Chapter 8: People at the Coalface

Chapter 1:   Setting the Scene
Chapter 2:   Where to Start?
Chapter 3:   OECD PISA Reports
Chapter 4:   UNICEF Report
Chapter 5:   Decline of USA
Chapter 6:   The UK Experience
Chapter 7:   My UK Experience
Chapter 8:   People at the coalface
Chapter 9:   Stressed out Children
Chapter 10: Finland
Chapter 11: The Interview
Chapter 12: Pointers for the Future
Chapter 13: Music – The Crucial Ingredient
Chapter 14: Conclusion

In order to assess the attainment of children, the UK Ministry of Education introduced a series of educational assessments, known as Sats or SATs. Initially, they were introduced for seven-year-olds for the academic year 1990/1991 (the tests are usually taken in May). 

They were first given to eleven-year-olds in 1994/1995 and fourteen-year-olds in 1997/1998. The government stated that the tests were needed in order to assess the progress of students. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) said that if a child was enrolled in a school, the head teacher had a legal obligation to administer the tests to that child. However, anyone who had the slightest vision or insight would realise that as the results were made public, the whole curriculum would eventually, slowly or quickly, evolve around “teaching to the test,” and, of course, this is what did occur. 

The response of ministers was predictable, just about equal to their refusal to even acknowledge the evidence that the vast majority of parents, teachers and educators did not want the tests and that they would result in teaching to the tests and less time spent on other subject areas, many of which are crucial to childrens’ emotional and intellectual development. 

The complete inability of politicians to even appreciate these consequences is indicated from some of their statements. For example, in 2008 Jim Knight, Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Department for Children Schools and Families defended the testing regime, “I look at results, I look at the fact that our results are improving year on year … The standards in our schools are rising, and part of the reasons for that are tests and tables.” 

Vernon Coaker replaced Jim Knight as Minister of State for Schools and Learners on 8th June 2009. Coaker stated, “We completely refute the claim that primary standards have not risen across the board.” 

It would appear that only politicians of this mould have this opinion of the place of testing as a crucial element in the education and development of students. It is inexcusable, when our childrens’ future is at stake, that their total refusal to examine international evidence should be allowed to pass without them being held to account. 

Here’s a rum one to start with. It would be entertaining if it were not the fact that it is true! The headteacher of the school that was ranked top of primary league tables said the school’s success was due to it ignoring the government’s literacy and numeracy policies and strategies. 

Combe Church of England Primary School
Barbara Jones, head of Combe Church of England Primary School, urged teachers to trust their own professional judgment about how best to teach children to read, write and add up. Every 11-year-old at the school was at least three years ahead of their age group in this year’s English, maths and science tests – making it the top ranking primary out of more than 20,000 in England. 

Mrs. Jones warned ministers against jumping on the phonics “bandwagon”, arguing that children learn to read in different ways. It was the second time in three years that the school has topped the elite league table measuring how many 11-year-old pupils reach the level normally expected of 14-year-olds. But Mrs. Jones said the Government’s strategies were “eroding teachers’ confidence”. 

She said her school did not follow the daily literacy hour or numeracy programmes. “We don’t use the literacy or numeracy strategy as prescriptively as we have been asked to,” she said. “We use a variety of approaches and that’s where I think the Government has got it wrong in that they advocate one way and then a few years later they suggest another way. Phonics is not the only answer. 

There isn’t one ideal way of teaching reading. Children do not all learn in the same way because we are all different. It is a pity that people jump on these bandwagons and quote examples of schools that see their results increase. 

You have got to use a bit of common sense. We don’t rush things. If it is going to take a fortnight to do something, it is going to take a fortnight. The problem is when you take four days just because the literacy strategy or some other directive says you should. We have never done that. I think what they are doing is eroding teachers’ confidence. I just feel that sometimes the baby is thrown out with the bath water. 

Throughout the school, we spend an enormous amount of time getting the children to express their ideas and clarify their thoughts verbally. This makes their vocabulary very good from a young age. It helps tremendously later on with reading, writing and maths but also all the other subjects. People sometimes think that to get these results we must do nothing but get them to practice for the tests. But the only way to get them achieving at such a high level is to give them a broad and varied curriculum.” 

