Testing to destruction

25 May 2016

“What’s the difference between a subordinating conjunctive and a preposition?” Tory education ministers don’t know so why should 11 year olds?

By Bernie McAdam

The latest leak of a primary school test online is trying the patience of the Department of Education and causing huge embarrassment. The DoE has linked this to a campaign of sabotage and warned of a “rogue marker”. In truth the tests are a victim of their own shortcomings amid a torrent of hostility from teachers, educators and parents. Even head teachers heckled Education Secretary Nicky Morgan over the tests at their conference.

Parent groups around the country have sprung up in opposition to Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) and organised a pupil strike on 3 May. Using social media to spread the message, the “Let our Kids be Kids” campaign saw thousands of pupils in Brighton, London and Newcastle join the strike. Over 48,000 signed a petition against the tests.

On the campaign’s Facebook one parent complained, “We don’t need SATs and academies, we need to give teachers the freedom to teach in a way that doesn’t cause stress and anxiety and allows them to flourish and achieve the best they are able. Children aren’t machines and it’s about time we stopped treating them like they are.”

Exam factories

Kevin Courtney, NUT Deputy General Secretary, blamed the “narrow curriculum” and the “exam factories” culture in schools for a decline in the mental health of pupils. Reports of students in tears after a recent English SATs test reflect the stress many pupils feel under.

The NUT, in a recent survey, has noted how 90 per cent of teachers reported pupils becoming stressed and anxious as the tests neared. The Young Minds charity regards this as “very concerning” and said success should be judged by the development of a child’s character, resilience and well-being, not their exam scores.

Constant testing means constant stress. Feelings of failure and inadequacy at such a young age are not a positive experience. Pupils need to enjoy their learning and not be stifled by unnecessary testing; they need a broad and balanced curriculum. Testing is not the only means of assessing a child’s education.

In a wider context, the Tories’ obsession with “failing” schools (to justify academies) and “failing” pupils (to justify league tables) is part of their strategy to deliver a privatised and two-tiered education system at the expense of a rich, comprehensive education for all.

Boycott SATs

The storm around SATs has been gathering for some time. The lack of decisive action from teaching unions over the years has forced parents into action. The NUT has written to Morgan and met Schools Minister Nick Gibb, calling for an immediate review of the primary curriculum and assessment regime, involving teachers and concerned parties.

The NUT has also pledged to create “a broad alliance of teachers, researchers and parents to lay the basis of a campaign against the 2017 tests. We aim to help organise an autumn conference to take this campaign further.”

But the union leaders need to spell out loud and clear that if the government do not make a U-turn then the SATs will be boycotted next time round – by teachers, alongside parents.

Tags:  • 

Class struggle bulletin

Stay up to date with our weekly newsletter