Testing, testing testing

20th April 2007 at 01:00
Our children are being tested more and more, earlier and earlier. Biddy Passmore introduces expert tips for easing the pressure

It used to be Year 11 pupils and sixth-formers who struggled home, practically bent double under revision materials. Now it's primary pupils too. As testing mania takes an ever firmer grip, revision for key stage 2 tests seems to be taking up almost as much effort as preparation for GCSEs.

One parent described in The TES online staffroom how her Year 6 daughter went home for the Easter holidays with a 3in-high pile of photocopied worksheets and books - and an instruction to parents to help with this "voluntary" revision for 60 minutes a day. (Thorough revision was the best way "to allay anxiety about Sats" according to the school.) No wonder that Mary Bousted, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, recently likened the final year of primary school to "boot camp".

Stephen Briers, a psychologist, agrees. "Nothing is so likely to condition kids against learning than subjecting them to the stress of unnecessary tests at an age when they are poorly equipped to deal with the pressures,"

he says. In Education by Numbers, to be published next week, Warwick Mansell, a TES reporter, says Labour's obsession with proving that standards have risen has made English children the most heavily tested in the world.

According to Warwick, high-stakes testing forces teachers to take shortcuts to improve the statistics, at the expense of pupils' true understanding. We are, he says, producing a generation of children less able to think for themselves.

Sats, which were originally devised as tests to give a "snapshot" of how schools and pupils are doing, have now become the main goal of primary education. The Government's Year 6 key action timeline for primary schools on the Department for Education and Skills' standards website details the month-by-month pressure schools are under.

In January, teachers are expected to ensure plenty of questions are integrated into lessons and provide opportunities for children to practise timed tasks. In February, it suggests children sit the national test paper from the year before last - and then go through it "modelling" answers.

For March, they should prepare materials for the Easter holidays and, in April, go through that homework with children. By crunch-time (the first week of May), it's time to "plan positive experiences for children reflecting on learning", such as working in groups.

The reality is more brutal. Warwick has unearthed evidence that schools are devoting on average 10 hours a week - that's two hours every day - to pre-test coaching from January to May. And this is just primary schools.

More tests await pupils at 14, 16, 17 and 18, with all their attendant misery.

So why, you may ask, is The TES adding to it by publishing a revision section in our magazine? Because we felt there were lessons to be shared about how to go about it - or even, how to do better by taking a break

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