Dear Secondary school teacher…

Dear Secondary school teacher,

Hello, I know you don’t really know me, but I was the primary school teacher who spent  a year of my life helping to get those first-years ready to come to you. I know… I didn’t do a perfect job, did I? That pains me more than it does you, believe me. For every 90 minutes you spend having to struggle with Ethan, remember I probably spent nearer 1000. Maybe if you’d seen how he was doing a year ago, you might feel differently? I know I did! You have no idea how proud I was of what he and I achieved last year, nor how scared I was about sending him off unguarded into your territory. I hope that his fears were as unfounded as I promised him they were.

But that’s not why I’m writing. Every cohort will have its Ethans, and I’m sure that this time last year I was tearing my hair out, too, wondering what had been happening over the past few years for him along with others. Such is life.

I am a bit concerned, though, to hear that you’ve re-tested every student we sent to you. You see, it just seems such a great demand on your time – after all, you could have been using that time to get to know those kids, and to start teaching them, and I’m sure you’d rather have been planning exciting lessons than marking tests, wouldn’t you? It seems a shame for the kids, too. I’ve spent a year telling them about the opportunities that secondary school has to offer, and the options that will be open to them. And your colleagues gleefully came to tell them all about the hour-after-hour of excitement and engagement that you were going to offer them, so it seems a bit harsh to bombard them with assessments in week one.

Rumour has it that you feel you have to do it. After all, Ofsted are breathing down your neck and you’ve got to demonstrate progress. But no-one has explained to me yet what the baseline testing is meant to achieve. After all, Ofsted will look at the KS2 data whether you like it or not, won’t they? So, I’m not sure what the rush to test is for?

Perhaps you’re worried that our results aren’t reliable. Well, to be honest, so am I! I’ve seen the quality of marking sometimes, but we’ve also tackled it where necessary. And it’s true, there are a couple of results that raised eyebrows with me when they arrived too. I never thought Callum would achieve Level 5 in Reading, but that test paper all about Pokémon rather played into his hands. But then, I did explain that to the Head of Year who came down to meet me. Did those notes ever reach you? I must admit, she didn’t seem to note much down as I was explaining, but I did give her my detailed information about each of them so if you take a look at Callum’s you’ll see it there. I also explained to her that we were disappointed that no-one from your English department was available to support our moderation of Level 5 and 6 writing. We did draft someone else in eventually, but hopefully next year, eh? It’d be good to finally get that transition programme you keep mentioning on the open evenings really underway, wouldn’t it?

While I think of it – did you sort out that problem with Anna? Her mum explained to me the confusion the other day. Again, I did tell the Head of Year who came in about her absence during the tests, but I suppose it’s understandable that a missing score gets counted as a zero on your system. Hopefully you’ve managed to pull her out of the SEN maths set and put her up in the G&T group where she belongs. Mrs Carter said she only noticed it when you sent home her targets and said she was on track for a grade D. It seemed a bit odd since she’d got enough marks in the Level 6 test to get that, if it hadn’t been for the wretched broken leg that morning.

Well, as ever, like I’ve said to every member of staff who’s ever deigned to speak to me from your place: if you ever want any background information on any of the children we’ve sent to you, I’m always at the end of the phone, or you can drop me an email. Or I’d still be happy to come up, like I said. I suppose it’s hard to imagine being prepared to do that when you only see them for a few hours a week, but do remember, they were my focus five days a week last year. I know them inside out and miss them hugely. I’d be only too happy to help you in moving them on as quickly as you can.

After all, I suppose really, we’re all working towards the same thing.
Aren’t we?

Best wishes

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13 thoughts on “Dear Secondary school teacher…

  1. teachingbattleground 29 September 2013 at 7:01 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. jactherat 29 September 2013 at 7:29 pm Reply

    Dear Frustrated and Bewildered Primary Teacher

    Oh dear, it’s tough in our trade and despite doing our best it seems it’s never good enough and that’s because a lot of the time we aren’t on the same side. Every single one of your points is valid – you know your students, they’ve been fairly and accurately tested and you’ve sent them onto ‘us’ in good faith, in as good a state as can be expected and we’ve let you and your students down. I do not doubt you for one moment.

    But the problem is that you aren’t representative of what comes through the school gate from grade 6 into 7. We do look at your results, your data and recommendations but sadly what we find year in, year out is that not all of the information we get from the insane amount of feeder schools we deal with is the same. Your data may be reliable but too many other schools don’t come up to scratch.

    Core classes are meant to be set based on the KS2 info that comes to us from all of our feeder schools. But by the time we’re into assessment we’ve too often found too many kiddies are simply in the wrong sets and not coping for a whole range of reasons to do with transition, change, fear, etc as well as not being in the right class.

    So we do retest at the beginning of the year. It may seem time wasting to you and i certainly wish we didn’t have to do it but it is necessary for our own target setting, for our own data and our reporting to those further up the food chain, not to mention the governors and the sponsors. HODs have to report every term on progress and if the KS2 or KS3 for that matter are too high and there’s a big drop off then heads will and do roll. We know all sorts of legitimate things happen to explain this but you try having a rational conversation with a HT who can only see the amount of red on his spreadsheet and not the legit reasons (learning reasons) for it. If we have our own base-line testing we have a better feel for all the students in front of us and remember we don’t just have one class of 30 to get to know and love….

