Back to School with Miss Stokes

23rd August 2019

Words by Meret Stokes // Illustration by Mr. Woody Woods

The long summer is over and September is looming. The shops are plastered with Back to School advertising and while you’ve been preparing your child: buying school uniform, getting back into bedtime routines and talking to them about what to expect, their school has been just as busy.

Its preparations actually started back in July, when your child’s class and teacher were decided, and notes about their personality, behaviour and academic abilities were handed over by their old teacher. It means that even though the new one won’t have taught them yet, they’ll have spent the summer preparing for every child’s individual needs. 

On the first day back, your child will have a coat peg, a place to put their bag, a space on the carpet and another at a table. These tables will be shared with a ‘group’, which has been carefully considered, along with their place in the ‘line’ and the partner they will work with. 

Alongside these sometimes tricky decisions, your child’s new teacher will have been in over the holidays making the classroom look inviting and planning an exciting and engaging first week back.

Nursery and Reception (EYFS)

Welcome to primary school! The EYFS is full of learning through play! Your child will begin to learn letters and sounds (phonics) and start developing their mathematical skills. They will learn social and communication skills in a really fun and practical way.

A parent friend asked me recently about testing in reception. This is what is actually happening:

In the past, the government has used results from the end of Key Stage 1 (year 2 SATs) and Key Stage 2 (year 6 SATs) to give each school a measure of progress. In simple terms, if a child is attaining at the expected standard at age 7, they should still be attaining at the expected standard at age 11. The government have moved to take away KS1 SATs (yay!) but assess children at the beginning and end of reception instead (boo!). However, fear not, these assessments are really informal and recorded on an iPad. They test a range of things, such as if they know their shapes, can they read etc. As teachers we’re sceptical about testing children at 4 and are sympathetic to everything children face when starting a new school, trying to concentrate and completing unfamiliar tasks, so this will all be taken into account.

It’s also worth noting that any early cues we get about individual needs can be really helpful when planning and teaching.

The summerise, the baseline assessments are really for teachers and nothing for parents to worry about. It’s just a way of measuring progress and what needs to be planned in order to help them reach their full potential in Reception.

This website has more information and a useful video.

Year 1

Warning! Warning! Not commonly known for being a difficult or challenging year generally, for some children it is very hard. This is the year where children transition from EYFS (lots of play and choices and free time) to a more structured form of learning. Some children relish this structure, whereas others find it difficult to make the transition and this can sometimes be where behaviour issues develop.

Most schools will have a transitionary term, which combines learning through play and more structured lessons. Talk to your school and year 1 teachers about how they deal with this transition, especially if you know that your child might struggle.  

Year 1 is a big year in terms of learning to read and write and every child in the country is required to learn phonics.  There are different programmes out there, but the most common ones are Read, Write Inc.Jolly Phonics and Letters and Sounds.  At the end of year 1, each child is given a phonics assessment to see how well they know their letters and sounds. It is very different to how we learnt to read and write so it’s worth finding which programme your child’s school uses and having a look online.

Year 2

This year, your child will be assessed with the KS1 SATs. If you want to know what the tests look like follow this link.

In year 2, children are put into small groups and taken out of class to take the tests. There is no time limit and children are given breaks when they want. Most schools will ensure that the children don’t feel the pressure. Tests are marked internally by the child’s teacher and senior leadership members. The Key Stage 1 tests are due to be scrapped by 2023. This article explains more.

However, it’s also worth noting that the government changes educational policy quite frequently, so this isn’t necessarily guaranteed.

Year 3 and 4

I love these year groups!!! I started off in year 4 and after a few years in the other year groups and a long stint in year 6, I had the chance to teach this age group again. These year groups are brilliant because the children have the basic reading, writing and maths skills, so as a teacher you can get really creative about how they apply them.  It’s great for trips and developing knowledge in other areas of the curriculum.  

One warning alert (it’s a little one though): it’s now compulsory for every child in year 4 to take a multiplication test which tests their times tables.  There is an amazing app called Times Table Rockstars, which you can download onto your phone or tablet. Children love this app and the wonderful creators have managed to replicate the tests (in a colourful fun way) so children can practise them until they’re solid.  This article explains more.

Ok, so I hate tests, but these ones aren’t that bad and the children really didn’t mind taking them. In fact lots of them enjoyed it because it was like Times Table Rockstars.  

