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Editorial: There’s more to education than ‘teaching to the test’

WE need our kids to be taught not tested. It is the heartfelt wish of primary school parents. It is what primary school teachers think is sensible.

Standard Achievement Tests (Sats) have become the principal measure of how successful a school is.

We know that the testing regime schools are compelled to operate leaves many children distressed, coping with nightmares and so stressed out that they need extra attention from overstretched and underpaid teachers.

Why on earth do we put our children through this?

The answer lies in the competition regime introduced by successive governments in which a school’s success is judged not in terms of how well it meets the individual needs of each child but how it figures in a league table of test results.

Parents gathered every day at the school gates see publicity posters extolling the achievements of their children’s school according to a report from the Office for Standards in Education.

Schools are compelled to present the bare-bones facts that their Ofsted report contains because the government wants both success and failure to be seen as such.

With up to 9 per cent of children educated in private fee-paying schools where class sizes are half those in the state system and with another largely middle-class tranche hived off into selective schools, the way resources are allocated and how schools perform is a window into Britain’s class-divided society.

The school evaluation system and the testing regime for individual pupils is the main mechanism for regulating these class divisions.

When they first came in, the most foresighted of educationalists predicted that teachers would be pressured into “teaching to the test” and children offered a narrowed-down curriculum accordingly.

The idea that these were simply “benchmark” tests which measured attainment was quickly revealed a fiction.

Primary school teachers are convinced that Sats are, as one put it, “the biggest barrier that we have to high-quality and relevant learning.”

The main tool for evaluating the performance of schools are Sats results. And we know that tests measure what can be tested.

Education is more than this. The question always is, what conclusions do we draw from the test results?

The children concerned and their parents quickly learn the significance of “failure.”

But none of our children are failures. They are just children who need help. 

The world of difference in the way education is conceived by the people professionally engaged in delivering it and the abstract mechanical schema which guides ministers is summed up in the feelings expressed by one teacher: “The joy of teaching is in watching children see the wonder in the world, challenging established thinking, encouraging creativity.

“I have the greatest respect for people who manage to do that in the classroom. Yet none of those things seem to matter to the government.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, which represents the overwhelming majority of primary school teachers, laid it on the line for ministers.

“The government must recognise that despite a rhetoric that focuses on ‘standards’ and ‘excellence,’ they have created a system which is the opposite of what they intended: one that is lowering quality, harming and demotivating many children and creating classrooms in which the love of learning is endangered.”

The best education system in the world by any measure is Finland’s.

It has no standardised testing. Kids stick with the same teacher for several years. There are no private schools. All kids get free school meals. Teachers are well trained and well paid.

And all this with a relaxed timetable, longer holidays, shorter school hours and less homework than any other country.

What’s not to like?

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