East Los
political convention. While Kerry supporters were Angeles in the United States. More importantly I
evident in the demonstration, the vast majority know that only by working together in our politi-
were focused on anti-Bush and anti-war messages. cal collectives, our trade unions and broader polit-
In one section of the march, people carried nearly ical organizations and parties can we move
1,000 black cloth-draped coffins, representing the forward. My hope is that people will see the need
number of US personnel who’ve died in the war. to move beyond much of the left-sectarianism that
It was very moving. Comments by Kerry that he’ll has plagued progressive forces for so many years
“do a better job of winning the war” than Bush, and understand that a new world is only possible
upset big chunks of the anti-war movement. with a bold, non-sectarian approach to social jus-
I think the Kerry voter registration efforts have tice politics.
drawn mainly from the labor movement and
other social movements, like the environmental Bob Peterson, editor of Rethinking Schools, is a
and women’s movement, although some from the fifth grade teacher at La Escuela Fratney, a bilingual
anti-war movement. Mobilizing hard core anti-war (Spanish/English) school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
folks to work for Kerry has not been as easy. He is also a writer, activist, and co-editor of the book,
That’s not to say people won’t end up voting for Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an
him. Bush is so reactionary on virtually every Unjust World available at
Another school is possible 15

learning as
social selection
Richard Hatcher, from the University of
Central England, in Birmingham, shows us
the bigger the idea the harder it falls
ersonalised learning is one of Labour’s ing pupils. As the authors of the book Learning

P new ‘big ideas’ for education. First

launched by Tony Blair at the 2003
Labour Party Conference, it was
defined by David Miliband that year as
‘an education system where assessment, curricu-
lum, teaching style, and out of hours provision are
all designed to discover and nurture the unique
without Limits4 say, ‘Tasks can be successfully
‘matched’ at an appropriate level of demand for
young people of different abilities or levels of
attainment without any genuine connection being
achieved between young people’s hearts and
minds and the tasks they are asked to undertake.’
(p182). It is a way of thinking exemplified by
talents of every single pupil…’1 In 2004 the DfES Miliband’s advocacy of the spurious concepts of
published a pamphlet by Charles Leadbetter of ‘Gifted and Talented’5 and of ‘individual learning
Demos, Learning about personalisation: how can styles’,6 recently exposed as largely without scien-
we put the learner at the heart of the education tific basis.7 It leads teachers to conceptualise their
system?2 Personalised learning is one of the key pupils in terms of categories of relatively stable
themes of Labour’s 2004 Five Year Strategy for ability and creates a disposition to accept failure.
Children and Learners. It results in differentiated provision, justified on
At first sight, this seems to be one government the basis of innate ‘aptitudes’, which reinforces,
education policy we can all agree on. But a closer not reduces, patterns of social inequality.
look shows that what Labour means by person- As Learning without Limits says, ‘Teaching that
alised learning is a crude categorisation of pupils’ seeks to foster diversity through co-agency is con-
abilities as the basis for social selection into differ- cerned not with match, but with connection,
ent job-related pathways. achieving a genuine meeting of minds, purposes
and concerns between teachers and young peo-
Categorising or connecting? ple…’ (pp182-3). This means ‘teaching in a way
According to Miliband, ‘:...the most effective that does make use of specific knowledge about
teaching depends on really knowing the needs, individuals that is significant for learning, but uses
strengths and weaknesses of individual pupils. So it in a way that does not perpetuate or re-create
the biggest driver for change and gain is use of the limiting and divisive effects that they associate
data on pupil achievement to design learning with ability labelling’, but instead ‘to anticipate
experiences that really stretch individual pupils...3 and lift limits’ to participation and learning, in the
But ‘pupil data’ generated by a regime of tests and context of common learning activities for every-
targets does not provide the basis for really know- one in the class (p184).
16 Another school is possible

