Party Time?

From hearing David Blunkett’s try at silencing criticism by calling those who questioned him “cynics,” to the wobbles, Herschisms and Grammarian Gwynne of Michael Gove, I know I have a long tradition of passive-aggressive sniping, but I don’t – I really don’t – want to be thought of as part of the blobby problem that Nick G sees us belonging to.

And today feels different why?

Because of this article in TES: and the verbiage round it.

Nicky Morgan is quoted thus:

“It’s the same when we get to the end of primary. I don’t want to see after-test parties being held. I want it to be something that children take as part of their schooling.”

The tone is magisterial, rather than visionary. She walks into Miss Trunchbull’s office and sits down at the desk with “I don’t want to see after-test parties being held.” But she has a point:  to normalise these tests would require them to have less fuss made about them, from teachers praising their children’s mindfulness training, to parents and schools celebrating the end of the tests, a bit of a cooler attitude might  help the children. The multicoloured ticker tape that floated idly past my office window today – I suppose after someone’s final undergraduate exam- is not a way to make children take the tests without stress. We are only a step away from parents giving fivers for good results.   Parties are out, then. So far, so good.

“I want it to be something that children take as part of their schooling.”


Now what this seems to me to imply is not that children should not celebrate, nor even that they should take these tests in their stride, but that children should just accept that testing is part of schooling, that the stats-sticky fingers of government can and will come and test them. And this is where the problems begin.

I am caught here between the two (or more) arguments, and I don’t think I’m alone. Are tests there to provide quality-assurance testing like an MOT for schools, or are they there to help teachers, parents and children with the children’s learning?

“Ms Morgan said she would be speaking to headteacher representatives and teachers to explore how best to assess seven-year-olds in the future. More rigorous assessments were “really important” to measure the progress pupils were making in primary school and to hold schools to account, she said.”

So who, at heart, is the audience for test results? If I can find an answer to that I might know which argument to follow. Is testing to become a normal part of school – more rigorous, too – whether children learn from it or no, simply to hold schools to account? Is it there because governments have so little trust in teacher assessment that the rigmarole of national tests is the only way to make sure Miss Honey doesn’t favour Hortensia? Are tests the pike-sergeant way of keeping teachers on the (important) task of -erm – teaching?

I am not helped by the way this article changes tack and looks to Mary Bousted at the end:

“We support the government’s commitments to help schools enable more children to achieve expected standards of English and maths at primary school,” she said. “But continual testing is not the answer…”

What really is the argument about testing here?  What is it that raises standards? What does measuring progress do for the individual child? Or should we see children en masse as the product that needs testing? Are tests so important for whatever this purpose is that they should become part of a school’s way of doing things, no more stressful than sharing assembly (yes, I know sharing assembly is not without teacher stress, children over-worrying, parents over-investing: that’s why I chose the example)? It’s hard to tell what is being proposed or opposed here: there are so many voices in this short article, no wonder we are all confused. So here’s a naive plea:

Where is there a clear, single-purpose rationale for the tests? 




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