Let my three-year-old play - not sit exams

It is because I want children to enjoy their education that I am alarmed at the Government’s plans to start formal testing at five – or even earlier

Share

Last month, the parents of a six-year-old boy wrote an appeal for a tutor to help their son do better at school.

Their child, the parents explained in an advert on an online private tutoring firm, was academically gifted, worked really hard at school, and showed “great imaginative play”. However, the boy was “much more reluctant to work at home”, his parents complained. “When pressed he can become awkward and use a range of diversionary tactics to avoid an unwanted task.” They added: “The causes of this are not obvious at this stage.”

I think I can help explain what’s behind these mystery “diversionary tactics”. The boy sounded like a normal six-year-old, and for “diversionary tactics”, read “play”. The child, after working hard at school, was presumably desperate to kick a football or ride his bike, rather than sit down for an hour of maths or French after completing a long school day.

I felt dispirited reading this advert, not only for the individual boy involved, but because it was a reminder that this is an example, albeit at the extreme, of the increasingly test-ridden education system my daughter is about to enter. She turns three this week. Her world is dinosaurs, the Tweenies and going to the “swimming pool house” (what she calls our local swimming pool).

This summer she moves from her nursery room to pre-school, and her days will become more learning-based, rather than dominated by play. This autumn we start choosing her first school. I am not against her learning – far from it, as I know it will open up the world to her. It is, in fact, because I want her to enjoy her education that I am alarmed at the Government’s plans to start formal testing at five – or even earlier, according to its consultation document published yesterday.

The proposals, unveiled by Nick Clegg and David Laws, the Schools minister, and presumably supported by Michael Gove, will formalise across England testing at key stage one, with the possibility for four-year-olds to also be brought under the testing regime. The consultation document says a test could be introduced at reception – covering four to five-year-olds – within two to six weeks of them arriving. To spell it out, that is a national test for a child barely a month after they have entered the education system for the first time. Before they have found their own coat peg, they will undergo a test.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who has a way of conjuring up odd soundbites, says his plans are not the equivalent of putting children through an “exam sausage factory”, and that the tests at the start of a child’s education are to create a baseline that their individual progress can be measured against.

But there is already a baseline method, through the Early Years Foundation Stage profile, which teachers create through observation during reception year. It is clearly important for this to be in place, to ensure that a pupil is making good progress. But a snap test on a given day might not get the result that reflected that child’s ability. One day, he or she could be focused and attentive, and sail through a test. The next day, the child could be distracted and simply want to engage in diversionary tactics, sorry, play. That’s what four-year-olds are like, you see. Mr Clegg should know this, his youngest child is four.

The plans are a further example of the contradictory approach by Mr Gove’s Department for Education. The Education Secretary is wedded to autonomy for schools – he wants as much freedom for head teachers as possible – yet every week there are more centrally-imposed policies for parents and teachers to deal with. Likewise in childcare, where ministers tried radical reform from the centre, against the wishes of nurseries and parents, before being forced into a humiliating U-turn.

I can understand the reasoning behind these plans. I understand that Mr Clegg and Mr Laws are passionate about ensuring the most disadvantaged pupils receive the best education. So their announcement yesterday of extra funding for the pupil premium, an excellent policy developed by the Liberal Democrats in opposition, from £900 for each poor child to £1,300 by the next election, is laudable.

The plan, also floated yesterday, for ranking 11-year-olds on a national scale, with the results available only to pupils and teachers, sounds a reasonable way to ensure struggling children do not slip through the net as they pass from primary to secondary education.

It is not that the tests for four and five-year-olds themselves will be arduous – it is suggested that a pupil will have to identify a carrot on a screen and count how many items there are on a page. It is the existence of a rigid test at four and five that I find unsettling. I am afraid it does sound like an “exam sausage factory”.

Primary school children are already overburdened with homework, daily in some cases. To add more tests at such a young age will not create the kind of environment that stimulates interest in learning. It will only impose more rigidity that makes children resent school. Let them enjoy their education, but understand that youngsters need their diversionary tactics too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Technician

£20000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This long established dealer gr...

Recruitment Genius: Contact Centre Team Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is the UK's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Shunter / HGV Driver

£23172 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest growing h...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager / Estate Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an experienced Resident...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Greek Yes voters were so shy they didn’t even turn up to the polling stations

John Rentoul
epa04832814 Supporters of the 'No' campaign wave flags and react after the first results of the referendum at Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, 05 July 2015. Greek voters in the referendum were asked whether the country should accept reform proposals made by its creditors. 10367444  

Greek referendum: As Greece spirals towards disaster, a new era of extremist politics begins

Daphne Halikiopoulou
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate