4 min read
19 May

Last Thursday morning I had the pleasure of being a part of Digital Shoreditch in London. The title of my #ds15 talk was ‘Why changing the world is child’s play’. I was telling the story of the creation of our community-based social enterprise Ballot Street. In particular, I was bemoaning the national testing system and the fact it was no longer fit-for-purpose – that it is unable to assess the really important qualities and soft skills that employers crave; enterprise, resilience, collaboration and so on. I made the point that as a general rule, if it can’t be tested, it’s probably a good thing to do.

Meanwhile, schools up and down the country were finishing off their final SATs tests. More to the point, one of my schools had received a monitoring visit from the local authority. It is a school that we sponsor, having previously been a local authority school until last September. It had languished in special measures for several years beforehand and is now making excellent progress.

The local authority adviser arrived at the school at the start of the monitoring visit to check the administration of the maths paper B test. She must have received a pleasant surprise on seeing the transformation of the school as it looked a lot different to when she was last there. She was certainly impressed with the fact that all other elements of the administration process were being strictly adhered to. With all boxes duly ticked, all that was left was to observe the test itself.

And then, she spotted something wrong.

You see, we had given a child a rubber. According to the local authority visitor, the regulations state that you cannot do that as it may be classed as cheating. Or at the very least ‘inappropriate support’. However, such was the seriousness of the situation it merited immediate interjection from the monitoring visitor. She swiftly approached the teacher (an experienced Assistant Headteacher) and told her there and then right in the middle of the test that what the teacher had done was wrong. She said to the teacher that she’s not allowed to give the child a rubber. The LA monitoring visitor then marked an ‘X’ on her clip board.

The children sitting nearby overheard this and were understandably surprised by the situation, because the guidance in the test right in front of them says that a rubber can be used. They also weren’t used to seeing their teacher being chastised by a lady they’d never met before, especially during a test no less. As if to labour the point, the LA monitoring visitor also claimed that the teacher told the child to change the scribbled-out answer, even though on the form that she diligently filled in, she noted that the teacher in no way helped the child.

Understandably, the teacher felt it necessary there and then to make a mild stand and justify her actions as she didn’t want to have her professional integrity called into question. She quietly informed the visitor that the child had scribbled out the answer and then realised she didn’t have a rubber. The child then employed that much-rehearsed tried-and-tested look that said to the teacher ‘Can I have a rubber please, Miss?’ (She didn’t want to ask out loud because she was afraid of disturbing her friends.) The teacher immediately recognised the non-verbal request because she knows her class so well. So she gave the child a rubber and that, we thought, was that.

But here’s the really bizarre part. At the beginning of the test, when the LA visitor entered the classroom and the test started, she too gave a child a rubber. The child hadn’t even asked for one but that didn’t stop the LA visitor from approaching the child mid-question and giving him a rubber. Knowing that taking things from strangers is wrong, the child reluctantly took the rubber and erased his answer.

The teacher saw this and was perplexed at the role the visitor had played, not least because she was aware that the guidance states that LA monitoring visitors should ‘take care not to disturb pupils as they take the tests.’ The monitoring visitor however was unperturbed, claiming that the child was about to ask for a rubber and so she dutifully stepped in to give him one.

So, you can imagine the teacher’s surprise, when a few minutes later, she too also gives a rubber to a child who had clearly scribbled out an answer and then finds that she’s accused of malpractice.

I am sure you can tell that I’m trying very hard to appear non-judgmental in the writing of this post, taking great care in recording the facts as they happened. My reasons for writing are to see if perhaps there are other teachers out there who have experienced anything similar.

I’m all in favour of monitoring visits to ensure that the public are reassured of the integrity of the testing system. I understand entirely that the local authority visitor is only doing her job and is clearly highly competent and meticulously efficient. When I put this out on Twitter though, I got a slightly more acerbic response: ‘Utterly ridiculous’, ‘nonsense’, ‘absurd’, ‘imbecilic’ to name but a few.

For me though, the reply that perhaps best sums up the whole sorry affair is from the chief executive of The Parent Zone: ‘That’s the most bonkers thing I’ve heard in a while.’ I couldn’t possibly comment.

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