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Education

‘Testing fails pupils’

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STANDARDISED testing continues to leave pupils and schools distressed, according to a national survey of teachers in Wales. 

The research, conducted by NUT Cymru, shows that after four years, the literacy and numeracy tests are even more divisive than ever.

Some teachers have even expressed the view that they are considering leaving the profession rather than continue to subject pupils to the testing regime.

As a result of the survey’s findings, the NUT has again called for a review of the system, which it claims is undermining the impact of the Foundation Phase and hindering children’s emotional and educational progress.

The union says some teachers are questioning their long-term commitment to the profession, with one survey respondent stating: “I want to hang my head in shame for what I’m doing to the mental health of the children in my care. I’m ashamed of being a part of a system where all the encouragement of the past year is wiped away by a cross on a scale which says they aren’t good enough. I have seriously considered leaving teaching rather than be part of this testing regime again.”

In 2012, 33% of teachers said they received contact from parents in relation to the assessments and that these were almost exclusively negative. This year’s results showed that the figure was now 56% with the majority stating it remained negative or mixed at best.

NUT Cymru Secretary, David Evans, said: “Once again we see an alarming level of anger and frustration from teachers when asked about the impact of these tests on pupils and on their working conditions.

“The headline figures are extremely worrying but what is particularly worth highlighting is the fact there is a rising level of opposition to the testing. Far from being convinced by standardised testing, the profession is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the policy.

“Perhaps the most depressing evidence is the anecdotal feedback from teachers in regards to the impact those tests have on their pupils. Children are being left demoralised, in tears and with low self-esteem. This is not the outcome any teacher or parent wants to see and it is certainly one of the reasons cited by teachers for considering leaving the profession.

“There is a new Cabinet Secretary in place at the Welsh Government. These tests are not her policy. We have written to Kirsty Williams with the details of this survey and hope a fresh pair of eyes can lead to a new way of thinking, in particular for the very youngest children and in light of the Donaldson recommendations around a less intrusive approach to assessment.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We believe the best way to ensure children make regular progress is to make sure they never fall behind and that this can only be achieved through careful monitoring and assessment of their progress. The national reading and numeracy tests were introduced so that practitioners could gain a clearer picture of pupils’ reading and numeracy skills and use that information to support their progression.

“Our guidance is very clear that there should be no undue preparation for the tests and that all schools are expected to maintain a broad and balanced curriculum throughout the school year. While familiarising children with the format of the tests is good practice, drilling children is never acceptable because it will almost certainly generate feelings of negativity.

“We have taken a number of steps to minimise the impact of the tests on schools’ workloads. Through the Education Improvement Grant, we provide funding to schools which allows them to bring in invigilators, markers or clerical help. We also provide a supported marking service for the Numerical Reasoning tests which we know from feedback is highly valued by practitioners.

“Professor Donaldson’s report ‘Successful Futures’ makes clear that testing is an important element in the range of assessment techniques available to schools but that improvements can be made. Our move to online adaptive tests in 2018 will deliver this.”

While the union reports that 97.5% of respondents did not believe the tests were a positive experience for pupils (up 4% from the original 2013 survey and overall 86% of teachers felt the tests had added to their workloads), the proportion of teachers in Wales who provided responses was very low indeed.

There are around 25,000 teachers in Wales. Even taking into account that not all of those teachers are members of the NUT, a figure of 287 respondents is a very small sample upon which to base definitive conclusions.

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Education

Poison arrow frogs at New Scientist Live

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Dr Siu-Ting: Specialises in amphibians

​ABERYSTYWTH UNIVERISTY​ scientist Dr Karen Siu-Ting discuss​ed poison arrow frogs at New Scientist Live ​last Thursday ​(Sept ​28​).

Dr Siu-Ting is an IRC ELEVATE-MSCA Co-fund Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University.

Her research into poison arrow frogs feature​d​ as part of ‘Ask a Biologist’​,​ hosted by The Royal Society of Biology.

An evolutionary biologist from Peru,​​ Dr Siu-Ting specialises in amphibians and combines field work in the Amazon rainforest with laboratory and computational analyses to address biological questions.

She is currently working on a project on poison arrow frogs between Aberystwyth University and Dublin City University.

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Education

Apply for six-month traineeship scheme

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Applications open: Join the National Park Authority’s Skills in Action traineeship scheme

​IF YOU’D like to earn as you learn hands-on skills to prepare you for a career in practical conservation or estate management, apply now for Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Skills in Action traineeship scheme.

The project, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future scheme, will provide two six-month salaried apprenticeships with the National Park Authority’s Ranger and Warden Teams.

Skills in Action Project Coordinator for Pembrokeshire Coast Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Tom Iggleden said: “The successful candidates will be learning the skills and experience that are essential to be successful in obtaining employment within a highly competitive sector.

“The main duties of the placement will include practical hands-on work-based experience in conservation and estate management.”

The six month traineeship will see the successful applicants learn a wide variety of skills including traditional hedgelaying and modern conservation methods that are essential to the work of the National Park Authority.

This is an extension to the original three-year project which has helped many of the 15 previous trainees gain employment​.​

The closing date for applications is October 2​4 with interviews to be held on November​ 6​.

Application packs are available from the National Park Authority’s website ​at​www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/jobs or by contacting contact Joanne Morgan by calling 01646 624856 or by emailing joannem@pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk.

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Education

Committee concerned at £12.7m error

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ALN Bill: Savings turn into costs

​A £12.7M alteration to the cost of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill has been described as concerning by a National Assembly for Wales committee.

In the original figures submitted alongside the Bill the Welsh Government identified savings of £4.8m over a period of four years if the Bill was passed.

But the estimates were challenged by children’s charity SNAP Cymru which claimed the Welsh Government had misinterpreted figures it had provided concerning disputes and resolution services. The Welsh Government admitted the error and revised the figures from the original saving to a cost of £7.9m – a difference of £12.7m.

The Finance Committee asked the Welsh Government to delay the financial resolution on the Bill, the mechanism by which government gains support to spend the money enacting the law and the government agreed.

“A £12.7m swing from a saving to a cost is very concerning, as it shows a government which doesn’t fully understand the figures it quotes,” said Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee.

“It also throws into doubt any future costs connected to Bills which come before this committee as we are left wondering whether the government has done its sums right.

“We are grateful to SNAP Cymru for highlighting the inaccuracies and acknowledge the steps taken by the Minister subsequently, but we will need further reassurance that such errors will not happen again.”

The Bill’s aim is to improve the quality of support available to children with additional learning needs through a person-centred approach which would identify needs early on and make sure the right support, monitoring and evaluation was put in place to help them.

The Finance Committee welcomed the actions taken by the Welsh Government to address the situation. But Members were concerned and surprised that inaccuracies as significant as this were raised and that SNAP Cymru was not consulted on the final figures before they were published.

The Committee acknowledges that revisions have since been made and the Minister’s assurances that the revised figures are robust, however, it is concerned at the need to have made this level of changes to the original costings.

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