Don't forget teachers will you, Santa?

19th December 2008 at 00:00

Dear Santa,

I know that at my age I should know better than to be writing to you but if you could see your way to bringing me some presents this Christmas, here are two suggestions.

First, an end to the culture of Nanny knows best. This government has done some very good things but is way too fond of prescribing and trying to micro-manage everything. This ghastly habit applies to just about every activity in education and is as much to do with spin as with holding teachers to account. In its desire to "control the message", especially when things go wrong, Whitehall ends up responding to every media story with endless initiatives.

Lord Sutherland made clear that the catastophic failure of the marking system might have been avoided if the company awarded the contract had listened to the concerns of schools and markers. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority bears responsibility for this but the more fundamental reason for the debacle is the confused lines of responsibility between the QCA, its assessment agency and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The first present I'd like this Christmas therefore is for the Government to give real independence to its planned new qualifications and curriculum development agency. Ministers (along with the new qualifications watchdog Ofqual) should hold it to account when things go wrong, otherwise not interfere.

The second present I would like is an independent review of testing. Welcome as Lord Sutherland's recommendations are for tightening up the marking system - and the not unconnected decision to scrap tests at key stage 3 - the deeper problems with the remaining tests should not be ignored.

An inquiry should look not just at the enormous technical difficulties of running tests on a national scale, as highlighted in Lord Sutherland's report, but should ask what is the right system to ensure every child is doing as well as they can at school and consider the best way of assessing children as they leave primary and secondary school. It would also reassess plans for single level tests at key stage 2 which, if we are not careful, could lead to an even more test-driven system than we have already. Please listen Santa. These presents are not just for me but for the children. And they really do believe in you.

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