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Key tests are hijacking the curriculum

I have recently completed the key stage 2 national tests with my Year 6 class.

According to the Government these tests should be used to assess the levels of understanding of children who have followed the KS2 curriculum. In other words, they should deal with areas covered by the children in the normal course of their work.

Having spoken to a number of colleagues working in different parts of the country it would seem that these tests have hijacked the curriculum and turned into something much bigger and potentially more damaging.

Many schools have apparently been "cramming" their pupils over a considerable period of time. Parents are able to buy a range of KS2 test books which appear to contain a large proportion of the questions from this year's papers. In one school a teacher was selling copies of these books to parents. The newspapers then reported that the Government considered it a good idea for parents to cram their children.

So where exactly is the value of these tests in assessing anything that bears a resemblance to the curriculum taught in primary schools? Since when has this been the way children have been encouraged to learn (the 11-plus springs easily to mind)? What are they measuring and for whose benefit? Certainly not whether the curriculum has been covered.

Already, in the most enlightened quarters, I have heard teachers saying that we must change the way we work in order to meet the needs of the tests.

From now on it will be a failing school that offers its children the broad stimulating, investigative curriculum where they are able to learn through doing rather than through chalk and talk alone. Successful schools will spend the final primary year drilling, going over past papers, in general narrowing down the curriculum to those things likely to come up in the tests in order to push their school's grades up regardless of the benefit to the children.

There is also the issue of the emotional effect these tests have had on the children. True, there are some who thrive on the test conditions but there are as many who worked themselves into a state of panic despite my school's attempts to play the tests down.

Already the Year 5 children are beginning to get worried about next year and parents are asking where they might purchase old test papers, and so on.

I do think it important that we assess the progress made by the children we teach and I am not against testing per se. However, when I think of the additional teaching help that could have been bought for half the cost of devising, printing, posting, invigilating, posting again and marking these pointless tests, it makes me despair.

Having been told that class sizes have absolutely no bearing on the quality of children's education, I suppose I should realise that the Government has to find some way of using up all that spare cash it didn't spend on teachers.

PETER SANDERS Deputy headteacher Lauriston School Rutland Road Hackney London E9

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