An article in the TES recently outlined new plans to start testing four year olds by the year 2016.
The idea is to test children as soon as they come into school in the hope of then showing progress achieved between the ages of four and eleven.
Obviously, we as parents all want to know that our children are progressing. But what purpose does this actually serve the child? Is testing more about our adult needs to measure our kids and political strategies to impress?
I ask this because myself, and others in the profession, are becoming concerned about the unnecessary pressure testing places on everyone in schools, possibly to the extent of creating mental health issues in the children (see this earlier article. But the results have minimal benefit to the learner. (Click here for more). Further tests can only make this worse.
The other thing that concerns me is the damage done by pre-conceived ideas about a child and the impact of self fulfilling prophecy. I know of children who have missed opportunities in school because of test results which failed to show their true ability, children who have been wrongly streamed, placed in unsuitable groups and consequently held back. I have also heard of parents resorting to unhealthy parenting just to coerce their children into getting grades, however valuable that grade is to the individual personally.
Is this now going to happen to our children from the age of four?
I had a conversation with a Primary Head recently and she had this to say about it; ‘the biggest danger with testing is that teachers end up teaching to the test, losing the spontaneity and creativity that inspires children to learn, making teaching constrained and dull. Results are totally inaccurate, yet are held against the schools, pressurising teachers from all sides; from parents, from Ofsted, from government. The thing is, schools reflect the social climate of the area they serve and this will inevitably influence results meaning low scores in some areas however hard teachers try. This enormous pressure on teachers is passed down to the children making a stressed environment. The more tests the more stress. Schools need to be happy places to learn.’
We’ve always accepted tests and testing as part of the learning process. But it has little real educational value. In fact the pressure now associated with constant testing has the opposite effect; it wastes child and teacher time, it increases unhappiness, it diverts attention away from the richer and more beneficial learning experiences and it generates an unhealthy atmosphere around teaching and learning, achieving and education.
Education is not about testing, it is about an ongoing learning experience. It is about an individual learning journey not mass conditioning. It is a very personal journey needing an individualised approach not a generic processing of kids. Parents need to have faith and trust in this happening rather than needing constant results which hamper it.
Unnecessary testing in schools is one of the reasons cited by home educating families as influencing their decision to educate their children outside school. Many of these families go on to successfully educate their children towards qualifications, university, or productive lives without testing being part of their approach at all. So if these children can be successfully educated without them, why not those who go to school?
The answer I think has more to do with the politics of education, than it has to do with what’s good for the learner.
And as the article points out, this new set of baseline tests have a surprising twist; they will not be compulsory. This suggests that they are indeed not necessary, but are among the plethora of tactics used by politics to scaremonger parents into believing both tests and politicians are doing good for their kids when neither case is true. It also undermines trust in teachers. I hope that parents take the brave stance of choosing to opt out of them and save their children from being political pawns.