It is a truth universally acknowledged that a middle class adult in possession of a child, must be in want of a boast. I confess, I do, from time to time, have little smug moments of pride and look for someone to tell. But then I get a grip. It is an unattractive trait and one I try very much to suppress. It would appear, however, that this is one trait that the government would very much like to encourage. Publishing deciles at the age of 11 is one of the most astonishingly divisive and cruel suggestions I have seen any government ever make. And there have been some terrible ones. This one strikes at the very heart of the parent and child relationship, feeding insecurity and competition and setting child against child. And I cannot see one single benefit from doing so.
I am a mother of three. One of the benefits of having one child every seven years is that you get a chance to try to put right the mistakes you made with the last one. The problem is, you just make different mistakes. Each child compares themselves with the others. My middle child wrote in an English essay recently ‘I have chosen this song because of the line ‘run as fast as you can’. It reminds me of the feeling I have had since I was little that I have to chase my brother and parents – not to be better but to try to catch up.’ It broke my heart. But I thank my lucky stars that he didn’t have to receive a letter when he was 11 laying out for him exactly how he compared, not only with his brother, but with every other child in the country.
I’ve seen tweets from many quarters claiming that this is what parents want. Really? In reality the only ones who say so are those who suspect their children are near the top. And even if it is, do we really want to pander to pride in educational policy? Are parents really the best judge of this? My husband specialises in counselling adolescents at his sixth form college. Many of them self harm. There are of course complex reasons for this, but one of the most frequently heard is the feeling of inadequacy that teenagers feel in not meeting, or in feeling they may not meet, their parents’ expectations. He cites case after case of children driven to harming themselves to the point of having suicidal thoughts as a result of the pressure they feel they are under. Have we not already done enough harm?
Sue Cowley imagined the moment Tom’s Mum opens the envelope in her heartbreaking blog http://suecowley.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/save-tom/ Please read. Even after she wrote it, people were tweeting that it didn’t matter, because Mum wouldn’t tell Tom. She’d just do something about it. Let me tell you three things about Tom’s Mum:-
1. If she’s attentive, she already knows he is struggling. She doesn’t need it ramming down her throat.
2. If she’s negligent, she’s probably part of the problem and getting a letter is not going to make a jot of difference. At Manchester Airport this year, I watched in horror as one mother hit her child over the head (for not being able to find the toilet) and called him ‘thick as pig shit’. Let’s hope she doesn’t get a letter. (And no I didn’t intervene, and yes I still feel guilty).
3. If she’s worried, the letter gives her no useful information. It tells her he is not secondary ready. But offers no alternative provision. It tells her he is in the bottom 10% in the country, but gives her no advice as to how he might improve. It tells her nothing of use at all. And it comes at the end of 7 years of education. If she didn’t know this already, there is a problem with the school.
But let’s pretend for the moment that she doesn’t tell Tom. She pats him on the head, gives him a jaffa cake and saves her tears until bed time. The next day Tom goes to school. He sits next to Sally in assembly. Lots of parents imagine that their Top Trumps kids don’t mingle with the bottom trumps, but they do. That’s the lovely thing about primary school.
Sally: I’m getting a bike!
Tom: Whoah – is it your birthday?
Sally: No – but Mum said I’m like in the top 10% in the country in my results and she’s dead proud and she’s going to get me a new bike.
Tom: My Mum didn’t tell me mine. Maybe she’s going to surprise me….
Don’t imagine for a moment that the children in the top 10% won’t be told. Don’t imagine that their superiority won’t be plastered all over Facebook. And when it is, don’t imagine that they won’t tell the others, even in innocence. In such ways. children will figure out where they were.
How is that different to having grades or levels you might ask? Well, grades and levels have clear criteria. If you read the criteria, you can see what you did to get the level or grade you got. This information can be shared usefully with parents and teachers so that planning for progression can take place. Personally, I’d get rid of the grade thing altogether and have pupil profiles based on competencies reached and next goal targets, but that’s something for another day. Secondly, IF the tests are criterion referenced and not norm referenced, there is the possibility that children can reach the standard required. It may take them longer; it may take several attempts, but they can get there. Norm referenced deciles will always leave a pile at the bottom with no recognition of the possibility that there has been improvement of standards even at the bottom.
We seem to be living in a world where the rights of children to a childhood, to being accepted and loved for who they are right NOW are trampled on in the name of The Future. To appeal to parents’ basest and most primal fears and instincts in order to win votes is, in my opinion, a form of abuse. It is an abuse of power. It is an attack on innocence. It marks the end of childhood. And I pray that it shall not come to pass.
In case you didn’t read the suggested wording of the recommended reporting, here it is:-
In the end of key stage 2 reading test, Sally received a scaled score of 126 (the secondary ready standard is 100), placing her in the top 10% of pupils nationally. The average scaled score for pupils with the same prior attainment was 114, so she has made more progress in reading than pupils with a similar starting-point.
In the end of key stage 2 mathematics test, Tom received a scaled score of 87. He did not meet the secondary readiness standard (100). This places him in the bottom 10% of pupils nationally. The average scaled score for pupils with the same prior attainment was 92, so he has made less progress in mathematics than other pupils with a similar starting point.
These proposals are out for consultation. Please respond. https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=conSection&consultationId=1920&dId=1300&sId=8727