Half-truths mask moral purpose

28th November 2003 at 00:00
Leaving aside the issue of whether the National Union of Teachers should be considering a test boycott it is essential that at least some of the half-truths in David Miliband's piece be exposed.

His very first paragraph is highly misleading. He claims that "for 40 years until the mid-Nineties international studies showed that standards in English primary schools were broadly static". But there weren't any substantial international studies for the first part of that period and later the studies that were conducted were very selective in terms of what was tested and which age groups were tested, as well as being highly problematic in terms of their methodology.

In relation to the "myths" he claims to debunk he reports that "tests set national standards". They do not. National standards are set by the level descriptors of the various national curriculum attainment targets. Tests merely sample from a minority of those standards in a small minority of subjects. He claims that "three tests in nine years is not excessive".

Clearly the minister is unable "to count to a high standard". In reality, including the mis-named "optional tests" children are subject to six tests (and 23 teacher assessments) by age seven and to 36 tests (and 34 teacher assessments) by age 11. Even if "optional tests" are discounted the number of national tests taken in nine years is at least 21 (along with 92 teacher assessments).

He debunks the myth that "other countries do not test". He is right but expresses only a half-truth. The crucial point at issue is the sheer scale of the programme. No other country has such an extensive battery of national testing. In the headlines of a tabloid newspaper "Our kids take the most tests in the world".

The debate about testing and about a possible boycott does need to be reasoned and intelligent. Such a debate is not helped by such a misleading article. The minister makes much of "moral purpose". That moral purpose is subverted by the dubious claims he makes.

Professor Colin Richards 1 Bobbin Mill Spark Bridge Cumbria

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