Sightlines Initiative

promoting creative and reflective practice in early childhood education

The cat is out of the bag: We will never stop testing young children, says UK Government Education Minister

"It is not and never will be the time to get rid of standardised assessment at primary school," stated Damian Hinds, the UK Secretary of State for Education  in Parliament on 24th June. His response came after very strong questions from a cross-section of MPs all questioning the policy, and pointing out the inherent damage to children and schools; "SATs [Standard Attainment Tests] are a very important part of our architecture to raise attainment."

However more and more MPs are voicing their dissatisfaction, and echoing the huge public  dissatisfaction with the position: here are dissenting MPs in the exchange last Monday:

"England's schoolchildren are among the most tested in the world. Headteachers are telling us that high-stakes examinations are associated with increased stress, anxiety and health issues, but the Secretary of State has let the cat out of the bag: we are staying stable in the programme for international student assessment rankings. That was the gold standard that this Government were going to be tested by, but that is sophistry, for standards have gone nowhere under this Government." Mike Kane MP

"I recently visited a primary school in my constituency rated good by Ofsted since 2005. The headteacher brought to my attention the level of difficulty and stress that key stage 2 children face when undergoing SATs." Andrea Jenkins MP

"I have heard countless stories from teachers up and down the country that they have kept children in during break times or sacrificed time that they would have otherwise spent on other subjects to prepare for SATs. Does the Secretary of State take no responsibility for that stress put on teachers, which inevitably filters down to children? Frankly, is it not just time to scrap SATs?" Layla Moran MP

The cat is out of the bag, though. The government's interest is in league tables, way above being interested in children. The vested interest is extraordinarily obstinate and is stonewalling  passionate and articulated voices of parents, educators, industry leaders - and even the OECD, who created the tests in the first place! Here is a good example, worth quoting:

Just last year, Confederation of British Industry President Paul Drechsler called on policymakers to make education in England about more than results and rote learning, and prioritise teaching that encourages thoughts, questions, creativity and teamworking. This was in a March 2018 speech to the Association of School and College Leaders:

Paul Drechster, President CBI

 "Teachers' jobs are not just difficult because the world is changing, it's also made more difficult by years of moving the goal posts in public policy. Those failures have culminated in today's debate between the extremes of rigorous testing on the one hand, and the rounded development of a young person on the other. It's a false dichotomy – and one set in the context of our schools system, where not enough money is allocated in public budgets. It's time to reset the debate. End the parade of government announcements that make a good headline but don't make a jot of difference on the big issues.

Of course, academic achievement matters.But alone, it's not enough for the exciting world we face – in work, or in wider society. Schools have been saying this for years, and so has the CBI. Attainment and wider preparation for adult life go hand-in-hand.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director

Just last week, the inventor of the PISA tests, Director of OECD Prof. Andreas Schleicher, said that English policymakers are reacting to his test results in a different way to other nations. In other countries, policymakers are trying to improve performance by encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. The OECD are clear that we are now doing more rote learning than almost anywhere else in the world.Yes, times tables are important. But if memorising facts is all students are doing, there's much they are missing out on. It doesn't have to be like this.Singapore, Finland and the best schools in the US all show it doesn't have to be done this way. There, education has a clear objective, with clear standards on core subjects, clear lines of appropriate accountability, and all based on developing the whole person. They've had a healthy, open conversation about what they want from their educational systems.Not a debilitating culture-war-of-attrition dragging on since the 1970s.

Let's dump the ideology - no more fixation on school structures and exam reform.It is time for a national, rational debate on how we help our young people succeed.And then let's reform the curriculum to deliver the results we need."

Why is it so difficult for the Government's representatives  to do differently - and what can be done? Paul Dreschler suggests: "our politicians are too entrenched, the ideological commitments hold too firm a grip; old habits die hard. We should take ownership."


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Girotondo Preschool seek an imaginative preschool educator, West London

Girotondo Preschool, in Chiswick (W. London) is looking for a passionate and dedicated educator (full or part-time), to join their established team of educators. 

'Girotondo is a 20-place, Reggio-inspired preschool. Our aim is to provide a space for children, educators and families working together in a stimulating environment through multidisciplinary enquiry projects. We are dedicated to the ongoing development of all staff, and the person we are looking for will be a reflective, responsive individual who constantly seeks challenge and innovation and is able to inspire and collaborate with her colleagues in our everyday learning environment.

Our preschool has quickly become embedded in the community around. Parents and children attending Girotondo all live in the area and are of diverse culture and nationality, which makes our school a rich and diverse environment.

As a Reggio-inspired preschool, we are committed to innovation and creativity, to explore resources and the outside world, and to expose children to different learning and developmental experiences. We explore the surroundings and green areas around the school every day; walking or taking public transport and are not afraid to get wet or muddy!

. We are looking for an educator able to think outside the box, to bring innovation and to be open to continuous learning and development.'

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A Hundred Languages in encountering Reggio's Approach ...

We are currently preparing new introductory days for UK educators, introducing the work of Reggio Emilia's public preschools.  

Debi Keyte Hartland, one of our preparation group, has reflected on some of the perils, pitfalls and possibilities in how this can be approached. Here is her article: 

Recent conversations have provoked me to think about the language we use to describe our educational experiences with children, especially those that are specifically 'Reggio Inspired'. It has made me reflect on how Loris Malaguzzi described what he promoted in the Preschools and Infant Toddler Centres of Reggio Emilia and how I see it often being described and contested in places that consider themselves as 'Reggio Inspired".

To begin with, I want to say how I prefer the term we use at Sightlines Initiative (The UK Reggio Emilia reference network) that is to be 'in dialogue with Reggio', rather than being 'Reggio Inspired.'

For me, the difference lies in the values of this approach that is dialogic and co-constructivist in nature.It is an approach that evolves and is alive to the constant elaboration of knowledge, as we as adults learn about the learning processes of children and indeed of human beings in relation to the world of ideas and thinking.It is not about having baskets or open shelves, or provocations or loose parts, mirrors, white walls, open spaces or wood. Nor is it about being 'Reggio Inspired' in the right way or wrong way. It is however, about how we relate to children in the educational experience and the task we have as teachers to encounter and be alongside children as they construct and re-construct knowledge about the world in which we all live together.Learning and teaching is therefore considered as a process of research by both children and adults alike.

'Inspiration' is  a problematic term: it can imply, in some cases, a pickn'mix approach of educational methods and ideas which I think is contrast to the deep and complex values that are implicit and at the heart of Loris Malaguzzi's original thinking. Reggio's is a values based approach to learning and teaching (see Sightlines Initiative's collection of Introductory Articles) and NOT a methodology of teaching and specific resources, so it is worthwhile to spend our own time thinking for ourselves what Malaguzzi meant when he said that we have to think about what our own image of the child is, in order to understand what our approach to teaching is.These two things are relational and connected and affect how we teach and how we prepare our environments in readiness for children. It also affects how we talk about children, teachers, learning and the approach of Reggio itself.

Reggio is not about a 'free' approach to learning: everything is to be considered in relationship of each other. We have set up our environments even if they are available for children to access freely; we take them to specific places to play; we hold the conversations we have and there is an implied hierarchy in that - so nothing, absolutely nothing, is ever neutral or free. Loris Malaguzzi described teaching and learning as a game of Ping Pong where one bats the ball back to the other.This is a relationship where the energy is preserved for keeping the ball in play; for keeping the learning alive. It requires both the presence of the adult and the child together in a process of exchange and reciprocity.

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