Lots to absorb in the new coalition agreement today. It’s good to see the Cam-Clegg, Lib-Con’s committing to a review the National Curriculum Tests for 11 year olds. Definitely the right move. They have become unwieldy beasts and, over time, have morphed from something conceived to focus minds on standards into something that has significantly squeezed the learning of anything meaningful or interesting during a child’s final year in the primary phase. It creates a ridiculous pressure to drag a child up to and over an arbitrary finishing line, at a stage of their education when imaginations should be being fired with possibility, not being drilled to jump through hoops.
So, what to do instead? There does need to be some significant re-thinking of the purpose, scope and value of testing and also, critically, how this data is presented and used. We need a clearer delineation of what assessment is done to help the teacher (and pupil) focus on learning and what assessment is done for public scutiny and accountability. There may well be overlap but we need to be much clearer about what we are doing and why. That’s why a review is a good thing.
That said, I expect there is still a place for some formal, ahem, ‘pencil and paper’ testing at the end of a Key Stage. Recently, the tests have been supplemented by a system of continous assessment based on teachers’ knowledge of a child’s work, backed up with evidence to demonstrate their understanding.
Sounds good. But it’s not.
It creates a paper mountain, is hugely time-consuming and has the effect of creating a tick-box, lowest-common denominator approach to learning. The teacher becomes an observer-bureaucrat, scrabbling around for evidence and filling in forms – mostly done ‘just in case’ Ofsted pop in.
Speaking of which, I hope the review is expanded to include a questioning look at the regulator. Ofsted in many ways has followed the same path as the SATs; starting off as a broadly good thing, but soon becoming a less than benevolent force.
It’s time to clip the wings of both.