Is the government or tests stressing children?

‘If only the government would let us teachers get on with it’


reacted with utter disbelief to schools secretary Ed Balls’ claim that primary schools were unnecessarily stressing children by assessing them under strict test conditions.

The whole issue of testing at the school where I work is highly controversial, with many – including me – concerned at the narrowing of the curriculum that has resulted from an emphasis on results from tests in three subjects taken at the end of key stage 2.

So you may think it perfectly reasonable for Balls to show concern over this issue. However, these comments were not directed at the tests which take place in Year 6 for 11-year-old pupils, but those undertaken by children in Year 2, at the age of seven.

Tests for children at this stage of their primary education have been wholly teacher-assessed for the last three years so I doubt whether Balls’ claims are backed up by any data.

I also find it curious that no mention is made regarding the arrangements for testing at the end of key stage 2 and how these impact on a child’s well-being. Schools are issued with a 100-page booklet that details the way in which these tests should be administered.

Spot checks

Headteachers are even told the exact words to say before beginning the test, and random spot checks take place to ensure that schools are following procedures. Failure to do so can result in the test results being declared invalid, which results in tension at some schools.

In my experience, the main causes of stress result directly from government meddling. Testing and assessment has always taken place in school. Before league tables children undertook Sats. The tests were marked externally and the results were a useful indication to teachers of the accuracy of their own assessments. It was no big deal. Schools announced results to parents as they were available. In this part of the country this often occurred during the summer holiday, or at the beginning of the new school year.

Under this system, parents were more focused on the progress that their own child had made. Now, they have become more concerned about how well their child has done compared with others in the class, and it is this competitive element that can then cause stress for children. It also makes teachers more tempted to “cram” for tests because the expectation has subtly shifted from level 4 being an average expectation for children at age 11, to an expectation for all.

Results fiasco

In addition, this year has seen an utter fiasco in the marking and reporting of results that has seen the government missing not one but two deadlines for the publication of results.

So what is to be done about testing and assessment? Quite simple really, treat teachers and headteachers as professional people. It is our job to make a professional judgement about the national curriculum level that our pupils are working at. What is more, we can do this without subjecting our children to stress.

And the money currently wasted on endless, idiotic bureaucracy, propping up a system that has lost all credibility with parents, teachers and children, could be used to bring more teaching assistants into classrooms which would actually make a difference to standards of attainment in schools.

Dawn Forshaw is the head teacher at Wellfield Church Primary School, Burnley, Lancashire

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