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There are only two questions

.... needed to discover a successful school. David Spendlove argues for less measuring, more learning

here is a saying that just because you measure something, does not mean it will grow.

However, we have an education system that is increasingly measuring and testing. While incremental movements along the scale of notional improvement continue, most people outside the classroom are happy in this belief. However, much of this improvement is merely taking up the slack that existed in the system, while many schools are simply getting better at the measuring game.

Fortunately, (yes, I do mean fortunately) the incremental movement has to stop and when it does the finger will be pointed at teachers, children, ministers and advisers. Questions will be asked as to why standards are falling. Perhaps only then will people start to question the reliability and validity of a system in which most people seem happy to be winning at present.

But why are we measuring children more than any other country in the world and what good - or more importantly, what harm - does it do?

We have a system that is preoccupied with assessment; unfortunately the assessments we use have little to do with genuine understanding and enjoyment of learning. It is about accountability and output. Current assessment systems and educational policy have little to do with learning and are more to do with getting value for money from schools and teachers.

By measuring children you are notionally measuring schools and teachers (if only it were so simple). To a certain extent this has been a necessary feature of educational redirection since the 1980s. However, when does it stop and how many casualties do there have to be before we realise we have gone too far?

Current policy has turned to the middle years. We have bashed primary children with literacy and numeracy; we have pummelled post-16 students with AS and A2. And so attention now turns to "raising achievement in a significant and measurable way" in key stage 3.

The KS3 framework clearly has good features, but to insist that everyone adopts it and potentially undermine so much good practice seems folly.

The sting in the tail is the accountability culture. We already assess nationally at ages five, seven, 11, 14, 16, 17 and 18. Optional tests will be available for Year 7 and 8 pupils, but national reporting will now include KS3 so that we can see how well the strategy is doing - yet another game for schools to play which further moves them from a learning to an accountability culture. The victims - again - will be pupils who will see the perception of their ability dwindled to a league table.

Schools are being driven to a preoccupation over tables and a narrowing of the term ability. If we are going to have league tables then why don't we have lots? We could have tables for school bands, drama performances, trips and community involvement, as all of these are equally important features of school life, but which increasingly are considered as less valuable.

In the paper Transforming secondary education: the middle Years (March 2002) the Government explains that it wants schools to be innovative. Innovative schools have been flogged to death for years to conform and become accountable and suddenly ministers have decided all schools are looking the same. Let's open an innovation unit! Watch out for the policy on innovation.

My biggest concern is: does anyone have an overview of schooling at present and where is it going? Education is now so diverse and complex that I simply do not believe that anyone has a complete overview of the continuum of education and more frighteningly civil service "left and right" hands are not communicating effectively. I recently calculated four billion factors (and rising) influencing pupil attainment in schools brought about by increasing complexity and diversity. I therefore propose the one true test with two questions that each school should be judged upon that would replace every national assessment, inspection and league table. It is a very simple test which every pupil should be asked as they leave schools on their last day.

First, have you enjoyed learning? Second, do you want to continue learning?

If the answer is yes to both then the school is a success.

David Spendlove is a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University

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