Here we are returning to your screens following the Easter break. The summer term is often the longest and the busiest of the school year featuring SATs, GCSEs, A Levels and the multitude of other external and internal tests that our children and young people are assessed by. Over the holiday, I came across a survey that identified children and young people in the UK as subject to the largest number of tests and exams in comparison to their counterparts across Europe. There is an old agricultural saying that “Weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter” and it was interesting to read that if elected to power the Labour Party plans to scrap the Key Stage 2 SATs. These nationally set exams taken by Year 6 in the next month are the end of primary school assessments and are used as a key measure both of a child’s attainment and progress and when compiled for a cohort as an indicator of a primary school’s effectiveness. SATs are also used as a baseline for the targets set for students embarking on their secondary school careers. Therefore, scrapping them is a bold and radical move and whatever method of assessing of children’s progress that replaces them will need careful thought should these plans be enacted.

One of the criticisms of SATs is that primary schools spend much of the Spring and early Summer terms ‘teaching to the test’ with Year 6 classes spending every lesson of every day engaged in intensive preparation for reading, writing and mathematics tests. That has not been my experience in my visits to some of our primary schools in the last month or so. It certainly wasn’t the case when I had the privilege of spending a few hours in two of our schools this week. At Aylesbury Vale Academy, I really enjoyed touring the primary section of this school designated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted earlier this year. Sarah Luton, Acting Head of School and her colleagues have transformed the learning environment since joining in September and the vibrant atmosphere combines well with positive relationships and quality first teaching under her leadership and that of the executive principal, Roger Burman. On Thursday I was then welcomed to Garsington CE Primary School by Zara d’Archambaud, the Headteacher and Paul James the CEO of the River Learning Trust. My tour of the school took in each of the classes and I was struck by the way in which the ethos of being a church school was fully embedded and clear to witness in the shared values of the school. In particular, I relished learning how student prefects are leading prayer spaces as part of the school’s Christian distinctiveness.

Finally, as we plunge headlong into the new term I continue to try to find time to be more contemplative. As with the period of Lent, I have sought to use the Pilgrim Journeys series to help me structure my time for prayer and reflection. Pilgrim Journeys: The Lord’s Prayer provides 40 days of reflection from Easter Sunday to Ascension Day and as with the other texts in the series it is available as an app following the link.

‘Till next week.
Tony