Why we don't need yet more high stakes testing

Roger Titcombe's picture
More high stakes testing as advocated by the Chief Inspector of schools will reduce, not raise educational standards. This is because the most cost effective methods of getting pupils up to the threshold SATs and GCSE levels in infant, junior and secondary classrooms are the most damaging to deep and lasting understanding. They are based on rote learning, cramming, revision and repetition.

Unsurprisingly, these approaches are not well received by all pupils, leading the Chief Inspector also to conclude that more authoritarian discipline is needed to keep rebellious children firmly confined to the treadmill if allegedly failing schools are to be brought up to scratch.

Deep learning is primarily about concept formation, not remembering. This requires the interactive participation of learners in developing concepts in their own minds. This is how the internationally renowned developmental learning theorist, Lev Vygotsky, put it.

"a concept is more than the sum of certain associative bonds formed by memory, more than a mere mental habit; it is a genuine and complex act of thought that cannot be taught by drilling, but can only be accomplished when the child’s mental development has itself reached the requisite level."

This is the real but unrecognised explanation for the relatively poor performance of English pupils in the international PISA tests. These are tests of the deep learning that does not result from cramming for SATs and GCSE C grades. Our high stakes testing system has resulted in the replacement of teaching to promote cognitive growth, by drilling to pass tests and the Chief Inspector wants even more of it.

English education is suffering from the double whammy of having a Chief Inspector who appears to have little understanding of how children learn, operating under a Education Secretary blind to everything that lies outside the boundaries of his free market ideological blinkers. This is indeed a bleak and grim scenario for the future education of our children.
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