Criticism has reached critical mass

21st September 2007 at 01:00
Have we reached a tipping point in education? Concern about the test and accountability regime, which drives so much of what goes on in schools, is now so widespread that our elected politicians and civil servants seem the only ones willing to defend it in any depth.

As we report in our leading story, of 52 submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into assessment, only the one from the Government offers unqualified support.

Against it stand bodies ranging from teachers' unions and the General Teaching Council for England to the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Institute of Educational Assessors and a Who's Who of respected science organisations.

Their concerns are broad-ranging, from fears about the demotivating effect on teachers to worries that national tests assess only a narrow range of skills and that they are unreliable.

All these are serious. But perhaps most damning of all is the evidence, particularly from mathematicians and scientists, about the backwash effects on teaching. The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education contends that "continual testing and practising for tests has resulted in a narrow and impoverished curriculum and poor quality teaching of that curriculum". And a teacher, quoted in evidence from the Association for Science Education, pleads "to be able to continue teaching engaging science in Year 6, rather than feel pressured to do endless Sats preparation".

The underlying concern that a regime set up by the Government is contributing to pupil disaffection is about as profound a criticism as can be made of any policy.

To critics, it may also help explain why, as we report today, secondary truancy rates have risen in recent years. Ofsted pins the blame on poor teaching. But an uninspiring educational diet of test after test, under a system that leaves lower-achieving pupils very aware of their failings in a narrow range of skills from an early age, may also be a factor.

The Government has been asked repeatedly to investigate these issues. It has never done so. Given the volume and seriousness of the complaints, one has to ask: why not?

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