Free their minds

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
Diane Hofkins, TES primary editor, launches our campaign for schools to throw off the shackles of relentless testing and arbitrary targets

Today, The TES launches a campaign to liberate creativity in primary schools. Our exclusive poll on pages one and six adds to the overwhelming evidence that the Government's key stage 2 targets are becoming destructive. They are no longer helping to raise standards, but are stifling opportunities for both teachers and children to be creative.

Yet, at last week's National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' conference, Education Secretary Charles Clarke dug his heels in and insisted the targets were here to stay.

No they're not. Not if you don't want them.

The time has come for teachers and heads to stand up for what they believe in. You can bin Mr Clarke's targets and set your own - not just for test results, but for anything you think is important. We should measure what we value.

Many schools, supported by their governors, who have the legal responsibility to set targets, already do so, and the National Association of Head Teachers has advised its members to ignore government targets and set their own challenging but realistic ones.

The real question should not be can we reach the targets, but how far can children go? They can achieve so much more than good test scores when schools give them the chance.

Bored children and stressed teachers will not create exciting primary schools able to prepare youngsters for this challenging century. Children need to learn to think, to make connections, to work together, to take risks, to discover their own talents. They need to read about all kinds of things and explore different media. They need space and time to have ideas and try them out. Fortunately, all this is the best way to raise English and maths standards, too.

During the 1990s the myth grew that innovation and creativity were inimical to high standards. Creativity in primary schools was characterised as mindless colouring-in and making things out of egg boxes. The rallying cry of "back to basics" implied that anything new was suspect.

In the 1990s, the national curriculum was squeezing out the basics; today, the 2004 targets are squeezing out breadth - so that teachers and children are suffocating.

There has to be a third way.

The Government pays lip-service to the broad curriculum, and has even set up an innovations unit. But the real pressure on schools is for better key stage test results. Teachers are professionals. The pendulum does not have to keep swinging from extreme to extreme. The alternative to tight government prescription does not have to be a free-for-all.

And creativity, of course, does not just mean artistic expression, but is crucial for advances in every field, from science and medicine to sport.

Over the coming term, we'll be finding out about alternative targets and visiting schools where teachers and children have targeted creativity.

Tell us about creative approaches and alternative targets at your school or your ideas for these. Email



* Be bolshy: bin the targets and set your own

* Be confident: bring back creativity and breadth

* Be free: resist pressure to teach to the tests


* Stop the pressure to meet narrow targets

* Develop realistic targets from the bottom up

* Stop telling teachers how to teach

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