Test obsession is killing creativity

28th November 2003 at 00:00
Newspeak isn't dead. Schools minister David Miliband's selective (and not terribly honest) response to the proposed tests boycott is full of tendentious arguments dressed up as "truths" (TES, November 14).

It is fatuous to argue that there has been a huge rise in standards. What there has been is a drastic intensification in the pressure on teachers to teach to the test. Annual "optional" tests, which are really compulsory, are used to cram kids for the Year 6 tests. You can make that work in the early years of a regime but, short of genuine grassroots improvements, it will inevitably run into the sand. Hence the stagnation in the improvement in Sats scores.

The cost of this obsession with tests is dreadful. The curriculum has been narrowed. Don't ask teachers, ask the chief inspector of schools (20001 report). Reading for pleasure has been squeezed. Ask any teacher, librarian or parent. No teacher wants disruption and a boycott will not disrupt children, only the useless tests. In their absence teachers will actually be able to teach something other than revision.

If Sats really raise standards why do they not exist in Scotland and why are they being dropped in Wales? If they work why does Finland, top of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rankings, not have them?

Teachers and writers do want a dialogue. We also want a genuine rise in standards. Sats have not and will not deliver this. It is time to trust teachers through a system of moderated teacher assessment. Already some of the top writers in the country have met Education Secretary Charles Clarke.

All of us who devote our lives to literature would be happy to argue for as long as it takes to develop a creative, stimulating approach to learning in our schools. It is time for Government not just to listen but to change course.

Alan Gibbons Coordinator Authors Against the Sats 13 Chatworth Avenue Orrell Park, Liverpool

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