English school children are among the most tested in the world. Yet there’s no evidence frequent, mandatory, national tests raise educational performance. The opposite is true: the OECD warned in 2011 there was too much emphasis on test results in England and this risked negative consequences. Education in England has actually suffered by being driven by stringent accountability measures.
Until now we’ve had a Government obsessed with testing. As Michael Gove said when he was Education Secretary, if it can’t be externally assessed then it’s merely play. The Cameron Government appeared to value only test results despite paying lip service to the importance of a wider education experience. Schools, multi-academy trusts and local authorities are judged on test results. Worse, children are judged by test results.
47% of English 11-year-olds are now classed as failures. Ex-education secretary Nicky Morgan denied this was the case but it’s disingenuous to say that telling a child s/he hasn’t reached the ‘expected standard’ isn’t failure.
Our new education secretary Justine Greening has an opportunity to change this blinkered view of education. A start would be to set up a review of the 2016 SATs – something supported by major teacher unions. And she could suspend all primary tests for 2017.
Few countries have mandatory, national tests at the end of primary school. It is odd that a Government which constantly said it wants to be in line with the best-performing education systems should be so out-of-step.
This is not just true at the end of primary school but at age 16 as well. Again, very few countries have tests at age 15/16 (the end of lower secondary). Where they do, they are restricted to a few core subjects and used together with pupil preference and teacher assessment to decide upper secondary options. These tests are not high stakes – they are not used to judge schools.
Michael Gove boasted constantly about how he reformed exams to be consistent with the best in the world. He actually did the opposite. And he flunked the opportunity to overhaul England’s out-of-date exam system.
Gove portrayed himself as a radical, but, instead of gradually moving towards graduation at 18, he messed about with GCSEs by bringing in reforms at 16. Worse, they were introduced hastily, without trialling or evaluation.
Justine Greening has the chance to change this – not by imposing more reforms on a shell-shocked teaching profession but by standing back and looking coolly at a testing regime which sucks the joy out of education. She could start by suspending primary tests in 2017.
A petition requesting our new education secretary to suspend all primary tests next year is here.
ADDENDUM 09.15. Warwick Mansell, writing on the Cambridge Primay Review Trust website, outlines 'serious problems' in judging academy trusts solely through the lens of results. This concern, judging schools primarily by results, can be extended to all schools (although non-academies which aren't their own admission authorities would find it less easy to manipulate their intake).
ADDENDUM 09.27. TES reports that times tables tests will not be introduced in 2017 as planned.
ADDENDUM 09.44. TES reports the DfE has published its criteria for testing the writing of 7 and 11 year-olds despite having told teachers last year they would only be in place for one year. The 'temporary framework' was reproduced complete with errors. Greening must surely put an end to this incompetence.