'A new culture of primary testing that doesn't stress out teachers and make pupils feel like failures? Fat chance'

30th January 2017 at 15:47
For some inexplicable reason, the Department for Education believes that our children benefit from all this testing, writes one educationist

As every educationist knows, the 2016 testing package was little more than a shambles. To say it was a chaotic year is being too nice. The facts speak for themselves:

  • Poorly designed tests, suitable only for a narrow ability and culture range (let's never forget the reading paper);
  • Two papers leaked before the tests were taken;
  • The teacher guidance was poor and often contradictory;
  • Little or no consideration was given to children with special educational needs and disability, particularly dyslexia;
  • Tranches of children were unable to access the papers; 
  • Inconsistent moderation from local authorities.

As a result, it is with baited breath that we wait to find out whether 2017 will be any better.

Initial signs are not good. In October 2016, education secretary Justine Greening actually suggested a move forward on assessment by saying: "It is important that we set a clear path to a settled system where our collective focus can be on achieving strong outcomes for all children."

And so say all of us. But what is likely to happen to achieve this? Very little, in my opinion. 

And so we face more tears of schools suffering, teachers disheartened and children bored of a curriculum which should be exciting and vibrant.

'Exam factories'

Without doubt, the reason for this is that the Department for Education (DfE) genuinely believes that our children benefit from all this testing. How sad that it is totally unable to learn from the failings in the past, and that we know that the assessment regime has created a culture that has allowed for:  

  • Schools with a very narrow curriculum;
  • Teaching and learning specifically aimed at "passing" the test;
  • Stress overload for both teachers and pupils;
  • A system massively inconsistent at all levels;
  • A situation whereby schools are deemed good, bad or indifferent based on the results of the tests;
  • Primary children who see themselves as failures.

Our schools have become little more than exam factories.

What can we do about it?

Well, let's hope the NAHT union boycotts the tests – what a statement this would be to our beloved DfE.

The reality is, however, that the government is convinced testing remains the way forward. But the reason is that it has no clue as to the effects on all those involved.

One day, perhaps, there will be a radical rethink of what our priorities are.

There does need to be a radical rethink of what schools are all about, but will it happen in 2017? I think not.

How sad: our children deserve better.

Colin Harris is a former principal who is now supporting teachers and school leaders. For more columns by Colin, visit his back-catalogue

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