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A Testing Time

Friday, 20 October 2017

Principal's blog

A friend who lives in London sent me a letter he had received from his nursery this week which spoke of the verbal and nonverbal reasoning lessons they were providing children with to prepare them for entrance exams. The letter was designed to celebrate the end of ‘teaching to the test’ as schools begin to use interviews for assessment. The teaching of verbal and nonverbal reasoning, however, would seem simply to shift the emphasis of testing from knowledge based assessment to skills based. The more thrusting parents in society, and those with the biggest wallets, will continue to push and pressure their children to attain the highest standards in the misguided belief that pursuit of those things which are hardest to access is the ultimate goal.

Monkton celebrated 8% of children going to Oxbridge this year. It’s an interesting number. Much more interesting, always, is the story behind it. In this case, the number of children who considered Oxbridge and decided it wasn’t right for them. Because Oxbridge offers great opportunities but it isn’t for everyone who has the raw intellect to secure a place.

This week I spent time meeting Year 6 pupils on our assessment day. We didn’thave any formal tests, however, preferring formative assessment as a way of establishing that we run a learning establishment. Children went through a series of exercises which explored their current learning approach using Bill Lucas’ work on the seven Cs: curiosity, collaboration, creativity, craftsmanship, confidence, communication and commitment. Unusually, for an assessment, the day was designed to help children develop these attributes, so sending them back to their own schools as stronger learners. Because what children might achieve is not fixed but growing - we have all come across pupils who have been written off into bottom Maths sets, dyslexia corners and sports touch lines only to become great pilots with their Maths, great thinkers despite dyslexia, great sportsman despite being small.

To imply that a pupil’s ability is fixed is to define the life ahead of them before they have lived it; it fails to take account of the creativity, courage and daring of the most agile of learners to change their stars. We all know that ‘weighing the pig makes it no fatter’ and all too often instead of feeding the pupils in our schools with a desire to do more and learn more we simply create new scales to weigh them a different way. We need to take children on a voyage through the stars; we need to inspire them to reach lights ever further away; we need to instill in them the belief that with the right attitude they can achieve almost anything they set their minds to. Having a lower verbal reasoning score as a six  year old doesn’t mean you will never be any good at writing or constructing an argument (though most six year olds I know are very good at the latter when not wanting to go to bed); it means, as Carol Dweck would have it, that you might not be good yet. We need to remember that whilst Yeats was right in defining education as a fire, it is not we teachers or schools who light it but God, who places in us all as children the curiosity to know more, the craftsmanship to get the details right and the commitment never to give up. Our job as educators is to kindle fire with that spark, encourage the embers and then fan the flames; teachers are here to celebrate those difficult questions (why are conkers shaped like that?), to develop self belief and to forge the thinkers, scientists and leaders of tomorrow.

Chris Wheeler

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