Teachers test-driven mad by Government stalling

25th July 2008 at 01:00

Christine Gilbert's comments that the testing regime is forcing teachers to focus on exam-passing techniques should shock no one. Her letter simply marshals evidence gathered by Ofsted over the past few years about teaching to the test.

The statement is, however, significant in that it leaves the Government virtually isolated in defence of its test-based regime.

Ms Gilbert has never gone this far before. Ofsted has now joined the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in documenting the narrowing of the curriculum caused by test preparation.

Scientific associations, including the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust, the Association for Science Education, the Mathematical Association and the government-funded Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, have all criticised test-driven teaching. Teachers' unions are sceptical about it. And the Commons' select committee published a highly critical report in May.

Ministers said this week that those who teach to the test are in the minority. But it is difficult to see what the evidence for this might be. The Government has been urged repeatedly to examine this issue - most recently by the review into personalised learning, led by Ms Gilbert in 2006 - but it has never done so.

Its position is also strange given that national strategies advice urges schools to spend from February onwards on test practice.

Ministers also claim the system does not force teachers to teach to the test. This may technically be correct, but it ignores the huge pressure on them to do just that, with league tables, targets, in some cases performance-related pay and, ironically, Ofsted inspections now hinging on exam results.

Finally, ministers argue that the single-level tests, which may replace Sats in 2010, will solve some of these problems. But the Government assessment of the new tests, which will report in the autumn, is not explicitly considering the issue of teaching to the test. This is arguably the most fundamental concern in education, so isn't it strange that it is not being investigated more thoroughly by the Government?

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