I saw a tweet from someone (actually, more than a few people have tweeted something similar to this throughout the Christmas break - thanks, guys) about how there were only X teaching weeks left until SATs. "As if all year 6 is about is SATs?!" (which is something my old year-5-teacher-self would say). Turns out - actually, that's EXACTLY what it feels like. Year 6 is ALL about SATs.
There may be a few experienced year 6 teachers reading this thinking "no, she's got it all wrong", or, "it's really unhelpful to all prospective teachers/parents/children/the public that you're perpetuating this misconception" or something along those lines, but hey - I'm only in my 3rd year of teaching. This is my 1st year in year 6, and this is how I'M experiencing it.
I have to admit, I've always wanted to be in year 6 - I've always wanted the challenge. My mum has been a year 6 teacher for god knows how long, my best friend is a year 6 teacher and I was in a year 5/6 team for the first two years of my career. (Odd the way that our school works - I had a mixed 5/6 class, but only taught year 5 maths and English). I guess I sort of felt like I WAS a year 6 teacher - I taught them in the afternoon - and was so close to my year 6 colleagues that I felt like I was going through the ups and downs (mostly downs) of mock SATs, SATs, results day etc with them. So when my HT asked me to move to year 6 last year, I was thrilled - I'd finally reached my favourite year group, and I'd be teaching a large amount of the same children that I'd had in year 5. Cushty, right? And it gets better - the way our school had chosen to group the classes this year (don't ask me to justify this), the children were streamed by maths ability and stayed in the same sets for English lessons. I would have top set maths and keep the same children for English - so basically, I would be teaching the "top half" of year 6 all morning. Simples!
Soon comes the inevitable, but still disheartening, meeting with the HT where year 6 targets (let's face it: school targets, not year 6 targets. The school is judged on what year 6 get at SATs, let's not beat around the bush here) were discussed. Most primary teachers will have experienced the "right, so this child is actually working at far below average, but because of their EYFS/KS1 results, they are supposed to make secure/expected/age-related/some other arbitrary edu-jargon or letter or code to supposedly mean "average" by the end of the year? HAHAHHA... oh... my pay depends on it... okay... are there any courses available to turn me into Super Teacher for this year?" moment with a member of SLT. This was far easier, I have to admit, last year, when I could submit a teacher assessment for the children at the end of the year based on lots of work over an extended period of time (as opposed to externally marked exams) - and hey, if they didn't FULLY understand a year 5 objective, well, they had a-whole-nother year to go, right?
I'm not afraid to admit that last statement. Being in a year 5/6 team, I felt closely linked to year 6 last year, and fully (or so I thought) felt the responsibility of preparing the children for year 6 by giving them the solid year 5 foundations they needed. If they children didn't understand something, or didn't achieve an objective, I NEVER thought, "they've got another year to get this", because I knew what my year 6 colleagues had to do on top of that.
Except I didn't know. You can't possibly know until you get into year 6 and feel the full responsibility for yourself.
I have post-its and scraps of paper coming out of my ears, full of names of children who didn't get this, who need going over that, who didn't get the full marks on Q4 of that assessment so I need to teach it to everyone. Again. And again. And again, just incase it comes up in SATs.
My partner teacher is great - we got all the children together at the beginning of the year and told them that we wouldn't be mentioning the word "SATs" at all before Christmas, and if we did, they would get awarded an extra minute's break-time! Some Tweachers said this was the wrong way to go about things - that this actually made SATs something TO worry about, rather than the intended opposite effect, and that if we'd just used the word casually from September then the children would get used to it. Or something. Who knows the right way to go about these things? Our children are happy and not at all stressed - they don't know that whilst our mouths may not be saying "SATs", our brains our muttering it over and over again.
My school is also great - when someone tweeted asking what year 6 would be doing in the afternoons this term, I replied quite innocently saying "thankfully NO extra maths and English!" I then read dozens of other responses listing the extra booster groups and revision sessions that schools would be doing, and some just full afternoons of maths or English. When that will inevitably stop after SATs, surely that is the wrong message to send to the kids?! Anyway, again, I'm new to this - so I don't know.
But it's the dreaded percentages.
Those 2-digit numbers that judge a whole year's worth of schooling across four year groups - all based on five test papers sat across four days.
In our school, as I'm sure is the same in many schools this year, there is huge pressure to increase our results this year. One in particular is close to my heart (as I'm sure you'll know if you've read any of my tweets regarding this!) - reading.
"You must achieve X% in reading this year - but you must do it by teaching it in this specific way (carousel method, 5 different books etc.)"
"But this different method (whole-class) really works for my class, and I've got good data with it already..."
But in the name of (my LEAST favourite edu-jargon) #consistency... ***give me a moment to silently rage at that term*** ...that isn't allowed.
That % might have been achievable if I were allowed (subjunctive mood: another symptom of a year 6 teacher, picking out SPAG EVERYWHERE) to teach it how I wanted, but the pessimist in me (who is becoming increasingly more influential) tells me it's far less achievable when I'm told to teach in a style that doesn't suit me or my class. So: another hurdle. As if there weren't enough.
I didn't plan this blog post - I have literally bled the words onto this page as I've thought them. It may be nonsensical, but I just wanted to give a brief (is this brief? I shall have to look back and see...) overview as to what year 6 feels like to me. Please bear in mind that this word vomit is also the result of my I've-had-2-weeks-off-and-done-no-work-and-now-I-have-to-start-worrying-about-school-urgh mindset - so, arguably, more "glass half-empty" than anything.
I guess my final thought is this: obviously, SLT, you want our results to improve this year. So do you want me to actually teach the kids, or teach them how to pass a SATs paper?
Because I'm beginning to think that they are mutually exclusive.
P.S. None of this has stopped me from wanting to teach year 6 again next year. I must be insane.