    You’re right – we should be on the same side, primary and secondary teachers should have a much clearer idea of what actually happens on the other side, on a day to day basis – what our realities are. Perhaps if there were fewer feeder schools (we have more than i have fingers and toes) we could be more productive and enhance the relationship and help the kiddies. Perhaps we could have sent someone to help you moderate but we were probably doing our own KS4 moderation or marking our KS3 exams and we’re not that big a department.

    The truth is most of your info, your details simply never get to where they’re meant to go. There are too many people in the chain here, no direct relationships or accountabilities. The teacher is often the last to know, the HOD isn’t sure whose made decisions this year as the procedures change every year, only that she/he hasn’t been closely involved and once the year gets going there’s all that GCSE stuff that takes absolute priority.

    Thus your students going from being the big fish in the little pond to a tadpole in the sea. It’s sad and it’s not good enough. And I don’t know how to fix it.

    Good luck in your quest.
    A former Head of English

    • Michael Tidd 29 September 2013 at 7:58 pm Reply

      Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned response. I agree, the issue is often the chains of communication are simply not prepared for handling of the information that we’re passing on. And I recognise, too, that some of our colleagues in other feeders are not helping matters. I don’t know quite how to fix it either. But it’s definitely broken somewhere!

  3. S motion 29 September 2013 at 7:57 pm Reply

    This is great and my mum was a primary teacher for 40 years and would say exactly the same things..
    As a secondary science teacher my reason for wanting retests is not that I don’t trust Y6 teachers marking or the SATs marking per se.
    But the levels themselves, the content guidelines for Level 4 science are vitally different to the Level 4 science criteria at secondary so they just don’t tell me what students actually know.

    • Michael Tidd 29 September 2013 at 8:00 pm Reply

      I recognise that challenge, S motion, but is testing really the best answer? I’ve never needed it in Y7 in a middle school.

  4. iPad4Schools 29 September 2013 at 8:11 pm Reply

    Hi Michael, great post! I feel for you. I am from the UK but now teach in a secondary school in New Zealand. The biggest problem for secondary schools is the overall system of 50 minute isolated lessons, where the content of each bears no relation to the others. I also feel for you teaching in the UK, which will struggle as much as the US to move into the 21st century and away from content/teacher centred 19th century programmes. Secondary teachers are fixated on their content and the results and the system allows them no time for individual. It’s nobody’s fault because it’s the system that has to change. I wish I had time to explain the NZ system where year 13s can go you university with A-level equivalent qualifications in topics that interested them, not that we’re forced by the national system.

    Well done and well said.
    I run a wordpress blog on using iPads in schools.

  5. […] feeder schools, but before they did that I’d urge them to read Michael Tidd’s blog Dear Secondary School Teacher…) The cynic might be right in some ways, but under the old system there was at least […]

  6. srcav 6 October 2013 at 2:43 pm Reply

    There’s also another issue. I have no doubt that at the time of sitting their exams the pupils were perfectly capable of answering the questions in front of them. But they had been drilled and drilled for those tests doing hours of a maths a day. A lot of schools then stop doing maths to focus on plays and projects “to make up for” the drilling. This cam lead to 3 months of not doing maths. Even in schools that work on maths until the last day, pupils have six weeks without it. Retesting early (we do it in Nov which enables time to enjoy high school maths lessons, and to fill in some gaps) gives a fuller picture of where pupils are so we can set appropriately and stretch all pupils.

    • Michael Tidd 6 October 2013 at 6:06 pm Reply

      You are, of course, right, srcav, that in some schools that is the nature of the final term. But in fact, I’d argue that’s another reason to advise against September testing. Your decision to wait until November seems much more sensible.
      That level of drilling is likely to leave many skills fairly secure, and actually you should see a spring in progress during the first half term as these ideas and concepts come flooding back. Testing in September is great if you’re trying to show how stupid your cohort is (and some schools may want to do that to bolster their later low results), but I don’t see any evidence that it would give a more accurate result, and more than secondary schools would be happy for their Y11 students to take their GCSEs five months after they’d left!

      • srcav 6 October 2013 at 6:41 pm Reply

        Indeed, that is why we wait til November. I meant to state in the original comment that I agree with much of the original post and s motion’s reply.

        • srcav 12 October 2013 at 3:04 pm

          Incidentally, we do retest yr 12 a level pupils in Sept and Oct!

  7. marcusbelben 12 October 2013 at 10:57 am Reply

    Your article and comment is all about lack of conversation between primary and secondary. Obvious solution is to ensure it happens, whatever the challenges. If you have 20 min conversation for each child with the 20 or so teachers, you could harvest more and better info than either tests at primary or secondary in much less time. I guess this would most need committment from secondary school staff. Why is this not possible?

  8. primaryblogger1 5 January 2014 at 8:46 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Primary Blogging.

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