Teacher Talk

Rob Williams is deputy head at Nantyffyllon Primary School in Maesteg, South Wales
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SATs are once again in the spotlight following the death of a pupil who collapsed while sitting one. How do you feel about the tests?

SATs are once again in the spotlight following the death of a pupil who collapsed while sitting one. How do you feel about the tests?

I believe that teacher assessment is more effective than these tests, the results of which can be unreliable. There is talk in the Welsh Assembly of replacing Year 6 tests with assessment in Year 5. I feel that this makes sense. If I assess and there is a problem with a particular child, I am left with only half a term to have any influence, which can result in problems being passed onto high schools. How the tests impact on pupils depends on how much emphasis a school places on them. Some take them extremely seriously, which can result in distress for children - I have seen children in tears and being sick. At that age I don't believe that children have the necessary coping skills if they underachieve. Conversely, it is important to note that some children enjoy these tests and thrive on them.

Inspectors claim that Government assessments for five-year-olds are forcing children into school too early in order for assessments to be completed. What do you make of this?

On the continent, children achieve better results while starting school much later, in some countries as late as six years old. Parents may think that the earlier children start, the more they will learn. This is simply not true.

Starting school too early can force out children's curiosity and natural instinct to play, because of learning to wait to be told what to do, and the curriculum time constraints. This becomes obvious as children grow older and lack problem-solving skills and the determination to think things through - in a subject such as maths, for example. Wales is looking into bringing children into schools earlier but also introducing a foundation phase more based in play. I took an education psychology masters module that studied how crucial the role of play was for young children. Failing to develop necessary skills through play in the young sometimes led to attention deficit and other disorders. Structured play teaches concentration, focuses children and enhances attention span.

Are there any issues that you feel strongly about at the moment?

For me it is always the issue of funding. Most initiatives are not adequately backed financially and become watered-down versions of the grand ideas that they derive from. Recently, it was proposed to give teachers in Wales their own laptops in an attempt to further IT skills; in reality, we received a self-training pack. It would have been more beneficial to pool funds and allow schools freedom to organise training or buy hardware as they saw fit. I feel disillusioned at times by constant demands for my professionalism when schools are constantly finding themselves fighting amateurish funding.

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