Eastborough Junior Infant and Nursery School
Three years ago Eastborough Junior Infant and Nursery School was at the bottom of the league tables. Pupils, parents and some teachers at the primary school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, had low expectations and academic results had slumped. The local population had changed as white pupils left the school and were mainly replaced by children from Pakistani backgrounds, but the school had not changed its strategies to deal with the new challenges. 

“Our community at the time had low expectations,” said Nicola Roth, the headteacher. “There were issues with the teaching. There were issues with the leadership and management and the changing population… We needed different resourcing and different teachers.” 

After a radical overhaul, the school has nearly tripled its results. Ms. Roth said getting parents involved had been crucial. The school set up English and IT classes for parents and made a point of ringing home regularly with good news, as well as telling parents when their children should be doing better. It has nearly trebled the number of pupils passing the national tests in English, maths and science between 2002 and 2005. 

But Roth said that although she was “really proud” of her school’s achievement, she remembered how “hurtful” it had been to be ranked at the bottom of the tables. “I don’t think league tables achieve any purpose,” she said. “Lots of other schools have worked really, really hard and will not get the acknowledgement they deserve. It would be better if league tables did not exist. Three years ago, we were on the bottom. That was really hurtful. I would hate for any other school to have to go through that,” she said. 

“As a school we are celebrating. But I would rather it was just abolished. It just does nobody any good.” The school achieved 247 out of a possible 300 points in the national curriculum Key Stage 2 tests for 11-year-olds in today’s tables. This was a dramatic improvement from 2002, when the school’s score was just 85. 

Teachers and Parents
In Norwich, where the former Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, is an MP, midwife Ruth Hooper is organising a petition which so far has about 190 signatures. Mrs. Hooper, who has two boys aged six and eight, said: “I just think there’s far too much pressure – not from the teachers at the school but from the system generally. I had lots of conversations with parents in the playground who felt the same way.” She trusts teachers to tell her how her children are doing – and thinks the tests at best only confirm their assessments and at worst undermine children’s self-confidence. 

Another mother, Caroline Fertnig, said her 10-year-old daughter was ill with stress-related shingles at the looming Sats in her school in Yateley, Hampshire. “She has had a long stream of supply teachers during this half-term and has been told by her class teacher that after half-term they are going to ‘work their backsides off’ in preparation for the tests.” She said another child in the class “is pulling his hair out, literally”. “I and a number of other parents are on the verge of refusing to let our children take their Sats exams.” 

A meeting to discuss the issue has been called for next Tuesday. Mrs. Fertnig said parents had been told to buy commercially-produced test revision books for their children to complete during the half-term holiday next week. “The school were selling them,” she added. Her daughter’s school could not be reached for comment. I and a number of other parents are on the verge of refusing to let our children take their Sats. 

I am still not sure why politicians and administrators believe that they know far better what is best for our children than parents, teachers and educators but they and have done so for the last thirty-five years in the UK and USA. 

It would now appear that the New Zealand National government is of a similar mindset. It really does indicate how politicians appear to live in a little world of their own, surround themselves with people who agree with them, and totally ignore any pronouncements from professional educators, some of whom, like myself, have spent nearly all their working life in education.   

Mindsets of such politicians and administrators indicate an excess of hubris while the latter are entirely number of excluded from decision -making process. 

Indeed everyone is excluded and views are totally ignored even when they come from such people as award winning author Geraldine McCaughrean and around fifty of her colleagues and associates, when they said, “Reading for pleasure is being squeezed by the relentless pressure of testing.” 

Certainly parents do not want their children to be under this enormous pressure and yet again their opinions are ignored. Here is a sample of responses of parents to testing and this was way back in 2003 and the desire to test has very much increased since then. 

Mark Adams – My six year old is already crying himself to sleep at night worrying about his SATs – and we have not mentioned it to him once, other than to say we don’t care how he does in them. This is a meaningless test that is in danger of seriously skewing his educational priorities. Tests for six-year-olds (which is how old he will be when he takes them) should be abolished. 

