At the end of the last school year, I received Herbie’s report to find that, along with a true reflection of his kind and inquisitive nature, his teacher had to add a piece of paper with a set of scores – from 1-3 – which depict whether a child is emerging, attaining or excelling in certain skills such as reading, writing, personal and physical development. At the end was a line that judged whether a child had reached a good level of development, answered with a single letter, ‘Y’ or ‘N’. Herbie received an ‘N’. After one year at school, at five years of age, he was defined by an ‘N’ because he was emerging in three out of 18 areas. How demoralising for a child to have navigated their way through a new environment, dealing with developing whole new friendships, fitting in to a structured school setting, long days and unfamiliar adults, to be deemed not to be achieving by an arbitrary scoring system.
I was angry that the teachers were put in a situation where they even had to do that, knowing that it doesn’t do justice to children’s real selves.
In Year 1, they then have to sit a phonics test, the main purpose of which is to feed into statistics for Ofsted reports, rather than any real need to judge children’s abilities. They are shown a series of words to read, which include ‘nonsense’ words. The thinking behind this is that nonsense words encourage the understanding of phonetic learning because they follow phonetic constructs and so children who can read these can show that they are not just guessing. I like to think it is so they can understand the bollocks the Department of Education comes out with on a regular basis.
Scores, testing, lists – none of this helps to develop a love of learning in children, it just fuels an obsession with targets and league tables. Children are not numbers on a page that fit into boxes; each one learns differently and at a different pace. They have different backgrounds, different approaches to dealing with the world, and different challenges that can be both complex and misunderstood.
When Gus goes to school, he’ll have it even worse with the new Reception Baseline Assessment, trialling in schools on a voluntary basis from September 2019 and planned to be mandatory in England from September 2020. It will test children starting their reception year via a 20-minute, teacher-recorded assessment of children’s communication, language, literacy and early mathematics skills. Apparently, it won’t be used to judge or track pupils so what the fuck the point of it all is, who knows. The policy has already been withdrawn once in 2016 when initial trials proved the data was unreliable, I imagine because a four year old is more interested in running round in circles and putting their pants on their head than sitting down to take an exam.
You can visit the More than a Score campaign website, a coalition of educators that wants the tests to be scrapped and replaced by teachers’ observations over time, taking into account the insights of parents, and sign the petition against these tests here.
In the week of World Mental Health Day, it’s not difficult to draw conclusions between the added and pointless pressure of constant testing and the deterioration of children’s mental wellbeing.
“Do not train children to learn by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” ~ Plato
Image from Pixabay