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The cat is out of the bag: We will never stop testing young children, says UK Government Education Minister
"It is not and never will be the time to get rid of standardised assessment at primary school," stated Damian Hinds, the UK Secretary of State for Education in Parliament on 24th June. His response came after very strong questions from a cross-section of MPs all questioning the policy, and pointing out the inherent damage to children and schools; "SATs [Standard Attainment Tests] are a very important part of our architecture to raise attainment."
However more and more MPs are voicing their dissatisfaction, and echoing the huge public dissatisfaction with the position: here are dissenting MPs in the exchange last Monday:
"England's schoolchildren are among the most tested in the world. Headteachers are telling us that high-stakes examinations are associated with increased stress, anxiety and health issues, but the Secretary of State has let the cat out of the bag: we are staying stable in the programme for international student assessment rankings. That was the gold standard that this Government were going to be tested by, but that is sophistry, for standards have gone nowhere under this Government." Mike Kane MP
"I recently visited a primary school in my constituency rated good by Ofsted since 2005. The headteacher brought to my attention the level of difficulty and stress that key stage 2 children face when undergoing SATs." Andrea Jenkins MP
"I have heard countless stories from teachers up and down the country that they have kept children in during break times or sacrificed time that they would have otherwise spent on other subjects to prepare for SATs. Does the Secretary of State take no responsibility for that stress put on teachers, which inevitably filters down to children? Frankly, is it not just time to scrap SATs?" Layla Moran MP
The cat is out of the bag, though. The government's interest is in league tables, way above being interested in children. The vested interest is extraordinarily obstinate and is stonewalling passionate and articulated voices of parents, educators, industry leaders - and even the OECD, who created the tests in the first place! Here is a good example, worth quoting:
Just last year, Confederation of British Industry President Paul Drechsler called on policymakers to make education in England about more than results and rote learning, and prioritise teaching that encourages thoughts, questions, creativity and teamworking. This was in a March 2018 speech to the Association of School and College Leaders:
"Teachers' jobs are not just difficult because the world is changing, it's also made more difficult by years of moving the goal posts in public policy. Those failures have culminated in today's debate between the extremes of rigorous testing on the one hand, and the rounded development of a young person on the other. It's a false dichotomy – and one set in the context of our schools system, where not enough money is allocated in public budgets. It's time to reset the debate. End the parade of government announcements that make a good headline but don't make a jot of difference on the big issues.
Of course, academic achievement matters.But alone, it's not enough for the exciting world we face – in work, or in wider society. Schools have been saying this for years, and so has the CBI. Attainment and wider preparation for adult life go hand-in-hand.
Just last week, the inventor of the PISA tests, Director of OECD Prof. Andreas Schleicher, said that English policymakers are reacting to his test results in a different way to other nations. In other countries, policymakers are trying to improve performance by encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. The OECD are clear that we are now doing more rote learning than almost anywhere else in the world.Yes, times tables are important. But if memorising facts is all students are doing, there's much they are missing out on. It doesn't have to be like this.Singapore, Finland and the best schools in the US all show it doesn't have to be done this way. There, education has a clear objective, with clear standards on core subjects, clear lines of appropriate accountability, and all based on developing the whole person. They've had a healthy, open conversation about what they want from their educational systems.Not a debilitating culture-war-of-attrition dragging on since the 1970s.
Let's dump the ideology - no more fixation on school structures and exam reform.It is time for a national, rational debate on how we help our young people succeed.And then let's reform the curriculum to deliver the results we need."
Why is it so difficult for the Government's representatives to do differently - and what can be done? Paul Dreschler suggests: "our politicians are too entrenched, the ideological commitments hold too firm a grip; old habits die hard. We should take ownership."