All students This very different concept of learning, person- tion and choice’. Charles Leadbetter in his DfES
deserve alised and collective at the same time, has pamphlet stresses that:
personalised resource implications which are ignored in ‘The biggest challenge to the personalized
learning Labour’s version. Class sizes need to be smaller, learning agenda is its implications for inequality.’
and in secondary schools so does the number of He warns that differences in provision, and
students each teacher has to relate to. ‘Personal- choice, will benefit the middle class at the
ization’ is one of the principles of the progressive expense of the working class unless there is sub-
high school Coalition of Essential Schools in the stantial state action to compensate. He is naïve.
US, and it entails no teacher having to teach more The Five Year Strategy itself recognises the huge
than 80 students in total because it is impossible and widening class gap in education, but proposes
to make that meaningful ‘connection’ with more. no radical policies capable of reversing it. On the
contrary, the reality is that the fundamental pur-
Personalisation and choice pose of the personalisation and choice agenda is
as social selection social selection for the labour market. Charles
The key aim of Labour’s Five Year Strategy for Clarke in his foreword to the Five Year Strategy
Children and Learners is to ‘promote personalisa- advocates ‘as young people begin to train for
Another school is possible 17
work, a system that recognises individual apti- Three principles of
tudes and provides as many tailored paths to education for all
employment as there are people and jobs.’ In In response we should say clearly three things.
other words, a hierarchy of different academic First, what is good for some is good for all. If a
and vocational pathways. privileged enriched curriculum is right for the
five or ten per cent so-called ‘gifted and talented’,
The dualised curriculum how much more is it deserved by those less advan-
This agenda is not unique to New Labour, it is a taged? If an introduction to the ‘world of work’ is
deliberate European Union strategy to make edu- thought right for some at 14, it is right for all,
cation conform to the needs of employers under though as part of a critical education, not as pre-
the cloak of the apparently user-friendly language mature job training.
of ‘personalisation and choice’, as the recent Secondly, a high quality education for all,
Thélot report in France illustrates.8 The aim is the allowing entry into the culture of knowledge and
abandonment of any pretence of education pro- full citizenship, requires a broad common core
viding high quality access for all to a common cul- curriculum until age 16. In that context there is
ture of knowledge, which is regarded both as of course room for an element of choice, pro-
unnecessary for increasingly dualised labour mar- vided it does not serve to reinforce social
ket needs and undesirably expensive. The inequalities.
dualised labour market dictates a dualised cur- Thirdly, the way to tackle the deep class
riculum comprising a narrow and dumbed-down inequality in our school system is not government-
common core of basic competences and a style personalisation, choice and diversity but to
broader subject curriculum which is marginalised adopt the radical measures needed to provide
in the primary school and becomes reserved in working class children and young people with the
the secondary school for the largely middle class intellectual tools for educational success.
higher achievers. Richard Hatcher works at the University of Central
In England it starts in the primary school. In England, Birmingham. Any correspondence to
February 2004, at a conference for Primary Strat-
egy leaders, Michael Barber, responsible for the
‘delivery’ of government policy, demanded ‘Is Notes
enough time devoted to literacy and numeracy in 1 David Miliband, in his speech to the National
every class? If it’s less than 50 per cent then it’s College for School Leadership in October 2003,
not enough.’9 On top of this additional time was quoted in Personalised Learning—an Emperor’s
needed for extended writing. That leaves about 40 Outfit? by Martin Johnson, IPPR, March 2004. See
per cent for everything else. It is working class
children who pay the price, while for middle class 2
children the impoverished school curriculum is unit/personalisation/pllearn/?version=1
supplemented by the ‘curriculum of the home’. 3 Miliband as in 1.
In secondary school the curriculum begins to 4 S Hart, A Dixon, M J Drummond and D McIntyre,
divide, cementing social segregation between and (2004) Learning without Limits, Maidenhead: Open
within schools. The common curriculum ends at University Press.
age 14, from when foreign languages, the arts and 5 D Miliband (2004) ‘Choice and voice in
humanities become optional. It is mainly schools personalised learning’, speech to the
in working-class areas which are abandoning these DfES/Demos/OECD conference on Personalising
subjects, while they remain an indicator of aca- Education: the future of public sector reform,
demic success in middle class schools. For the London, 18 May. See the critique by Robin
majority of working class students the diet is a Alexander (2004) ‘Excellence, enjoyment and
basic core—exemplified by Tomlinson’s proposed personalised learning: a true foundation for choice?’
school-leaving tests in functional English, maths Education Review, 18 (1). (Edited version of keynote
and information technology—and vocational train- address given to the NUT National Educational
ing. First came the decision to allow FE colleges to Conference on 3 July 2004.)
take students from 14 part-time, again mainly 6 Quoted by Johnson, as in 1.
working class. The latest government plan, to be 7 F Coffield, D Moseley, E Hall and K Ecclestone
published shortly in a White Paper, is that 14 year (2004) Should we be using learning styles? What
old students can go to FE college fulltime, or take research has to say to practice. At
up a trade such as plumbing under a ‘young See the DfES booklet Learning Styles, which
apprenticeship’ scheme on a split week basis recommends the vacuous VAK model.
between college, school and work—all justified in 8 See the critiques at
the name of personalised learning.10 And Bell, the 9 Quoted by Alexander, as in 5.
chief inspector, is due to call for new vocational 10 Independent 13 December 2004, p18.
schools for 14-16 year olds.11 11 TES 7 January 2005, p1.
18 Another school is possible

