'Why are we so obsessed with narrow (utterly flawed) tests and where the highest scores are?'

League tables bleed the curriculum of content and experiences, writes one leading primary head

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Going into the new season (I mean school year), it can feel a little like an avalanche of football clichés is crashing towards you. Expectations are high, new signings look nervous but ambitious and the veterans promise a great season based on learning from last year.

And then, this year, there's a league table. This time we pit region against region; county versus county. Cue the dramatic action-thriller voiceover...

"It was a time of change...They all wanted the best but in the war on education there can be only one winner..."

Picture the scene...

County office – Somerset.

"We are top of the league; say, we are top of the league...Who ate all the pies? Who ate all the pies..."

Really? Can someone tell this dim-witted headteacher what the point is exactly? Local authorities have less influence on schools than ever. How are they going to take the rap or credit for exam results exactly? Why are we so obsessed with narrow (utterly flawed) tests and where the highest scores are? Is anyone so naive that they really think that competitive approaches like this work in education?

They work in terms of making the narrow focus of Sats even more pressured and focused.

They work in making "success" your ability to get children to pass tests.

They work in bleeding the curriculum dry of a breadth of content and experiences. These approaches are very flawed.

So, in two months’ time, are we all going to be looking at the best local authories and saying, "Wow, they have done very well. Let's all do what they are doing"? I know there's more to it than this, but this approach to education is crass.

'Life is about so much more than doing well in tests'

If the purpose of education is to prepare young people for the future, and that future is all about doing well in tests, then bravo. But life is so much more. I speak from personal experience; it was not tests that got me where I am today: it was my experiences and reaction to life itself; my ability to pick myself up, to develop my ambition and know when and how to knuckle down and work. Yes, there were tests along the way but the hardest ones never had a league table.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in tests – the harder and more relevant to the learner and their stage of learning, the better. They are a fantastic way of finding out about knowledge and how this can be applied in written form.

Results should be shared. They should be shared with the school community and the school should answer to them, to the pupils whom they have taught and the families they support. The school should review them in detail with its governors, Ofsted, the local authority and anyone else whom it will impact upon.

Put them in a league table bereft of context or reason and the results just become a smoke screen. They take on a life of their own and then it becomes about posturing (or excuses). I have heard heads laughing at others' results, like they are more worthy because they have 10 per cent more than the school up the road. The weight and the simplistic narrative that too many attach to Sats results are unworthy of a country that has ambitions to be the best at education in the world.

If we were serious about Sats then they would be marked effectively and a detailed analysis (clear feedback) would be done for each pupil, and this would go to their future school and teachers (As well as an analysis for the current school of gaps and strengths). There could then be an expectation that the gaps seen in the test would be covered.

But no, we spend hours debating the rights and wrongs of testing; promoting and demoting schools over their results and placing more importance on the statistical outcomes than we do on the content of what we teach in our schools. It has, quite frankly, become a national shambles.

I don’t expect the new data will give me any more insight into how best to develop the learners at my school and I doubt many local authorities will sit around the table patting each other on the back for increasing their standing.

All the tables will do is increase the sense of accountability, drive the will to do better no matter the cost and create new models of learning that are firmly about moving up the league table.

This is not education – this is playing the game.

Brian Walton is headteacher of Brookside Academy in Somerset. He tweets as @Oldprimaryhead1

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