Obsession with results is draining the joy out of children's

30th November 2007 at 00:00
There is a very fine line between reason and rage and I think that I'm about to cross it. Allow me a moment to explain how it has all come to a head over the past few weeks.

It began with the gathering army of detractors against the testing regime. In a recent edition of The TES there were no fewer than 10 items that referred to the adverse effects of testing on children's lives. I felt that the armoury was building.

How long has it been that we teachers, the ordinary souls on the ground, have been banging our heads against the brick wall of key stage testing? How many have fallen in the process, choosing to turn their backs forever on the profession?

On September 21, the front page headline was "Pressure to reform tests", an account of the evidence of a House of Commons education and skills select committee by 52 organisations. All bar one (the former Department for Education and Skills) were united in their condemnation.

It wasn't so much the message that was so heartening. It was the shift in the language.

Highly charged words and phrases peppered the review. For example, "squeezing the joy out of education" and "pupils being marginalised and devalued", "negative effect on children's enjoyment" and "unnecessary and inappropriate mass testing". I don't mind admitting it felt like a call to arms. It seemed that organised passion had linked up with hard evidence, and for the first time they had formally entered the arena together.

Then came the first reports from the Primary Review which painted a bleak picture of childhood in England. Part of the blame was laid at the door of an excess of testing. Headteachers lamented that the last year of primary school had turned into entirely the wrong kind of experience and talked of cramming for the tests.

In the days that followed, I searched for shifts in government thinking. I read the responses of Lord Adonis, the schools minister, and Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary. Nothing. No change to testing, no change to that red herring of a claim that parents need to know how their children are doing, and no change to that old humbug about how the testing process is rigorously monitored. The hard knot of fury began to form.

But there was more. When the news of the failure of the literacy strategy hit the headlines ("Test regime must change", TES, November 2) I don't mind admitting I felt bitter tears come. Half a billion pounds spent and no improvement on children's reading since the 1950s. Did you notice if anyone had been sacked for incompetence, failure to deliver, not reaching targets, or wasting (big time) taxpayers' money? After the bombshell, it was business as usual.

How many of us, forced, cornered, hijacked into a seriously flawed literacy strategy have fought a tremendous fight against it and have been beaten down on the way? But, more importantly, how many millions of children have been put off reading, never having been hooked by a book, never given the skills to become an independent reader of whole books? And how many have associated reading with stress and failure to reach a level?

It seems that you can knock on the door of government till your knuckles bleed and still you are not let in. We are all saying the same thing, but is there anyone listening?

Maybe now is the time for rage: missiles in the form of letters, petitions, articles, speeches to governing bodies, the European Court of Human Rights. Just at that precious time when children should love learning and books, their fresh young minds continue to be dulled and damaged by the relentless pressure on their schools to produce results.

Educating children is all about passion, dedication and joy. When children are hurt by a system that does not serve their best interests but the interests of politicians instead, then anger is perhaps not misplaced or unreasonable at all. It is entirely justified.

Lindy Barclay, Deputy head at Redbridge Community School in Southampton.

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