I’ve long used the term ‘exam factories’ to describe our education system. You go in one end, you learn all the exam-related material, you sit the exam, you leave.
Your life seems to be simply preparing for the next exam, the next assessment. Suddenly, before you know it… whoops, 7 years have passed and you don’t have too much in the way of life skills.
You were never taught taxes or financial management and the details around career-finding and CV writing were, at best, minimal. But panic not, because you know the Pythagorean Theorem. Never mind that you used it once for that examination – or at best it carried forward to the next exam further on in your exam-ridden life – it’s all part of the syllabus so it’s just what you have to expect.
The only minor comforts I took from all of this were that one GCSE Statistics module and my A Level French have helped me in my university degree.. and that, for the students who are currently in school, this exam-crazed world is just limited to secondary school life. If you ignore the smaller exams that shape what you ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ do at GCSE and therefore A-Level, the first few years, whilst stressful, are relatively nice compared to the pressures of the GCSE exams.
It turns out that the silver lining around the cloud is actually indicating a lightning storm, thanks to the government’s latest way of pushing us all into the system. Unfortunately, this system is now going to start at the age of four.
The government has decided to introduce tougher examinations for those at primary school, holding schools to account for their results and progress, and also to track the progress of each individual pupil through their early years. The new tests will reportedly contain delights such as maths, reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling – pupils will also be expected to reach a higher level than they currently should. Teachers will be assessed through this too, as 85% of kids under their teaching will have to reach their target level. Schools will be able to design the method for testing the pupils, where it will be relayed to students and parents in a clearer format.
Minsters have said the current way of rigorously testing primary school children is ‘unambitious, too broad and do not parents a meaningful picture of how their children are performing.’
My immediate response to that would be simply thus: why are primary school kids being tested in such a strenuous manner anyway? I mean, I’m all for there being some way of ensuring that our kids are literate and capable of performing basic life skills like numeracy. However, this is clearly another way of getting kids into the exam-based system far too early. And to think… this is going to start when they are just four years old!
Schools Minister David Lawes came out and said ‘A better start at secondary school is a better start in life.’ OK, fair enough – the system is built in such a way that success in secondary school is pretty much vital – but when you are four years old are you really thinking about moving on to secondary school? Of course not.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) seem to have caught wind of this and their national conference does not seem to have taken this well. The NUT are calling for a boycott of tests for four-year-olds in schools because of concerns that parents, teachers and pupils themselves are going to feel the pressure too early on. I’m going to have to side with that, really.
Imagine being a four-year-old pupil starting at your new Reception. You’ve got so many things to think about already, like new friends, an entirely new life that you’re having to lead from the one you started from home… and then, Day 1: BANG!
“Right kids, time for your first set of tests. We have to measure your progress now so we can meet our targets set by the government and so that you fit into the best bracket nearly 6 years down the line. Don’t worry, because you haven’t been alive that long yet, but trust us, it’s important. Now, here’s a load of sums and some exercises on punctuation. Good luck. Oh, and try to do the best we can, it will affect you for the rest of your life and it’s important for us and our targets.”
The NUT has decided to investigate the idea of what it calls “a mass campaign of principled non-compliance with any policies that erode children’s right to play in the early years.”
OK, so let’s hope that teachers would be reasonable enough to even try and balance play with these ridiculous tests, but even then it sends a clear message that many teachers feel that this is going to be an utter disaster.
Playing is one of the few things I remember about primary school – it helped develop relations between pupils, developed my character and personality (whatever you think about me!) and it’s safe to say that helped much more so than the classes that I took inside the school. To spend more time trying to push kids into high-stakes testing is going to cause a hold raft of social problems and developmental issues – one teacher interviewed during the conference for instance spoke about the need for sand and water to help with coordination and like (even helping with something as simple as holding a pen).
Teachers are not being listened to time and time again when it comes to exams and schools. The government is trying to force us down a path that is clearly not manageable or sustainable and is going to turn us into a generation of people with a full understanding of what they did in their exams but without the capacity to explain why… or even some of the most basic of life skills.
The teachers are warning they aren’t going to comply. It’s going to create divisions, yes. But ultimately someone has to stand up to the great big exam-pushing juggernaut.