The real shame of teaching to tests

The relationship between what is taught and what is tested has changed many times over the years. In the days of selection and the 11-plus exam junior school children were quite definitely taught to the test.

I remember all too well the sleepless nights I had before my results were published. I knew then that what was happening to me and my friends was unhealthy and unfair.

The removal of selection at the age of 11 did not mean that testing stopped but it did mean that the pressure to teach to a test was removed. Teachers taught to the needs of the children and then used national standardised tests to monitor their progress. Children were motivated to learn and not turned off education by too much testing. Even the national curriculum recommends a broad and balanced curriculum.

It was league tables that started the relentless change back to teaching to the test. The pressure on schools to achieve unrealistic targets and to avoid public humiliation has meant that bit by bit teachers have changed their practice and against their better judgment have slimmed down the curriculum so that children can be prepared for national tests. ChildLine has reported an increase in calls during the build up to tests week and a whole new industry has been built around the panic of children and parents.

As a profession we are ashamed of what we are doing but we should not be because it is now official policy! The Department for Education and Skillsstandards website offers resources and, matched to them, are questions from previous papers. If league tables are not removed then teachers should reclaim their profession, take the initiative and do what they did in 1992 - boycott the tests.

Hilary Bills is head of Holyhead primary, Wednesbury.

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