Year 5

Year 5 is a great year and I thoroughly loved teaching this year group.  Equipped with a multitude of skills, the children are attempting more challenging work and beginning to take more ownership of their learning. A parent recently asked me at what age does the hyperactivity begin to calm and I think year 5 (age 9/10) is it. This year children start to become “cool”. Puberty is looming and personal/social interactions become a big focus. Enjoy 😉 

Year 6

Ok, so this is a big year for both you and your child; the last year of their primary school journey. It’s going to busy, so be prepared. Firstly in the Autumn term, your child will need to choose their secondary school. By now, I’m sure you’ll have some idea of where you’d like your child to go. My advice would be to go to all of the open evenings of the secondary schools you have in mind, talk to parents whose children already go, talk to the teachers and senior leadership of your child’s school and read the OFSTED reports. Each borough has a different application process, but in general, you’ll have more than one choice. Don’t fall into the trap of only applying to the one that you and your child have your hopes set on. This will not influence whether or not your child gets in and could leave them without a secondary school placement or in a school you definitely don’t want. If in March, you discover that your child hasn’t got their desired school you can appeal the decision or be put on a waiting list.  

Secondly your child will sit their CATs (cognitive ability testing).  This is a test that can’t be revised for; it tests your child’s cognitive ability.  The test is in three parts and has multiple choice answers. Secondary schools use these tests to compare with other children in the borough.  Based on your child’s results, they will be put into 1 of 4 categories: A, B, C or D. Each state secondary school is required to take an even amount of children from each category to ensure that they don’t just cherry-pick the highest ability learners. Doing well on this test, will not give your child a better chance of getting into their desired school. Learn more about the CATs here.

There will undoubtedly be a school residential trip at some point this year. With school funding at its lowest, parents are being asked to pay more towards them than ever before. Depending on the school and demographic, these trips can range from £150 to £400, so make sure you put a bit of money aside for this. If you’re entitled to PPG or FSM, ask your school if there is any discount.  

Finally, the dreaded SATs! The SATs can be a very stressful time for both children, parents and teachers and more and more unions are fighting to abolish them. What is important to bear in mind is that they are of little value to the children themselves. The SATs results help the government put primary schools into league tables, but in conversations with secondary school teachers they are rarely looked at. In fact, most secondary schools have their own testing system in year 7.

Of course, make sure your child is prepared and that they complete homework and revision packs, but remember your child’s mental health is far more important than these tests. Having taught in year 6 for many years, my approach is simple: make sure the children have been taught all they need to know in lessons and at home, then all we can ask of them is that they do their best. If you have concerns about SATs, speak to your child’s teacher. They’ll know your child’s ability and gaps in their knowledge like the back of their hand and can advise you on the best ways to support them.

You can see past SATs papers here, but these are often used in mock tests throughout year 6 so try to avoid using them at home, unless your child has already done it at school.

Final word

A really important thing to remember is that schools value parents’ voices and want to work together to ensure the best learning environment for each child. If you have any concerns or worries, ask to speak to your child’s teacher or a member of the senior leadership team. If you have a concern that your child has a learning difficulty or disability, ask to speak to the SENcO (special educational needs and disability coordinator). Don’t worry if a teacher raises a concern that your child might have some form of SEND (special educational need and/or disability). In fact, pinpointing a learning difficulty early on helps us to tailor their education and get the resources to ensure they make great progress. Some parents think this might lead to “pigeon-holing”, but I’ve taught lots of children who have been put on the SEND register in year 1, who, through targeted support, are no longer on it in year 4. Every child is different and learns at different rates and in different ways.  

Primary schools are becoming more digital now so it’s worth joining your school’s Instagram page for instant updates of what’s going on.  If they have an app, download it. All schools now have websites, so check it out (a bad website does not equal a bad school – we’re teachers and not necessarily tech-savvy, but there will be information on there, which might be useful e.g. school dinner menus, uniform prices, staff lists, curriculum letters etc.) There will be a permission slip for you to sign which allows the school to use your child’s image on their Instagram and website page. It is totally fine to opt-out of these and teachers will know which children cannot be put online.

Primary schools strive to be fun, engaging learning environments and the people who work in them really do care about the children they teach. So I guess the last thing to say is that you can rest assured that when you say goodbye to your child on that first day in September, we’ll have their back from the moment they leave you to the moment they leave us.

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