Assessment for learning

Primary school deputy headteacher Lisa Hayes argues

this can provide an alternative to SATs

Assessment for Learning is nothing new. Many

teachers have been using techniques that fall
within the broad spectrum of work that it
encompasses for years. What is new, is that within
the framework provided by the Primary Strategy
Document—Excellence and Enjoyment, it can be
seen as an alternative to SATs.
AfL is about demystifying learning at the same
time as allowing children to understand how
curricular targets can help them track their own
improvement. With curricular targets replacing
numeric targets we do away with the current
simplistic and dangerous reduction of the
measuring of attainment and replace it with the
ongoing commitment to a child centred inclusive
approach to maximising achievement. This is just
as important in gauging the quality of schools but
removes the unhealthy domination of league
tables and the current one size fits all approach
to national testing.
The principles behind AfL are simple.
● It involves telling children what they are going
to learn and why so that they can become
actively involved in their own learning
● It is about teachers adjusting their teaching Is this the best way of maximising achievement?
during lessons to take into account the needs
of pupils Teachers have never been in a better position
● It is based on the notion that feedback given to to win the argument that supports Assessment for
children about their work or performance can Learning as the core to effective teaching as
only be effective if it allows them to progress as opposed to Assessment of Learning which is all
a result of being given that feedback about summative assessment, tests, targets and
● It is about recognising the effect that tables.
assessment and feedback can have on a child in The current argument which claims that
empowering them to want to learn more or league tables make schools accountable can be
demotivating them and switching them off. easily rubbished when you consider that AfL if
● It is about children being able to assess well used by skilled teachers can make an
themselves and understand what they need to enormous difference to children’s achievement.
do in order to improve. The measure of achievement is against
The government is greatly encouraging curricular targets and not simplistic numeric
primary teachers to adopt these broad principles thresholds.
and adapt the implementation of them to meet Lisa Hayes is a Deputy Headteacher of a Primary
the needs of their own teaching style and the school in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, where she is leading
needs of their children. The DfES has produced a the implementation of Assessmemt for Learning. Lisa is
lot of training materials that support teachers and also the President of North Hertfordshire NUT and past
schools wishing to move towards this approach. President of Hertfordshire Division.
Another school is possible 19

fails 7 year olds

Primary teacher from Coventry, Jane

Nellist, asks if the new plans for testing at
Key Stage 1 are really any different
uring the height of the anti-SATs ment scores is a smokescreen—the tests still have