Kath – My son started talking about suicide when told that his handwriting could lead to a bad result in his SATs test. He was 7 at the time. My daughter was advised to start revising for the SATs she took when she was 11, four months before they took place. Schools need good SATs scores so they spend ages on revision and practice sessions – it isn’t learning any more, it’s a series of rehearsals. No wonder children misbehave – where’s the joy in learning? 

Tracey Evans – I am absolutely sickened by the pressure put upon eleven-year-olds over these exams, my son is giving up on education and his work is suffering all round. His peers who have very pushy parents are constantly comparing their performance in practice test papers finding out their results and spending their playtime going over and over it all. My son’s results were thrown back at him and he was called dumbo!! This is not normal for children of this age and something should be done about it now before many children of this generation shut down mentally towards learning and just give up. They are too young for such pressure, it makes my blood boil!!!! 

M. Smith – My Year 6 child brought a letter home from school saying that the local ‘mixed ability’ schools used the SAT results to stream their intake from Year 7. Because of this, all the homework since January has focused around trial SAT papers, this in turn has led to my child becoming stressed, and losing interest in any school activities. If senior schools are using the SAT results to stream their intake, then the SATs have become a leaving exam/entrance exam – and are being used as selection tests! My KS3 child is also becoming stressed and now sees the next few years (well, 5 to be precise) as one long series of tests. What has the system come to? Maybe I should risk a ‘truancy’ fine and take them all on a long, frivolous holiday for 4 weeks through May – they would definitely get more out of that, than learning how to sit more tests! 

Ms. Catherine Briscoe – My concern is that pupils will be pushed too hard in order to secure the results which will gain the school a desirable place in the league tables. My son took his Year 2 SATs last year and the build up to them was torturous for him. He literally counted down the days until the time came for him to sit his test. Despite my reassurances that he only had to try his best he seemed to feel the pressure terribly. I was glad when the fuss had died down and he could go back to school without the SATs hanging over him. I dread the Year 6 tests. 

Mark – I do find tests stressful myself. However, I think that they should not be abolished since they are a measure of a child’s progression. Without tests, children would have no motive to study as hard as they would if tests were retained. To make conditions better for children in terms of stress, I think that teachers should not put too much pressure on students. For the higher years, I think that coursework should not be given when people are trying to revise for exams. That is the main problem for me and many others. In short, I hope tests are not abolished but the teachers should teach in such a way that other work such as coursework does not collide with exam revision. 

B Anderson – We secondary school teachers know that SATs are misleading. Too many children coming to us from KS2 as levels 4/5 haven’t basic literacy skills. They have been drilled into passing tests but they have been cheated of the broader, enquiry based education to which they are entitled. We also know which primary schools focus on tests to give them a leg up in the league tables. The whole system is intellectually bankrupt. 

Kat – I agree with the authors, as an experienced teacher of SAT level pupils, teachers have no choice but to go against their fundamental held beliefs about educating children and teach to tests. To do otherwise is committing suicide in the league tables and leave yourself open to yet more criticism by OFSTED. Some may argue that good teachers would find innovative, stimulating ways to tackle the knowledge required for the tests and I agree with you, if their precious time was not already taken up with vast amounts of paper work, yes they could, but most teachers are over worked and have to compromise. 

Moira Nolan – As a Year 9 English teacher and KS3 coordinator for SATS, I totally disagree with the SATs. No teacher is against assessment – we use many assessment methods continually – but this type of testing is narrowing the curriculum, leaving little room for the development of ideas and discrimination in reading. In my view, SATS are taking the pleasure out of learning for many students and pressurising teachers to ‘teach to the test’ – rather than teaching for meaning, understanding, critical thinking and pleasure. 

Adam Southall – During my school years, I often found the pressure of tests unbearable. Examinations have become more and more stressful and, even worse, a constriction to the ideal of learning. The student is expected to know irrelevant facts, as opposed to the broad context of the material being studied. I am now studying at Cambridge University – I am enjoying the opportunity for in-depth learning and the all-encompassing perspective of knowledge – something which was not provided at my school. Do schools want to become exam result factories, or institutions which create well-rounded human beings? This problem must be addressed to reduce the number of pupils who suffer from forms of neurosis and depression due to this country’s myopic approach to education. 

