The Cambridge Primary Review - arguably the most important review since Plowden in 1967 - calls for an end to national testing and a complete re-think of current primary practice.
The evidence shows:
• limited gains in reading skills at the expense of pupils’ enjoyment of reading;
• increases in test-induced stress among pupils; a narrowing of the primary curriculum in response to the perceived pressure of testing;
• the limited impact of the national strategies on both reading standards and the quality of classroom discourse on which higher-order learning depends;
• a much bigger gap between high and low attaining pupils than in many other countries;
• narrow definitions of ‘standards’ which have been adopted.
In short we have a test-driven curriculum in which the children of the working class families are the biggest losers.
The sharp “improvement” in SATs results between 1995 and 2000 was achieved not by any improvements in learning, but by teaching to the tests. Schools focused on getting the right answers rather than helping students to think and talk. According to a recent report in the Guardian “higher-order learning”, i.e. the ability to connect different ideas and draw conclusions from evidence, is neither encouraged nor measured. So long as pupils know how to do the right thing to pass the tests, little else matters. And now it turns out that up to one in three pupils have been given the wrong marks in primary tests anyway.
Is there any sign that the government will learn from any of this? Not likely – indeed as the Guardian says, “ministers are planning to press ahead with new tests for primary school children which can be taken at any point during the school year - something critics believe will only add to pupils’ stress, while adding nothing to their learning.”
Indeed the Government plans to extend the testing and target setting frenzy to children of nursery age. The Early Years Foundation Stage has appeared almost unannounced, but child minders will certainly be aware of its crack-pot notions.
As Armando Iannuci reported in the Observer, the targets include the obligation to make sure each three-year-old “understands that s/he can expect others to treat her or his needs, views, cultures and beliefs with respect” and that the child “interacts with others, negotiating plans and taking turns in conversation”.
This is twaddle, but is typical of a government in tune with the needs of the market but not children. Against all the evidence about the dangers of formal education methods the government plunders on.
As Iannuci says, “mainland Europe has a much better literacy rate than the UK and holds off reading and writing lessons until aged seven and up. Here, some deluded nincompoop, whose job it is to improve literacy among children, has concluded that the only way to do this is by doing the exact opposite of a large mass of the world that has a better literacy rate than us... It suddenly turns every nursery teacher, kindergarten supervisor, child-minder, parent or grandmother just baby-sitting into a state functionary legally obliged to perform mandated tasks and compulsory writing assessments on children who’ve just managed to stop dribbling.”
In dealing with a government that is clearly a playground short of a school it is surely long past the time for teachers to take matters into their own hands by once again considering a boycott of SATs, which are at the heart of this target-setting madness. A new boycott could effectively spearhead the Union’s defence against the excessive workload experienced by members and driving many teachers out of the profession.
So much of the target-driven agenda is set by SATs and the obsession with National Curriculum levels. Workload action must be a priority for teachers in the wake of the failure of the 2006 workload ballot to provide any noticeable protection for teachers.
Boycotting SATs must surely be should be part of a generalised campaign against the whole direction of government policy - now proven in report after report to be a disaster for all involved in education.