D movement, teschers, parents, pupils

and academics all urged the govern-
ment to abandon SATs, especially the
Key Stage 1 SATs for seven year olds.
Every anti-SATs stall and campaign meeting
organised by parents and teachers heard horror
stories about unneccesary stress parents thought
to be carried out! As for workload, my colleagues
carrying out the pilot did comment on reduced
workload as long as the school gives the teacher
time to plan and mark the tests as well as the
moderation that is required. With pressures on
schools to provide PPA time, time for KS1 SATs
may disappear.
their children at seven were subjected to as a So has the government got it right? The simple
direct result of the SATs. answer is no! They have missed the golden oppor-
In 2003, the NUT surveyed members in 12 tunity to announce to the country that Key Stage
LEAs around the country. More than 92 per cent 1 SATs do not serve any educational purpose. The
of Key Stage 1 teachers wanted the SATs abol- education spin merchants have missed their
ished. In a more recent survey this year, con- chance. Just imagine the spin that could have
ducted by FDS (First Destination Surveys), over been:
three quarters of parents surveyed wanted to see ● that the Tories got it wrong when they
an end to Key Stage 1 SATs. All major parent introduced them in 1991
groups support this move. So why hasn’t the gov- ● that they have listened to the views of parents
ernment listened and scrapped these damaging and educational experts—the teachers
tests in England as has happened in Wales? ● that rather than enhance and improve
The government’s response to the tidal wave of education in the most formative years of a
public and professional opposition was limited to child’s life, they have been damaging and have
a pilot scheme in 35 LEAs in England. The pilot, stifled the curriculum and educational
having been assessed by Leeds University, will now opportunities and duly abolished them, and
be rolled out throughout England in 2005. How- ● that they TRUST teachers’ professional
ever, we need to be clear, Key Stage 1 SATs are judgement.
still firmly in place. That would have been the sensible thing to do,
The only difference is that teachers can now but no, we still have a system of testing in place for
choose which SATs papers and task materials seven year olds in England.
they use and when they carry them out. The fact Is it that they don’t trust teachers? Do they
that teachers only have to report teacher assess- not want to appear to have given in to the NUT?
20 Another school is possible

The answer cannot be that they are listening to curriculum remains crucial. Pupils don’t
reasoned arguments, nor that they have based Even with the new arrangements for KS1 SATs have to be
their decisions on logic and research. All the in 2005, I am afraid that fundamentally, KS1 SATs disaffected
research is in our favour! It’s interesting to read are still enmeshed in our school systems and will
comments by Stephen Twigg in September continue to distort the curriculum and learning
about the findings from the pilot. He said, “We opportunities for our youngest pupils. Is it any
are putting all our faith and trust in teachers. wonder that we are experiencing record numbers
The trials have shown that teacher assessment is of disaffected pupils at such an early age?
robust and we have confidence in the profession. Undoubtedly the government has missed a
So why the tests? Surely there is a big contradic- golden opportunity to demonstrate that it has lis-
tion here. If teacher assessment is robust, then tened for a change. Teachers will still be forced to
why the need to impose national SATs tests on carry out the tests—whether they be this year’s or
seven year olds? next year’s version. Children will still be subject to
The problem with SATs at Key Stage 1 is that it sitting them. The government has failed in its
depends very much on the attitude of the school duty and responsibility for our young pupils by
management. One would hope that schools try to holding on to SATs against the odds. So the ques-
carry out the statutory requirements with little tion still remains. Why is the government intent
impact on the stress levels of the pupils whilst on keeping SATs at KS1? The answer I’m afraid is
maintaining a broad and ballanced curriculum that it is perfectly content with playing politics
that we should expect for seven year olds. Ensur- with our children’s education.
ing the enjoyment and exploration part of the Jane Nellist Primary teacher and Coventry NUT
Another school is possible 21

A question of

Classroom teachers from East London,

Paul Phillips and Joel Mcilven,
remember their favourite teachers
he often-quoted saying is that when you of learning has to take place and vice versa, both

T leave school you always remember the

teacher that you liked best. It is often
within these fond memories that we
find the teacher that was most like our-
selves as students or pupils, the one that could
relate or empathise with us and the teacher that
seemed most in tune with young peoples ideas.
dependent on each other. However in the above
instance only a form of dictatorial control has
actually occurred
The role and place of pupils’ personal experi-
ences and opinions of the world are often
negated for the importance of further informa-
tion learning that can be crammed into a one
Sadly these teachers were few and far between. hour session. It should come as no surprise that
Yet we need to ask why that is, given that we were pupils often sit in the class bored, frustrated, won-
often told that the days in school are the happiest dering and often remarking that “this has nothing
of our lives, free from the pressure of adult life. to do with me”. No matter how hard we try as
Something then is clearly wrong. teachers the pupils often just don’t care. Part of
The question of pedagogy, the science or art of this problem is the way in which the learning of
teaching is a serious issue that needs to be dis- knowledge is not seen as an action taken by both
cussed as part of the struggle for an improved teacher and pupils together, but by the activism of
education system. Indeed when talking about the teacher on behalf of the pupil. The creativity
teaching we need to consider the current situa- of both teacher and pupils are destroyed and
tion and methods applied and what the possibili- replaced by obedience, institutionalisation and
ties are for further improvement. When we behaviourism. And as for democracy in the class,
consider the situation in the class it should come forget it.
as no surprise that pupils often find it difficult to To understand this better we need to look
relate to the role of the teacher. Teaching closer at the education system itself and in partic-
becomes simply a matter of transference, the ular the national curriculum. The National Cur-
transference of knowledge from the teacher to riculum introduced under the Tory government
the pupils. The pupils are seen as little more than during the years of Margaret Thatcher set out to
containers of information, and if obedient determine what subjects and knowledge had to be
enough, will be filled with the great wisdom of taught within a limiting framework. As with the
the teacher. Yet this itself throws up a contradic- method of teaching already explained subjects
tion in the form of the student and teacher rela- become categorised and dichotomised. Geogra-
tionship. In order for teaching to occur a process phy is geography; history is history. It is within
22 Another school is possible

