Should we abolish testing?

14th September 2012 at 01:00
A place for the big questions at the London Festival of Education

England should move away from high-stakes external testing and towards teacher-led assessment if it wants to emulate the educational success of Scandinavian countries, according to an expert.

Pasi Sahlberg, one of the leading Finnish authorities on education reform, said the English system relied too much on external, standardised testing, often to the detriment of pupils and teachers.

Mr Sahlberg, who is director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Centre for International Mobility, will show educators that there is an alternative approach at the London Festival of Education in November.

The one-day festival is being organised by a small group including TES and the University of London's Institute of Education (IoE).

Mr Sahlberg is among a number of high-profile figures, including education secretary Michael Gove, who will debate the future of exams in England at the event.

Speaking about the English system, Mr Sahlberg said: "It is relying too much on external standardised assessment instead of what we have in Finland, which is school-based, teacher-led continuous assessment.

"Regardless of how well teachers are trained, they cannot do things they would like to do in the classroom because there is too much testing.

"Too often, testing drives teachers' decisions in the classroom and in relation to their own professional development. I'm going to show that there is an alternative way to do student assessment and evaluation that is very close to what Finland is doing."

Chris Husbands, director of the IoE, said he hoped the event would bring together the voices of policymakers to debate some of the underlying and current issues around exams, particularly in light of the GCSE grading row.

"I think what the events of this summer have shown is that just underneath the surface of every education system are some really interesting and challenging questions," Professor Husbands said. "There are some really tough questions that the system as a whole has to face. I hope we can get those things out in the open."

Up to 2,000 teachers, academics, parents, pupils and policy-makers are expected at the festival, which is being held on Saturday 17 November at the IoE in Bloomsbury, central London.

It will also feature performances by bands, short film screenings and contributions from authors and comedians. Among those participating will be poet Bridget Minamore and Mark Grist, a former GCSE English teacher who became a YouTube sensation after defeating a teenager in a rap battle.

"We wanted an event that would explore two major questions: what does an educated person look like? And how do you create great teaching?" said TES editor Gerard Kelly. "The question about the `educated person' is designed to open up a real debate about the assumptions behind the curriculum and qualification system.

"Both are in the process of being changed, so they felt timely topics even before the row over GCSE grading. We hope many teachers will join us and make their voices heard."

The London Festival of Education will include a range of contributors from the education world.

Lord Adonis, former schools minister and architect of the academies programme, is due to speak and answer questions, as is Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of Ofsted.

Elsewhere, a full programme of masterclasses is being drawn up, including a "rebel teachers' workshop" chaired by Radio 4 comedian Carrie Quinlan and featuring TES columnist Mike Kent, the first headteacher to take Ofsted to court and win.

A school discipline version of Gardeners' Question Time will also be held, in which behaviour experts Tom Bennett and Paul Dix will answer questions on intractable classroom problems.

Other workshop topics will include practical ways to close the achievement gap between richer and poorer pupils, featuring contributions from headteachers and Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the Kids Company charity.

The National Theatre will provide training sessions for teachers in actors' tricks they can use when "performing" in the classroom.

To book a full-day ticket for the festival, priced pound;50, visit:

Follow the festival on Twitter at: @LFE2012.

Original headline: Should we abolish testing? Time to share your thoughts


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