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Ticked off with tedious tests

There has been plenty of good news in education recently, which makes a change from the grim stories that normally fill newspapers. Among the best was the decision in Wales to build early-years education on imagination and play, rather than on the crazy 117-item checklist with which England is saddled.

We should officially rename reception class teachers "clocks", as they spend all their time going tick, tick, tick.

I have never understood why "play" gets a bad press in early-years education. Adults are happy enough to learn through role play. Surely nobody believes nowadays that kittens chasing a piece of string are wasting their time on mindless flimflam, when they are in fact honing deadly skills. The critics of play as a means of learning would probably line them up in rows and give them a lecture on how to catch a mouse.

Another piece of good news is that the Government has sensibly decided to scrap "earned autonomy", the barmy scheme that would have involved schools paying teachers as much or as little as they could get away with.

Headteachers would have been buried under thousands of individual negotiations and contractual wrangles.

It was also welcome to hear that trainee teachers have been judged the best ever. They will have to be good, as thousands of teachers are retiring during the coming decade. We shall struggle to replace some of the good maths and physical science teachers recruited in the 1960s and 1970s, when there was less of a problem hiring graduates in these shortage subjects.

The most eagerly-awaited retirement from higher education recently has been that of Margaret Hodge as minister. Her ignorance was legendary. Mr Grey Suit, who takes over, would be better even if he donated his brain to medical science.

Not many people realise that, like Gerard Manley Hopkins and Edgar Allan Poe, she has a middle name. Ask anyone who works in a university to tell you who has just stepped down as minister for higher education and you will get immediate confirmation of this. Margaret Bloody Hodge. I hope she does a good job in the new and important post of minister for children. Her graph can only go up.

Most cheering of all, if it is true, was the news that creativity is back on the agenda. Why did it ever go away? Of course a few frauds have sometimes passed off their own incompetence as "creative", thereby getting the word a bad name. But if teaching and learning are not creative, then what on earth are they? Is there anyone who wants children and teachers to be uncreative? Perhaps there is.

It was sad to hear of Michael Morpurgo, the children's laureate, trying his hand at a piece of creative writing from this year's key stage 2 English paper and becoming frustrated by it. The essay topic was about standing in a queue. By comparison the much reviled topics of yesteryear: "My journey on the number 23 bus", "The adventures of a penny" and "What I did on my holidays", sound positively riveting.

Maybe this is the answer. In order to make children more creative we should set them a tedious and pointless task, so they have to think imaginatively to avoid dying of boredom. My 2004 all-subject key stage 2 test paper does precisely that.

Answer all the questions.

Time allowed: an eternity.

1 Write an essay on one of the following utterly pointless topics: (a) how to fill in a form (b) scratching your bum (c) a day in the life of an Ofsted inspector.

2 Make a pupil achievement tracker for your teacher out of milk bottle tops.

3(a) If it takes a reception teacher five minutes to observe one child and tick one box, how many minutes will it take to tick 117 of these for 30 children every term?

(b) And how many people would it take to dig a hole for all the reception class teachers in the country to bury themselves and their foundation stage profiles in?

4 Set up two committees in your school to look into the problem of duplication.

5 Design an examination that nobody wants. Go down to the bus station and sign up people to mark it. Lose half the papers. Invent some scores.

Compile a league table of them. Send your league table to Margaret Hodge and ask her to say something stupid. Then write a letter to the Prime Minister asking if you can be head of his policy unit.

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