Sunday, 21 July 2013
Kids need to learn more than just how to compete.
Primary school children in England could be ranked against each other based on test scores at the age of eleven under a government plan put out for public consultation last week. Unions representing head teachers have called the plan ‘disappointing and destructive.’
Russell Hobby of the National Association of Head Teachers told the BBC that the ‘majority of teachers are unhappy with the need to rank students by ability’, there was, he added, a risk of students being ‘pigeonholed’ for the rest of their school career by results achieved at the age of eleven.
Under the government’s plans SATS scores would be used to divide students into ability bands of 10% with a tougher minimum level for achievement in place for schools to meet or risk triggering an Ofstead inspection. For example the current target for maths SATS is 60%, the government considers this to be too broad and lacking in ambition and so intends to raise it to 85%.
The tiny carrot being dangled in front of schools as they face yet more stressful and time consuming tests is an increase in the pupil premium, used to support disadvantaged students from £900 to £1,300 in 2014.
Speaking to the BBC deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg dismissed the concerns of the head teacher’s union as groundless, saying the government wasn’t ‘going to publish a name and shame league table.’ Well not unless there is an outside chance of their getting a positive editorial in the Daily Mail by doing so anyway.
He went on to say he made ‘no apology for having high ambitions for our pupils, but for children to achieve their full potential we need to raise the bar in terms of tests, pass marks and minimum standards. I am confident that primary schools and their pupils will meet the challenge.’ Gosh I hope they do Nick; after all we’re only playing with kid’s futures here, so no pressure then.
If you ever needed one this is a perfect example of why politicians should separated from the education system by an electric fence and maybe a couple of minefields too. Only a politician could come up with such a determinedly cynical plan and be so wilfully blind to its inherent dangers.
This whole sorry farrago plays on the nonsensically nostalgic idea that everything in the educational garden was rosy when we had the 11 plus. Back then everybody knew their place, the sheep and the goats were kept rigidly apart and if talent was often criminally wasted that was a small price to pay for certainty.
Nick Clegg and the other boosters for this dangerously retrograde idea don’t seem to have grasped the effect labelling a child a ‘failure’ at the age of eleven, a sure consequence of placing in one of the lower tiers, can have even if you tie yourself in semantic knots trying not to use the word. It blunts their aspirations, makes school a place they are kept against their will rather than an opportunity to learn and grow.
Incidentally anyone who thinks this proposal will put an end to grade inflation is laughably wrong. If schools feel their future, or, come to that, the government finds the rigour it has clumsily tried to programme into the system has pushed grades down too far in an election year; the foot pump will come out quicker than you can say hypocrisy.
This radical change, which is really nothing of the sort just the same wearisome regime of endless tests that’s been around for the past two decades with a fresh coat of paint, is so unnecessary. It will only produce the same results as before, meaning kids trooping out of school with a pile of GCSE’s only for employers to complain they lack the ‘soft skills’ necessary for work and university academics to grind their teeth over having to spend the first year of a three year degree course teaching their students how to think.
This isn’t a plea for a return to soppy notions of ‘child centred’ education, mastering facts rather than finger painting is the route to success; but when test results are given undue importance everything else tends to get pushed to one side, and that is seldom a good thing.
What gets lost is things like learning to work as part of a team, self confidence and an ability to value skills that can’t be measured by pen and paper tests. These are exactly the skills the UK needs to compete and they’re what we’re throwing away.
If politicians wish to understand being competitive as clawing everyone else out of the way as you climb the ladder to the stars so be it, that’s down to the nature of their profession and the sort of people attracted to it. It is wrong and potentially disastrous though to foist such foolishness on the next generation of working people.