Back in June 2015 I wrote a blog post titled Dumbing Down Education? where I showed some of the questions asked of 16 year olds sitting their GCSE Maths papers.
Well, I decided to take another look at exam questions following the furore over SATS (or National Curriculum tests) for 11 year olds.
This was the first year that the curriculum has been in operation and therefore the tests have been changed to reflect new, higher expectations of both the teachers and the pupils.
Following the results of the tests, official data shows 47 per cent of pupils did not make the grade in reading, writing and mathematics. Some headteachers had called for the test results not to be published as the results were lower than expected.
So, what were the tests? Were they really that difficult that nearly half of the 11 year olds didn’t pass?
As a matter of course, having two children, one 9 year old and the other 6 years, we download past SATS papers and give these to our kids to try out. Obviously the 6 year old is a long way off being able to do much of what is expected of a child 5 years his senior but his older brother, age 9, is a more relevant example of what might be expected (even though he is still 2 years short of sitting the SATS tests).
To give you an example of what is expected of an 11 year old, here’s the first five questions from the maths tests for 2016.
Now, adding 100 to 987 or dividing 326 by 1 doesn’t seem very taxing. And I can confirm it’s not very taxing for a 9 year old either, never mind a child two years older.
Yes, obviously the questions do get slightly harder as you go through the paper but there’s only 35 questions in this maths paper and just answering those first five correctly is a reasonable chunk of the test.
So, what to make of the fuss kicked up by some teachers and headteachers? Changing the curriculum is always going to throw up a few problems, the least of which is when people compare the latest results with the previous year. Last year around 80% of the children passed the test, this year only 53% did.
But is the change a good thing? On balance I would say yes, it is. One of the more noticeable changes to the curriculum in maths in the past year was that teachers are now allowed to teach the children the times-table. By this I mean teach them by repeating the tables over and over until they become second nature to the child – the way most of us learnt them in the past. Almost unbelievably, teaching tables by rote (by repetition) was not allowed in schools in recent years and, if schools did teach that way, they would get marked down by OFSTED.
So, it seems some common sense has prevailed.
Now all the teachers need to do is ensure that the kids they teach can add 100 to 987 or divide 326 by 1. But perhaps that’s easier said than done when reading, writing and arithmetic have to be squeezed in at Primary School alongside guitar lessons, golf lessons, dance, drum lessons, tennis, trips to supermarkets (I kid you not!) and everything else.
Perhaps, and it’s just a thought, schools should concentrate on the important things (to most people this would be reading, writing and arithmetic) and leave the golf, tennis etc to after-school clubs. But, hey, what do I know? I’m just a parent!
Thanks for reading.
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