Pupils in England are among the most-tested in the world. This is heaping pressure on our children. 94% of secondary teachers and 76% of primary teachers surveyed by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) reported stress
among pupils related to public examinations and SATs.
Examination stress is not new but the high-stakes nature of SATs, GCSEs and A levels together with politicians’ rhetoric that any young person not achieving 5 GCSEs A*-C (or equivalent) including Maths and English is a failure has increased the pressure.
It is accepted pupils need to sit exams in order to demonstrate achievement. These examinations, the OECD* found, were most prevalent at upper secondary level – age 18 – and least prevalent at the end of primary school. Only four of 35 countries had national exams at such a time. Fewer than half of the countries (15) had national exams at the end of lower secondary – age 16. In countries where tests were set at age 16 they tended to be confined to two subjects: national language and mathematics. Three extra subjects were used to a lesser extent: science, modern foreign languages and social studies.
Now consider what national examinations English pupils are expected to take:
1Tests in reading, writing and maths at age 11.
2GCSEs (or equivalent) at age 16. The progress 8 measure is based on the presumption that pupils will take eight exams.
3Examinations (A/S levels, A levels or vocational exams) at ages 17 and 18.
Added to this are plans to test 4-year-olds to fix a baseline by which ‘progress’ would be measured, the phonics diagnostic check (which is being used to judge schools) and the requirement for 16-18 year-olds to keep retaking GCSE maths and English until they achieve a grade C**.
Not content with this burden, the Conservatives say Year 7 pupils who don’t reach Level 4 in SATs would sit 'simplified' tests in their first year of secondary school if the Tories form the next Government***. David Cameron
made this promise aimed at parents: "more rigour, zero tolerance of failure and mediocrity".
High-sounding words – but meaningless. ‘Zero-tolerance of failure and mediocrity’ means more teaching to the test and shallow learning that leaves pupils ill-prepared for future study. ‘Rigour’ means more testing; more being ‘held to account’; and more pressure on teachers, children and, yes, their parents.
When parents begin to realise the exam pressure faced by their children is far heavier than on children in OECD countries; when parents realise most of these exams have no educational benefit but are used solely as measure for judging schools; when parents realise their children are collateral damage in politicians’ desire to have a tougher educational policy than their opponents, then they will start shouting, ‘Enough!’
And when taxpayers realise excessive testing in England costs millions every year – millions which would be better spent on education, they, too, might shout, ‘Enough!’
The OECD warned in 2011 there was already too much emphasis on raw results in England and this risked negative consequences. Since then the Government has increased the emphasis and the Conservatives are calling for even more. But we should be doing what most of the rest of the developed world do - move towards graduation at 18.
It’s time to say, ‘Enough!’
This is a companion piece to Blaming Teachers While Students Self Destruct
posted by Roger Titcombe.
*Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Education at a Glance 2011, looked at accountability in OECD countries. It can be downloaded here
. You can read a summary in FAQ above What are the examination and assessment systems in OECD countries?.
**Note: I’m not arguing that 16-18 year-olds shouldn’t continue to study maths and English but the emphasis should not be on repeating the same old material in order to pass a test. The time would be better spent reading texts they hadn’t met before, writing for different purposes and exploring maths from a different perspective.
***Hear Nicky Morgan on Today
at about 2hr 37mins into the programme. Thanks to Guest for providing this link.