Testing puts a brake on pupil happiness

21st March 2008 at 00:00
Teachers say rigid scores regime hinders the chance of full enjoyment from life at school

Teachers are questioning whether the Government's drive to raise test scores is compatible with its goal of the development of happy children.

Three-quarters believe the current test and exam regime hinders their pupils' enjoyment of school, an exclusive TES survey of 2,109 professionals reveals.

Nevertheless, the same number of respondents said their pupils generally liked school, including about a quarter who said they enjoyed it a lot.

But 13 per cent said their charges did not enjoy school much.

These findings emerged as part of The TES Big 5 series, looking at the five outcomes of Every Child Matters, the Government programme aiming to improve care and support for children.

The pressure that tests place on pupils was one of the main sources of discussion at this week's annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), and is expected to be discussed at the conferences of the National Union of Teachers and NASUWT.

Delegates at the ATL conference in Torquay said exam stress was contributing to suicides by teenagers and younger children, and the increasing number of cases of self-harm and eating disorders.

Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: "We believe that young people face intolerable strain from an education system which cannot stand failure."

The conference also heard concerns that testing, league tables and targets were helping, with lesson observations by school management, to create an Orwellian surveillance culture in education.

An analysis of more than 8,500 schools' Ofsted reports by The TES confirms that inspectors take pupils' results more seriously than their enjoyment.

Primary schools rated outstanding for test scores had a 98 per cent chance of being graded as outstanding overall, but those rated as outstanding for promoting pupils' enjoyment only had a 33 per cent chance.

Ministers have emphasised that it is possible for pupils to enjoy education and achieve high results.

However, several heads, who have been singled out by Ofsted for their work promoting both, said they still felt there was a conflict.

One said: "Schools are concerned and, indeed, afraid to take the step towards promoting a more exciting approach to learning in case test standards dip."

This week, Robin Alexander, who is leading the Cambridge University-based Primary Review, said there were widespread concerns that pupils were put under pressure by an overcrowded curriculum, testing and the "backwash" of teachers' concerns about punitive school accountability mechanisms.

Meanwhile, a National Foundation for Educational Research conference heard mixed international evidence on the relationship between enjoyment of school and achievement. An international analysis of literacy showed that pupils who took pleasure from reading appeared to perform better in tests. But academics said other international evidence questioned the link between enjoyment and high performance for maths and science.

Finland, for example, which came top worldwide in last year's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) science tests, had a lower percentage of students saying that they enjoyed the subject than in the UK, which ranked 15th.

And Japan has regularly finished near the top of another international testing system for maths, while displaying relatively poor figures for pupil enjoyment.

The Big 5, pages 15-18.

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