Pressure of tests 'making children physically sick'

9th May 2017 at 00:01
test making children physically sick
Teachers are worried that the current testing system 'prioritises the government's desire for data' rather than learning, report finds

The fear of being labelled a failure is making children physically sick before tests, a new report reveals.

Almost 600,000 10- and 11-year-olds will take Sats tests this week and the GCSEs and A levels are also underway.

In an interim report on the future of assessment in teaching, Testing the Water, the thinktank LKMCo reports on concerns about the pressure that pupils are under.

“We heard anecdotes during workshops about primary and secondary school children losing sleep and being physically sick before sitting tests,” the report, which is published by education company Pearson, states.

“Teachers, governors, parents and young people themselves emphasised how stressful tests and exams can be for children, and how the detrimental effects of this stress (including a lowering of self-esteem) far outweigh any potential benefits (such as motivating revision).”

The findings come after the Commons Education Select Committee warned last week that the pressure schools are under to achieve results at key stage 2 can “affect pupil and staff wellbeing”.

The latest report, which is based on the initial findings from workshops with 150 teachers and an online survey which has 200 responses, also reveals that parents and teachers felt it was “acutely unfair” for pupils who have made excellent progress to be told they are still “below” the expected standard.

Last year almost half of pupils did not reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths at the end of primary. And a review of assessment published earlier this year by the NAHT heads' union also recommended ending the “expected standard” measure and simply reporting pupils’ scores. 

Narrowing the curriculum

Teachers quoted in today's report said that they were concerned that the English Baccalaureate could mean that fewer pupils would sit arts and vocational subjects at GCSE, which could mean fewer students studying these subjects post-16. Funding pressures may then mean sixth forms cannot justify running courses.

It found that a move away from the system of national curriculum "levels" has led to concerns that there are difficulties in comparing pupils’ achievements in different schools. One respondent to the online survey said: "My biggest concern about assessment is the haphazard development of varied, poor-quality systems across the country."

Will Millard, associate at LKMco and lead author of the report said:"By speaking to teachers, parents, pupils and governors from a range of schools, we uncovered previously neglected issues such as the lack of commensurability between assessment at primary and secondary level and between special and mainstream schools.”  

The report concludes that “while many teachers agree school performance should be monitored, most feel the balance is not currently right between learning and accountability”.

It says that most teachers, governors and parents felt some form of accountability was necessary, but that they “felt the system currently prioritises the government’s desire for data rather than high-quality learning and classroom assessment”.

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