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No National Tests, No Ofsted – For the First Time in a Long Time I’m Completely Free to Teach How I Want – #JustLetMeTeach

Last year Zoë Paramour did two things she never thought she'd do: get a job in an independent school, and fall head-over-heels in love with said job

  • No National Tests, No Ofsted – For the First Time in a Long Time I’m Completely Free to Teach How I Want – #JustLetMeTeach

To support our new #JustLetMeTeach campaign, we have free primary and secondary teacher packs to download with practical advice to help you reduce your workload, refresh your teaching, and reignite a love of learning for you and your students.

According to a survey conducted by Teachwire, 90% of teachers agree that the removal of high-stakes testing would lead to more interesting lessons, with 86% saying that it would improve the quality of students’ education.

These results are interesting, although not entirely surprising. I completely sympathise with teachers who feel this way.

For years, I felt as though I was delivering lessons to get children to pass exams that tested a specific and narrow set of skills and knowledge.

My days were spent teaching children to identify the past progressive tense before they could find their own country on a world map and, in some cases, I was teaching lessons on grammatical terms that had been made up by the DfE (exclamation sentences anybody?).

It wasn’t that I wanted freedom to teach things that weren’t on the National Curriculum, it was more the freedom to give as much time as effort to the non-tested parts of the curriculum as I did to maths and English.

So, last year I did two things that I never thought I would do: firstly, I got a job in an independent school. Secondly, I fell head-over-heels in love with said job.

For the first time in a very long time I am completely free to just teach: no national tests to prepare for, no Ofsted and the freedom to teach however I want.

This exhilarating and and extremely motivating. Do I still teach grammar? Of course, every single day, but I teach it through reading and writing.

My pupils know how to use grammar, and they can explain the grammatical choices authors have made and why, but I haven’t taught them to identify whether the word “after” is being used a subordinating conjunction or a preposition in a sentence.

They could be taught this, I have no doubt that they could get their heads around it but I’d rather give the time to making sure have high-quality foundation subject lessons – not just maths and English.

Maths and English are important but so are languages, music, art, science, history, Geography, RE, DT, PE and PSHE which are all taught for between 1.5-3 hours each week.

My DT teaching has improved enormously as I’ve taught more of it in the last six months than in the previous six years combined.

This term, it’s been my responsibility to plan our history unit: Rebel Women – Past and Present (1870-2020) covering 150 years from the late 19th-century Britain to present day and I’ve never seen pupils show such great enthusiasm for a topic.

It has lit a fire in my class and they’ve built up an impressive body of knowledge over the half term we’ve been working on it.

You can ask any member of my class when the Cat and Mouse Act was passed, what it was, and what its implications were for the Suffrage campaigns and they’ll be able to tell you.

They’ve embraced opportunities to debate big questions such as: Is violence ever the answer? Should the right to vote be extended to children? What was the most important factor that lead to some women being given the vote in 1918?

Discussion and debate are actively encouraged; there is no pressure to have a certain amount of work in books, as written work in books is not the only measure of success or the only evidence of learning.

They’ve written and delivered passionate speeches and asked their own challenging questions, they’ve looked at pro and anti-suffrage propaganda and discussed why it was effective.

They’ve brought in articles they’ve found at home and looked into their own family history for inspiring women.

A display of the passionate speeches Year 5 have written

We decided that we’d follow this with a few weeks on “Hidden Figures”, as, while the Suffragettes and Suffragists were incredibly significant, they were mainly white, middle class women, and we felt it important to make it clear that equality is a global issue and different countries had different issues at different times.

We’ve studied racial-segregation following the American Civil War. They had so many questions about this that we decided to go back a bit and do some more work on the causes of the civil war and invited in some expert speakers.

We’ll end the unit with an in depth study of Malala Yousafzai and learn about the current gender issues around the world.

I have the luxury of time to dig deeper with my pupils because there is no sense of “having to get through everything”. In order to ensure our pupils had an in-depth knowledge and understanding, we extended the time we spent on “Hidden Figures”, and the freedom to do this is not something I take for granted.

At the beginning of the school year, Ofsted published their findings about school curriculums. They found that 78% of the schools they visited admitted to “curtailing or postponing the teaching of foundation subjects” in preparing for SATS.

Ofsted were correct in diagnosing the problem, but they placed the blame at the feet of school leaders and teachers rather than accepting any of the responsibility themselves.

When your school is only as good as your last set of KS2 Assessments, you cannot blame schools for putting all their resources into maths and English teaching.

Zoë is a teacher and freelance writer. In her spare time she eats cheese, talks politics and runs the award-winning blog, The Girl On The Piccadilly Line. Find her on Twitter at @zoeparamour.

We’re sharing this article as part of our #JustLetMeTeach campaign, in which we’re inviting teachers to share the moments when they’ve been able to pass on what excites them about their subject, and what has excited their pupils too – whether or not it helps children pass a test.

This is in response to our survey in which nearly 90% of teachers claimed to have taught ‘pointless’ lessons in order to help children pass national tests; 81% said they didn’t have time in the classroom to follow students’ interests; and 79% suggested that greater autonomy would improve the quality of their teaching.

Get involved by using the #JustLetMeTeach hashtag on social media, or get in touch with us on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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