The Times Top 100 Independent Prep Schools league table was published last week. I am proud to say that Banstead Prep does not appear in it.
Despite outer appearances, I am quite competitive. A suggestion in a recent staff meeting for a league table of commendations awarded by each teacher made me fizzle inside with the injustice of such a scheme. When you only see classes once or twice a week, teach a subject that involves a great deal of talking and listening rather than writing and where assessment is as informal as possible, it is difficult to hand out more than one commendation every half term for consistent exceptional hard work and progress. How unfair would it be then to be judged for how many we were giving? Maybe I should start to distribute them freely just to get to the top of the league table? Then I remembered. I’m the teacher. Not a child with a cry of, “That’s unfair!” It is a good idea for the children. And it’s all about the children, not the league table!
The Times league table is based exclusively on the results of SATs, national Key Stage tests taken at age 11. I am not against SATs in principle. It is good for children to have a benchmark to work towards and if children are given a positive environment to work in, where they are taught appropriately for the exams, but not solely towards them, then it can be a confidence boost when they do well. Challenge is a good thing. However, as far as I can see, this rarely happens. Why does French not get taught in state primary schools in England, despite being on the curriculum and on the school’s timetable? Because teachers are teaching towards the SATs and steal the languages time to teach more English and Maths. What happens when children don’t meet the standards expected? They feel like they have failed, that they are not good at the core subjects and it further embeds their fixed mindset, not the growth mindset that we should be pushing children towards.
At Banstead Prep we believe in teaching above and beyond a full curriculum. Learning is not just about the academic journey of the child, but about developing life skills that will take them into senior school and further. If teachers are focused on teaching towards exams, how can they find time for the extra-curricular trips and visits that enrich learning, the whole school performances like the carol concert that help pupils to bond (although I think our house Christmas song might divide rather than unite the school in competition, especially when Helmsdale win!), the time out of lessons to develop leadership skills or support the younger members of the school by watching their nativity shows?
That is not to say that we don’t focus on exams as well. Pupils in every year group are assessed regularly and Year 6 are very well prepared for their entrance exams to senior schools, but not at the expense of other beneficial activities. If exam success alone was at the heart of a school, surely the school would have no heart? Would you rather your child went to school happy every day, filled with excitement about the prospects in store, or that they were filled with anxiety due to the pressure of the swiftly approaching exams; exams that are not compulsory in the private sector?
We endeavour to instil a growth mindset in our children. That means taking on challenges and accepting that we will make mistakes, but that we learn from them. SATs encourage children to think that they are either right or wrong; either good at something or not, which is the complete opposite of what we are trying to instil in them. League tables encourage parents to think that a school is either good or bad, rather than making them think about how happy and fulfilled their child will be.
“Just because you haven’t found your talent yet, doesn’t mean you haven’t got one.” (Kermit the Frog)
How are children supposed to find their talent if they are pushed in one direction only? We as a school know what we don’t want our talent to be: coming top of league tables that discourage character, true learning and thriving children.
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