this sense that subjects lose their historical and pedagogy that would involve all pupils in the Teaching the
social context. Take the way a pupil might learn process of learning and teaching dialectically and teachers
that Rome is the capital of Italy in a geography not separated, in order to transform knowledge
lesson. This alone does not explain how, why or and thus begin the process of transforming soci-
when it became the capital. The curriculum also ety. To move away from the idea that pupils can
highlights another problem that of the lack of say somehow be assessed via a numbering system and
or influence that the pupils and teachers, the very to be valued as a part in the process of learning.
people who are supposed to benefit from educa- To do this the conflict of the teacher—pupil has to
tion, actually have. The very structure of the sys- be broken and a greater sense of democracy
tem is one of a top—down approach, in which placed within the classroom. In this the activity of
education is thrust upon them. teaching and learning, and the development of
knowledge is in the hands of those taking part in
Alienation it. Greater freedom, creativity and value for both
The continual and over aggressive testing and pupils and teachers must exist in this process.
assessing of student, whether through SATs or The transformation of pedagogy is not the be
other examinations is just one aspect in which all and end all of the education system. But we
both teacher and pupil become further alienated need to look to these arguments and to relate
by the education process. The system becomes a them to the bigger picture of the attacks made on
system that seeks to evaluate the personalities of the education system as a whole. We should also
its children by assigning them numbered levels. use these points in order to explain the system
Both pupil and teacher feel this alienation and itself. The struggle for pay, better resources and
pressure, as the need for results to prove your finances must be tied with the argument for
worth takes place and any level of creativity is teaching and learning to improve. Placed on its
strained in order for schools to out do other com- own a progressive pedagogy does not make sense.
peting schools. Equally to say it can only change within a different
But what would a better way of teaching look system would be incorrect as well. This would lead
like. For a start we need to replace the abstraction us to await the glorious revolution without ever
of information and start with real lived experi- taking action. An improved pedagogy won’t
ences of the pupils before relating these ideas to change the education or social system but it is an
the further knowledge that would be gained. A argument worth discussing.
Another school is possible 23
The Anti-SATs Alliance was established at a Contact the Anti-SATs Alliance
conference on 28 June 2003, attended by 180 Jon Berry
teachers, parents, govenors and others opposed to Secretary Hertfordshire NUT
the SATs. John Illingworth, past president of the NUT Anti-SATs Alliance,
was elected chair of the campaign. The conference 61 Cambridge Road,
agreed the following campaign statement: St Albans
Herts AL1 5LE
This conference of parents and teachers
expresses it’s opposition to the SATs E-mail or
(National Curriculum Tests).

We believe Phone (h) 01727 835 554 (w) 01438 313 011
1 They don’t help children learn
2 They don’t help teachers teach Reports and campaigning ideas will be posted on
3 Teachers are put under pressure to ‘teach the test’ the website and on
4 The tests, not the needs of the children, dominate
the work and life of schools
5 They are used for league tables, which are
deceptive, divisive and misleading

● We agree to establish a campaign to abolish SATs

and invite those who share our aims to join with us
● We agree to support all practical measures
possible to publicise the case against SATs
● We agree to support teachers and their unions
should they decide to implement a boycott of the
● We agree to establish a steering committee from
this conference which shall be open to parents,
carers, education campaigners and teacher
representatives, to campaign for these objectives