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Relentless tests swamp teachers and stress children

THE constant drive to measure and show improvements in a narrow range of hard indicators such as exam results is having a serious impact on teacher time and energy, Jenny Ozga, director of the Centre for Educational Sociology, states in its latest briefing paper.

International studies confirm that teachers have less time to spend on pupils with difficulties because of the demands of pupils whose improved performance will count towards the achievement of targets.

Teachers in Portugal, Spain, Finland, Sweden, England and Scotland say that pupils at risk of failure and social exclusion are therefore more excluded and more aware of their exclusion. In each system, the demands of reporting and recording performance and managing the accountability processes are adding to teacher workload.

Pupils are also experiencing "unproductive stress that inhibits their learning and development".

Professor Ozga criticises policy-makers for their assumptions about improvement and evaluation. Even in Scotland, with self-evaluation and national priorities, schools are likely to focus on areas that are easily quantified and less on values, citizenship, inclusion and equality.

"It is highly likely that quantifiable indicators will assume greater importance and significance for the public and policy-makers because they appear to be reliable and straightforward. They can easily be translated into targets, and progress towards them represented as 'trends'. Yet their reliability is open to question and their straightforwardness may cover their inadequacy in describing real world complexity," she writes.

Performance management measures inevitably focus on pupil attainment but "examinations are not necessarily good indicators of what pupils have learnt".

The preoccupation with comparative rankings and league tables merely exacerbates the situation. "Thus: is this school efficient and effective? Is this school more efficient and effective than its neighbour? Is our school system more efficient and effective than that of Finland?" Professor Ozga asks.

She contends that reliance on target-setting and monitoring can distort teachers' core tasks and the relationships between staff and managers.

Pressures may reduce "trust, inhibit discussion of difficulty and diminish honest self-evaluation at all levels in the system".

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