Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Destruction to testing would fail our youngsters

The Childrens, Schools and Families Select Committee in its wisdom has decided that, while it apparently 'isn't opposed to' tests, it wants the national tests abolished. Apparently, schools are 'narrowing the curriculum' and 'teaching to the test'. Instead, the Committee favours a combination of in-school tests and 'sampling'. Part of the 'problem' is apparently that the current tests are used for too many things.

The Committee are utterly wrong-headed about this. Their normally level-headed chairman, Barry Sheerman, seems to have been captured by the teaching union 'consensus' on the subject.

This 'narrowing of the curriculum' means that youngsters get a better grounding in literacy, numeracy and science than they would get if they weren't facing national tests at 11 and 14. That's what they mean by teaching to the test. Don't believe me? Well, look at what happened before we had national tests. Children were expected to learn to read by guesswork. Now phonics is widespread. Good spelling and grammar were seen as old-fashioned by trendy teachers. Now primary schoolchildren have a better grasp of these basics than they have had for a generation. Basic numeracy, including times tables, was off the menu, and many primary teachers confessed that before the numeracy strategy, they had never been quite sure how to teach Maths effectively.

But that's not all that would happen if we scrapped national tests. Parents would no longer have any objective measure with which to compare schools. Accountability would be out the window. Sure, they could have what teachers said was happening: but does anyone imagine that there won't be pressures on schools in a competitive admissions system to exaggerate their successes a little? And how could parents compare if schools were not using a similar objective measure? And schools would lack the comparative data that organisations like the Fischer Family Trust provide to help teachers set individual pupil goals, a key to school improvement. Such data has also helped thousands of schools serving our poorest communities to achieve massive improvements: look at primary schools in Tower Hamlets if you want a good example.

Ministers are right to give the Committee low marks for its uncharacteristically lazy thinking. What would be most 'damaging' to our education system is not the continuance of testing, but a return to the 'let-it-all-hang-out' days when poorer kids were failed by 'progressive' teaching. Yet that is where this Committee would send them.

1 comment:

oldandrew said...

I couldn't agree more.

There are some serious problems with SATs in their content and how schools boost performance in them. However, abandoning testing is not an answer and it makes me cringe to hear teachers suggest it.

You only have to look in on some of the subjects that aren't tested (like PSHE, or non-GCSE RE) to realise what a difference the accountability provided by testing makes.