Education secretary’s defence of primary tests is disingenuous and misleading

Janet Downs's picture

Education secretary Damian Hinds has hit back against Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal to replace primary school tests with an assessment system devised after consultation if Labour came to power.

‘…all over the world, from France to Finland and America to Australia children’s learning is assessed’, he declares in the Sunday Telegraph.

That’s true – but assessment in other countries might not necessarily be the same as Key Stage Two Sats.  There’s formative assessment – checking children’s learning in order to plan future lessons – and summative assessment – end of course tests to find out each child’s achievement.

Take Finland, for example.  It featured in Hind’s little list.  But Finland doesn’t have primary school tests.   According to the OECD, which runs the three-yearly Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests in which Finland does particularly well, Finland has ‘no national standardised tests or high-stakes evaluations.’

Overdoing the alliteration, Hinds goes on:

From Berlin to Bordeaux, Boston to Brisbane, children sit assessment tests.’

That’s four cities in four countries.  Let’s look at a couple in more detail:

Brisbane – Australian pupils take tests in years 3 (age 8-9), 5, 7 and 9, Hinds is right there.   But Australia’s NAPLAN tests aren’t exactly the same as Sats.   There’s ‘No pass. No fail’.  It’s not necessary for schools to drill pupils or to take part in ‘excessive practice’.  Test results are published on the ‘My School’ website but league tables aren’t published:

Simple ‘league tables’ that rank and compare schools with very different student populations can be misleading and are not published on the My School website. On My School, you can only compare schools serving similar student populations.’

Some similarities – but significant differences too.  That’s Australia.

Next on our global hop is Boston, USA.  It’s nine years since Common Core State Standards were introduced.  Most states, but not all, have adopted them.  But the US tests are controversial and have been boycotted by thousands of parents.  They face accusations of being racist.

It was perhaps unwise for Hinds to use the divisive US tests as an argument for keeping Sats.

Hinds is not comparing like with like in his round the world dash.  Without knowing what type of tests are being set, any comparison is misleading.  Without knowing what use is made of the results, any comparison is meaningless.

Sats have no educational value.  They can’t even be said to help inform future teaching because pupils leave primary school shortly after sitting the tests.  They distort the curriculum.  And in the worst cases they subject pupils to ridiculous amounts of practice sucking all the joy out of the final year of primary school.


CORRECTION 24 April 10:13:  Typo corrected

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John Mountford's picture
Wed, 24/04/2019 - 15:56

I referenced this piece in a blog from Roger earlier to illustrate the danger we are in when those in power lie and manipulate facts to suit their own ends. There can be no place for such blatant dereliction of duty on behalf of public servants.

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