Chris Hopton – I am a parent of three children, and a secondary school teacher. I know firsthand that fear of poor results in league tables is driving many primary schools to abandon a broad curriculum to focus exclusively on SATs tests. Government pressure on schools to be competitive and its obsession with testing is destroying the ethos of education: education is becoming merely a stressful grind for many children; evenings are consumed by homework assignments; children may well end up burnt-out by their mid-teens if there’s not a change of direction. I wholeheartedly support a parental boycott. 

Lesley – As an ex-junior school teacher, I advise every parent to remove their child from the tests using up the ten days that they are allowed per annum to miss school. Take your children on holiday instead! 

Jerry Kent – The Government is currently pressing schools to resist children going on holiday during school terms. If they reduced state testing to a reasonable level this would add back much more useful teaching time alone, let alone the disruption and expenditure caused by revision work. 

Morlette Lindsay – I am an English teacher in the secondary sector and have always been opposed to SATs. What many parents perhaps do not realise is that the Year 9 SATs for 2003 have been changed quite drastically. Final details about the proposed changes were only on the QCA website in November. We have one set of sample papers from QCA and any other ones available are commercially produced (and will have to be bought by schools – some people are making a lot of money through this!) 

I have looked in detail at the sample reading paper and the mark scheme for it. I could go on at length – suffice to say I think if more parents, governing bodies and head teachers were aware of the shambles of the proposed changes a cry of ‘no more, boycott now’ will go up. As teachers we are supposed to try and create confident speakers, readers and writers who will be able to use English as a tool in their work, as well as in a social and leisure context. SATs do not contribute to this; in fact it hinders a broad and balanced, interesting and motivating curriculum. 

Mrs. Chippy Soman – SATs is a must as it allows me to find out which school is doing well and how well my children are doing in their school. Children are growing in a society where competition is the key word and in my opinion SATs is one way of showing children how to compete. Does any parent know how hard a teacher’s job is, and why most of the schools end up with supply teachers? 

L. Dale – My daughter was ill for a week after she took her SATs tests aged 7 years. She was at an under achieving school and because they thought that she was capable of achieving level 3 they pushed very hard. Her teacher was stressed and under pressure to produce results and was bound to pass it onto the children. My daughter is now home educated. 

Ian Petrie – We have removed our children from school (boys 4, 6 and 10) and now educate them at home. While the SATs are not the only reason, they were a very important one. So long as status and funding for the school are based on the results of SATs then there is really no other choice for teachers but to ensure that their pupils score as highly as possible – and so have to teach to the test. Parents are equally to blame however. I lost count of the number of parents who came up to me and waxed lyrical about how well their son/daughter had done in their SATs. Few chose to share my cynicism, pleased that their offspring had successfully leapt through the hoop – and congratulatory to the teachers for their focus on achieving results. Well done the Hampshire parents, is this the first glimmer of a reaction to the prescriptive and assessment obsessed nature of UK schools today? 

Martin Judge – As both a teacher and parent I concur with the sentiments expressed in the article concerning school exams. Can I also point out that there has been a massive growth in home tutoring to cram for the exams mentioned; seven-year-olds are now spending their Saturday at SATs preparation schools. Though children suffer due to the proliferation of school exams the parents share their suffering. For every one stressed child there are two stressed adults; a vicious circle of school-induced stress is then enacted. My own experience is that the parents’ stress is worse than their childrens’. 

Peter Millar – As a parent and a school governor I entirely agree that there are far too many “tests” and statistics. Education should be more about what is drawn out of young people than what is drummed into them. 

P. Richens – I’d like to thank the authors who signed their names to the very eloquent letter in the TES. As a parent and an English teacher, I should love to have time to explore with my children, both at home and at school, some of the wonderful books available to them. Instead, we are having to analyse single pages of great literature in huge detail – examining, for example how Mary Shelley’s use of semi-colons, commas, and large number of clauses help to build tension in her account of Frankenstein’s monster coming to life (an example from the QCA Sample Reading Paper for fourteen-year-olds). How to turn pupils off reading!! How to turn enthusiastic teachers off teaching!! (Do authors really consider such details when they write?) I loathe having to “cram” students for these tests as I can see no educational benefit in them. However, as long as my school is judged on the results of SATs tests, I feel obliged to continue “teaching to the tests”. 

