national testing for 7 year olds – another GuardianTeach article that has irritated me!

If you believe the writer of the latest article to come from @Guardianteach about the reintroduction of testing for 7 year olds


then you’ll be forgiven for thinking that this is another Conservative policy that is going to destroy the learning of our children.  Well, quite frankly, it isn’t.  Now I appreciate that I am not a primary teacher, but I am married to one.  I also have two children – one that is seven and has completed the latest round of year 1 testing on phonics, and my youngest who has just started reception, and according to his teacher, spent the first month being tested on everything.  Therefore I feel entitled to pass comment on something that I normally would avoid like the plague for fear of upsetting my hard working and often underappreciated primary colleagues.

When my 7 year old completed his phonics test in year 1, the only reason we knew about it was because the school told us.  Our son showed no real stress about it.  It didn’t affect his love of reading, love of maths or his love of school generally.  I don’t even remember him coming home on the day saying anything about the test at all.  We are very lucky in that the infant school he goes to is an incredibly good one.  The last Ofsted inspection rated it outstanding and that was last year under the new framework.  The school has a fantastic group of teachers who allow their students to learn, and what is more, love learning.

There are a couple of parts in the Guardian article in particular that I take issue with –

“Anyone with an ounce of compassion knows that testing children at this early age – putting exam conditions on pupils at the beginning of their learning journey when most of their European counterparts are only just starting school – is an unnecessary burden.”

If they were at the beginning of their learning journey, it would be done in reception.  therefore this is just factually wrong.

“It is bad enough that their final year of primary school is riddled with a strict diet of test, drill, repeat twice every half term for the entire year.”

What I am about to say here is said as a head of maths who has the same pressures with year 11 passing GCSEs so please bear that in mind.  The decision to use this model is squarely on the shoulders of primary head teachers and year 6 teachers.  I too prepare my students for their GCSEs, but they still engage in quality teaching and learning, and we still do what we can to enrich their learning and provide opportunities to explore maths and deepen their understanding, and (dare I say it) have some fun along the way.  I am a strong believer in preparing students for testing by ensuring that their learning experience is rich, varied, challenging, enjoyable and deep.  If the first teaching is done well, then students are better equipped to cope with all the unknowns that an external exam presents them with, whether in year 6 or year 11.  We also complete lots of past papers, and complete 3 mock exams in year 11, but good quality teaching and learning has to take place alongside this, otherwise we have become exam factories and not centres of learning.

“But to re-introduce yet more testing for children who can barely get themselves dressed, is a regression.”

Children are expected to change for PE as soon as they start reception (my 4 year old is very good at it).  If you have children in year 2 struggling to get dressed properly then you have to ask the question why?

“So we can fiddle the books and make our school brochure statistics look even more glossy in the competitive culture that is devouring our national education system?”

If I was a primary head reading that I would be insulted.  Anyone fiddling the books would soon be found out by an effective governing body or inspection team.  As someone who has had both good and bad results, you can present it any way you like, but bad results are bad results.

Also, a big buzz word I hear more often now is “collaboration”, not competition.  Outstanding schools being encouraged to work with weaker neighbours to improve their performance.  Local learning alliances are being set up to share good practice.  Subject specific Hubs (the NCETM maths hubs programme being one example) are looking at ways to share best practice.

Also, we use competition within the classroom to encourage students to work harder.  Most teachers I know check the local results each year to see where their school is placed.  Can you honestly tell me that you don’t do these two things?

“Surely, we want our children to go through school knowing they can thrive … They shouldn’t have their errors shoved back in their faces with red pen and low marks.”

Another point you make that is not down to government, but is in the control of the teacher.  Good teachers manage the process of preparing for tests by building confidence, ironing out areas of misconception through careful instruction, and making sure that students know what they need to do to get the best possible result.  The ‘shoving in their faces’ sounds like a snap shot from a bygone era, not the education system that I work in.

The frustration is that this is yet another article that does nothing to move this argument forwards, and puts at least some of the blame on the wrong shoulders.  By all means argue against the need for national testing, but as Michael Tidd (@michaelT1979) said in twitter in response to this –

“I’m not sure I understand the fuss about KS1 tests. The only real change is likely to be the collection of the scores. They already do tests”