Leading article: An oppressive system that is failing our children

Share
Related Topics

The first significant and independent study of Britain's primary schools since the 1967 Plowden Report has exposed just how widespread the culture of testing has become within our education system. The Primary Review, overseen by the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, found that primary school children in England were subjected to far more assessment than their peers in other developed countries. According to the report, external testing in England takes place more frequently, begins at a younger age, and covers more subjects than testing in schools overseas. It is also a more "high stakes" system than any other comparable educational system, which means that the fortunes of schools are heavily bound up with how pupils perform in their assessment tests.

This is unlikely to surprise parents, who have long been complaining that their school-age children seem to be on a never-ending treadmill of assessments and exams. There are nationwide statutory tests for children at ages seven and 11. At secondary school, this is followed by further tests at age 14, and then GCSEs and A-levels at 16-plus. It is little wonder that there has been a considerable backlash against compulsory testing.

Some national testing is, of course, necessary. And, as the report shows, all developed countries have some system for measuring attainment before pupils sit major public exams in their teens. Schools must be held to account. If pupils are not progressing as well as those elsewhere, this must be brought to light. Too often in the past, failure was concealed by insufficient assessment.

But the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Many teachers find themselves doing little else than priming and preparing pupils for the next round of tests. This stifles creativity and is a terrible way to engender a love of learning among children. The system is also counter-productive from an educational perspective. Pupils are increasingly being "taught to the test". They become adept at jumping through hoops but not at thinking for themselves. As an Ofsted report on maths teaching in secondary schools put it: "Although students are able to pass the examinations, they are not able to apply their knowledge independently to new contexts, and they are not well prepared for further study."

At the heart of the problem is the fact that our testing culture appears to be politically, rather than educationally, driven. Government ministers like tests and the constant stream of results they produce because it enables them, in their dealings with the media, to point to rising educational standards. The publishing of school "league tables" is another political, rather than educational, tool. These exist so that ministers can claim credit for schools "moving up" the tables. But these ranking tables merely force teachers and headteachers to concentrate on tests to the detriment of other aspects of school life. The testing culture is thus a product of two of this Government's greatest vices: an obsession with presentation and an instinct towards top-down control.

Just because other countries do things differently does not make it right that we should emulate them. But the evidence suggests many other nations are doing a better job of educating young people than us. According to latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, Britain has been slipping down the international table for quality of learning in maths and reading. Complacency is entirely inappropriate.

Teachers are against constant testing. Parents are dissatisfied with the pressure it puts on pupils. Examiners are also unhappy. Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, has suggested moving towards a sampling system. The only players still clinging to the wreckage of the present testing arrangements are ministers. It is time for them to let go.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'