Paul – Yes, I know other schools that sell course books to support Year 9 SATs. Further, while I take the view that schools pursue the tests so hard solely to maintain their position in artificial league tables, there is an unstated blackmail in the situation in that children are ‘setted’ on the basis of the results and so parents are also forced to pressure their children. 

Dan – I sat my Y9 SATs nearly two years ago, and couldn’t agree more that they simply represent the bureaucratic exam culture evident in our education system. Our school told us to start revision 5 months in advance of the SATs, and the entire year was focussed on exam preparation. They are worthless, pointless and affect very little. I gained nothing from my SATs, and simply suffered because of the unnecessary pressure and stress we were put under at an age where we shouldn’t burden children. 

Brenda Sidlow – As a teacher of Year 2 I would support wholeheartedly the abolition of testing for seven-year-olds. Yes teachers do “teach to test” because test results are not just used to inform on children’s progress but are also used unfairly to judge a teacher’s competence. Unrealistic targets are set from on high and test results are expected to show improvement year after year irrespective of the ability of the cohort doing the test. The teaching unions have failed teachers miserably where testing is concerned, an all-out boycott of Sat tests should have been in place years ago. 

LS – I have recently completed my Year 9 SATs, and I feel that they were a completely unnecessary hassle. We spent all of Year 9 preparing for them, and were stressed out too much over them. There should be different ways for the government to test students to assess how students are achieving rather than put them through that. 

It should be incumbent on any elected official or representative to be accountable for their policy-making decisions even more so when those decisions affect the wellbeing of children. It should also be incumbent on any elected official or representative to produce the evidence that determine those decisions. When, as in the UK, those decisions determine a decline, according to international league tables, of the childrens’ learning process, it is even more important. 

One also needs to  ask why do not such officials or representatives examine or peruse the enormous amount of evidence available which clearly indicates which systems produce successful outcomes and which do not. It is just not good enough not to be held to account when the future of a nation’s children are at stake. In that perspective New Zealand is now going to follow the disastrous policies of the UK. 

Sadly, the media (the New Zealand Herald being a prime example) support these disastrous policies. It is propaganda at its very worst with the very things we look for in our elected representatives (namely integrity, perspective, balanced opinion etc.), sadly lacking.If interested, Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) and WideHorizon Education Resources (WER) produces Teaching Packs that are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands. Original material is the Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) Teaching Packs (written initially for New Zealand teachers). On request from USA teachers, monitoring and assessment procedures were added and renamed WER Teaching Packs to distinguish them from MLA Teaching Packs. All lessons are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands. 

Business Plan at

For overall content of Ancient Civilisations please click
Program Overview Ancient Civilisations
For overall content of Ancient Kush please click  Program Overview Kush
For overall content of History of California please click
Overview Teachers Handbook CA
For overall content re improving reading and language skills through history please click Overview Reading History
For overall content re MLA approach to teaching
mathematics please click Overview Teaching Math
For overall content re MLA approach to teaching
fractions please click Fractions Teacher Handbook
For overall content re MLA approach to teaching multiplication tables please click Multiplication Tables Teachers Handbook 

Previous PowerPoint presentations converted to pdfs for wordpress
Ancient China P_China
Ancient Egypt P_Egypt
Ancient Greece P_Greece
Ancient India P_India
Ancient Israelites P_Israelites
Ancient Kush P_Kush
Mesopotamia P_Mesopotamia
Early Humankind/Prehistory P_Prehistory
Ancient Rome P_Rome

Fractions P_Fractions
Multiplication Tables  P_MultiplicationTables

The following free sample lessons (sorry limit one at present) are available in this order: Ancient Civilisations (Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient India, Ancient Kush, Ancient Israelites, Ancient Rome, Mesopotamia, Prehistory/Early Humankind), Fractions, Multiplication Tables, History of California, See below titles for descriptions.

