Tests force teachers to use old methods teaching traditions on schools

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The Independent Online
Tests for 11-year-olds, introduced by the Government three years ago, are forcing schools to use more traditional teaching methods, according to research published today.

A study by the government-funded Economic and Social Research Council shows that more primary schools are using whole-class teaching and more are grouping children by ability - both policies supported by traditionalists.

In one school, children were divided by ability rather than age for English, maths and science, so that nine-year-olds were being taught with 11-year- olds. The Home Counties school believed that advancing able children was a good way of competing with private schools.

The study found that children were being tested more between the ages of seven and 11. Though primary schools are not placing pupils in rank order, growing numbers are using rows of stars on a notice-board to illustrate children's progress in spelling and multiplication tables so their position in class is self-evident.

And teachers are spending more time preparing them for the national tests, which are in May. Some schools are starting science and maths revision in January and some are using practice tests from commercial publishers.

The researchers, Professor Caroline Gipps of London University's Institute of Education and Professor Margaret Brown, of King's College London looked at 32 teachers from 32 schools. They found that teachers had changed their methods as a direct result of the introduction of the tests.

Fourteen schools had changed from mixed-ability classes to setting pupils or grouping them by ability in different subjects. Eight had moved away from topic work to teaching individual subjects.

More than half the teachers said they had changed to a more didactic style of teaching, instructing pupils rather than encouraging them to find things out for themselves, and four schools had decided to introduce more whole-class teaching, with the pupils spending less time working in groups or on their own and more with the teacher teaching the whole class.

The researchers also found that teachers were emphasising different aspects of work. They tended to focus more on reading and spelling and maths questions of the sort most likely to be found in the tests were set.

Despite the strong influence of the tests on how teachers teach, most junior school teachers thought they were unfair. For instance, children who were slow but thorough did badly because of the time limit.