Fed up with cramming

15th October 2004 at 01:00
Staff don't mind the KS2 tests themselves. What grates is the mammoth coaching burden and league-table pressures.

Primary teachers are not opposed to tests for 11-year-olds but resent the time they have to spend on coaching and the intense pressure to do well, research reveals.

It shows that children are now being coached for up to nine months before sitting the key stage 2 tests, with preparation often beginning at the start of the academic year.

But the survey of 178 primary teachers views' of the KS2 reading tests says that, overall, they were happy with the exams themselves.

Teachers' negative feelings about the tests stemmed from the pressure on them and their pupils, rather than the nature of the papers, said the National Foundation for Educational Research study. "Despite the negative publicity, teachers don't seem to mind the actual tests," it concluded.

The study found that schools' preparation for the tests, which take place in May, typically begins at the start of term immediately after Christmas.

However, a third of respondents admitted that they started coaching youngsters as early as September.

Three-quarters of teachers said they used some form of booster classes, while 40 per cent used commercially produced materials to help get their pupils through.

Asked what they would change about the tests, 10 teachers said nothing but the same number suggested they should be abolished.

The study said: "The end of year assessment clearly formed a main focus of teaching in many Year 6 classrooms."

It also noted "the degree of ill-feeling with which teachers described its dominant position".

"Many teachers clearly felt extensive test preparation had negative effects on pupils, illustrated by comments such as 'pupils are more prepared, but also more anxious'," the study said.

"Teachers' responses certainly indicated they were more concerned about the impact of the testing system, than the actual test materials." However, the study found that teachers had a favourable attitude towards the nature of the tests which they deemed "appropriate".

They were also happy with the evolution of the tests since 1995 and believed that since 1999 they had contained a "wider range of text genre"

and were "more appealing and interesting texts for boys and girls".

The study said: "They (teachers) generally prefer the newer tests and more specifically those which include a non-traditional variety of stimulus materials. In sharp contrast to positive descriptions of the test materials was an underlying feeling of resentment towards the assessment system.

Removed from a pressurised culture of league tables and targets, key stage 2 reading tests are seen in a whole new light."

John Coe, of the National Association for Primary Education, said: "These findings confirm what a flawed testing system we have and how children's progress is being distorted.

"There is far too much coaching because government has stated that all children should have reached a certain level in the same school year, regardless of their age, so there is no indication of the levels of progress being made."

Full details of the report will be available on www.nfer.org.uk at a later date

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