Ancient China  (Lessons 4/5 of Module 2)
Mathematics, Counting Rods and Chinese Abacus
Ancient Egypt (Lesson 3 of Module 3)
Papyrus – how it is made, activities etc
Ancient Greece (Lesson 1 of Module 2)
Story “Parrhasius and Helena”, Guided Reading,
The Court of Law, Simulate an Athenian Court of Law.
Ancient India  (Lesson 3 of Module 2)
“Asoka and the Mauryan Empire,” “India’s National Emblem,”
Assessment Rubric for India’s National Emblem,
Ancient Kush (Lesson 2 of Module 2)
Story “Expedition to Jebel Barkal,” “Jebel Barkal: A Poem,”
Guided Reading, Review Exercises
Ancient Israelites (Lesson 2 of Module 1)
Story “Abraham,” Father of a Nation, Guided Reading
Ancient Rome (Lesson 3 of Module 2)
“The people of Rome speak out,” Story “Julius Caesar,”
Crossing the Rubicon, Guided Reading
Mesopotamia (Lesson 4 of Module 3)
Story “Gilgamesh,” “The Death of Enkidu.”
Prehistory/Early Humankind (Lesson 2 of Module 2)
The Crô-Magnons including story “The Lascaux Caves”,
Guided Reading and “The Cave Paintings at Altmira.”

Fractions SubUnit 3.4 Drama: A Tale of Fractions
A free lesson/drama involving students in a drama about the Pied Piper of Hamelin

Multiplication Tables SubUnit 3.7 Ten Times Table: Mr. Pickles
A free lesson, activities, story, game/, patterns,
cooperative learning activities about the ten times table

History of California Lesson 5.6 The Gold Rush: Part 1
A free lesson describing the background of the gold rush and life in the gold fields

For video clips please see
Ancient Civilisations
Ancient China
Multiplication Tables
McLaren Rd talk
Be the ONE who listens 

Since advent of social media all material is now in pdf format (no postage or processing fee). Physical copies (postage/processing fees apply) can be provided at additional cost – please contact MLA.
Each SubUnit (not Unit) costs USA $19.95
  NZ $24.95
(This price includes permission to photocopy)

1. The MLA approach to education believes in developing the creative and imaginative side of the student in harmony with the intellectual and cognitive. To achieve this, MLA Teaching Packs make stories and drama an integral part of the lessons and involve students through storytelling, art, simulations, drama, craft, discussion and creation of a personal record.

2. There are MLA Teaching Packs for teaching
a) Ancient Civilizations/World History
b) History of California and
c) Mathematics (Fractions and Multiplication Tables)

3. In a MLA Teaching Pack you will find teacher guidelines, stories providing an in-depth experience, information sheets presented in an interesting and stimulating format, activity sheets, suggestions for further research, maps with related activities, questions for discussion and assessment, dramas for class/school performance, guidance for the student’s personal record or portfolio, a variety of review exercises and contents designed and structured for authentic assessment

4. For an explanation of the philosophy behind the writing of these packs click here
(David Mollet’s HomePage)

5. If you are interested in how your students can work with top quality papyrus (imported from Egypt) click here.

6. We have also customized our material for USA public schools. This material includes monitoring and assessment procedures for students some of which are not based on the MLA approach.

7. Information on workshops/presentations for introducing the MLA approach into public schools available at: here (WideHorizon) and here (Waldorf))

8. Click here to read what teachers think about our lessons/newsletters.

“These resource packs contain unbound, ready-to-use reproducible masters, that are varied, simple, and appealing to students. The interactive strategies suggested are suitable for independent, small-group, and whole-class assignments.”
(Grade 6 Course Models – California State Department of Education)

9. Click here to go to author’s experiences in the Waldorf world.

10. Click here for details of on-line courses accredited by San Diego State University.

Dr. David Mollet
NZ: h 09-555-2021 m 022-101-1741, 41 Hilling St, Titirangi, Auckland 0604 
USA: 619-463-1270, 6656 Reservoir Lane, San Diego, CA 92115 (Skype waldorfedu)

1) The material was initially written for New Zealand teachers but on request from USA teachers, monitoring and assessment procedures were added. To view this material please visit
WideHorizon Education Resources (WER) Waldorf Education Resources (WER)
2) MLA is also involved in researching on an international basis, what works and what doesn’t work. Most of the research results can be seen at while a draft of a book The Task for New Zealand Education is at
3) Blogs at
4) Business Plan at
5) Papyrus


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