Having taught for 26 years I have come to realise that the cycle of new ideas and innovations in education is endless.
Over the years many new ideas have been totally ignored by sane practitioners. Occasionally ideas have changed attitudes to education completely, sometimes in the form of a total revelation, making so much sense and being so immediately obvious that practice would be changed forever.
When I started teaching, early years education was much simpler (although learning is eternal and will continue despite what we do to children in schools). In those days children were expected to leave primary school with basic numeracy and literacy skills and a bit of everything else.
The first innovation I recall in the 70s was ‘science’. Suddenly we were told we needed mountains of skeletons, electrical circuits, plastic examples of life cycles of frogs and batteries. No one had the slightest idea what to do with these but we were told it was very important to have them labelled and put away in a ‘science’ cupboard. I am sure I recall some preserved, wizened dead creatures too. But on reflection they were probably just the other staff.
Next came D & T. No one knew what this stood for. Many people thought it might be a spelling mistake and should be G & T (Gin & Tonic - useful at the end of a long, hard day working with young children). Design and Technology meant entire budgets being spent on wood, nails and hammers. They too were labelled and away in a cupboard. Similar ideas continued to arrive in a steady flow.
Then in the 90s came the National Curriculum with documents arriving in separate folders, each a different colour. This led to hysterical renditions of the Rainbow Song – ‘red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue’ - in educational establishments throughout the land. These too were filed in cupboards. But we remained optimistic.
Suddenly the Government invented OFSTED, whose initial brief was to ensure that schools had their National Curriculum folders filed in the correct order. Schools that hadn’t achieved this failed and were put into special measures. Though what on earth one was supposed to measure things with when all the maths equipment was labelled and put away in a cupboard was beyond me. I wondered if special measures meant using special things to measure with but I was not aware that the Government had sent us special measuring things (perhaps I was off sick that week).
SATS quickly followed. All children had to sit SATS. They sat SATS at 7, sat SATS again at 11 and then hopefully had their lunch following which they sat SATS again at 13. 13 is European time which means 1 o’clock. Children who ate their lunch slowly would fail to sit their SATS and so failed their SATS.
Following the apparent success of SATS, for a time we expected the Government to declare that young children should also sit SATS at 2,3,4,5 or even 6, which is probably past their normal going home time and you could absolutely guarantee no one would get paid overtime!
At this point I abandoned the primary ‘ship’ and headed for what I thought were the safe harbours of Early Years education - then relatively free from Government directives.
What a fool! In the past few years we have had Desirable Outcomes, now replaced with Early Learning Goals - which are reached through Stepping Stones. We have had Baseline Assessment, different Baseline Assessment, On Entry Profiles, Assessment Profiles and now our very own OFSTED inspectors.
Many years ago, before teaching, I worked briefly as a psychiatric nurse. During my interview for a place at teacher training college I was told that my psychiatric training would be useful as a teacher. I assumed they meant in terms of dealing with lots of ‘crazy’ children. Or did they mean the Government? I wonder…