During a monitoring visit to the local primary where I am a governor today, I got into conversation with the Year 6 teacher over this year's proposal to reintroduce science sampling. What she informed me of left me with more questions than answers and some serious concerns over the ethical justification for this particular activity.
I went onto the DfE website to look for the latest news and came across an announcement
which I copied and provide in full below:
"Science sampling tests for children at the end of key stage 2 will recommence in June 2014 on a biennial basis. The test will not be taken by whole cohorts. Instead a sample of approximately 9 500 children will be randomly selected, based on five children from 1 900 schools. Schools that are selected have a statutory obligation to participate."
"Test results will be reported as national data only. No individual school or child will be identified within the data that is published. Results will not be used for school accountability or performance tables and individual results will not be returned to schools or children."
"Children will sit the test within a two week period from Monday 2 June. STA will contact schools by the middle of May to agree which day the test will be taken on. Consideration will be given to schools’ existing commitments."
"The test consists of three papers. Each will take no longer than 25 minutes to complete."
"The test will be overseen by external administrators. A member of school staff may need to be available to support the administration of the test if this is agreed with the external administrator. The external administrator will notify the school of the five children that have been included in the sample. Schools are not required to place test orders. The external administrator will be responsible for bringing the test papers to school and taking the test scripts for marking."
"The science sampling test will not be subject to monitoring visits nor will it need supporting by local authorities."
"Detailed information will be provided to schools selected to participate."
This a general article, updated on the fifth of November 2013. It was news to me. As you can see, five children will be selected at random from each of 1900 schools and tested by an external administrator. The purpose of the exercise is to obtain national data relating to science and it is over that that my curiosity begins.
What will the data tell us? What will they be used for? Are they to provide 'evidence' about the teaching of science, the coverage of the science curriculum, the standards of attainment or some other measure? These questions reflect my general curiosity but from here I have to admit to feeling a rising tide of unease over what I regard as potentially far more worrying implications of this exercise.
It is clear that schools will have to take part, but what of the children and parents of those individuals selected to take three tests of up to 25 minutes duration, administered by some unknown person? What choice do they have? Supposedly, the school's involvement with their own children is not automatic. The advice states it might be, "if this is agreed with the external administrator." but makes it seem as if this would happen for the convenience of the external administrator rather than to safeguard any children who might find this whole process challenging or upsetting. I find this element unacceptable and if I had a child selected to take part, I would want to have the right to withdraw him/her at my discretion, especially if I was unable to get some pretty convincing reassurances that everything would done to support my child, up to and including their right to withdraw from the process if they felt so inclined.
Beyond the rights of children and families in relation to this screening of science at the end of the key stage, I am intrigued to know exact details of how the data will be used. On this, the information available at present simply states that:
"Results will not be used for school accountability or performance tables and individual results will not be returned to schools or children."
It seems clear that their use will not involve accountability or performance tables (do I choose believe that?) but why not return individual results to schools and the children involved? Is this because the schools, or the children, or their families do not deserve to share in the findings to the extent that they will be able to disaggregate their performance from the pooled data?
I ponder if the intention is to secretly select schools on the basis of some preconceived idea, for example, that academies outperform local authority schools in science attainment?
It may be that there is nothing at all to be concerned about, but I am a 'child of the times' and have a high degree of suspicion whenever it comes to trusting the motivation of ANY government department, especially the dictatorially-led DfE. If my suspicions over use of the data prove baseless, that will not satisfy me that children's rights are safeguarded through their involvement in this kind of activity.
Being the kind of person I am, I want to know the exact details and I want to be able to know how to respond if my school is ordered to take part and the parents involved seek the school's advice. Is there a right to refuse? If not, is this the denial of a basic human right? I would be grateful to know what thoughts other readers have.