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Primary Education News
News Letters: Testing young children will cause untold damage
Nick Clegg's plan to introduce tests for five-year-olds (Nick Clegg denies schools will be 'exam sausage factories', 17 July) may be well intentioned but is misguided on two counts: five is too late and tests are too blunt an instrument.
The gap in cognitive development between children from advantaged and disadvantaged homes is observable long before they reach primary as anyone working in the nursery (pre-five) sector will testifyschool. Tests are no substitute for the in-depth knowledge nursery staff have of children in their charge. Parents know this and so when Michael Forsyth tried to introduce national testing in Scotland in the early 1990s, it was a revolt by parents, advantaged and disadvantaged alike, that caused him to revise his plans
So let's invest, heavily, in early years education. Let's use it to identify children already falling behind their peers and let's intervene with programmes that emphasise play, reading for pleasure, socialisation and empathy.
Emeritus professor of education, University of Strathclyde
• It is impossible to see what contribution comparing pupils will make to raising standards. Standards only have meaning in relation to what children actually achieve. What children can do, understand and know is assessed in terms of criteria. Ideally, these would be criteria that are intrinsic to the material being learned. When children achieve these criteria it might be feasible to say they have reached a particular standard. But to know that a child has achieved more or less than the next person gives no such information at all.
School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia
• We are concerned about plans to place all pupils in a league table ranked according to ability. Rather than a philosophy of "every child matters", this would be a world where only the person at the top counts. Any child struggling to pass tests due to a special educational need would be automatically labelled a failure.
Last month a conference brought together teachers, parents, governors and teacher educators to launch the primary charter and produce a "manifesto" for primary schools, outlining a model for how pupils learn best. This includes trusting the judgment of teachers, allowing children to learn at their own pace and through play, while taking account of their own experiences. It involves giving pupils an opportunity to develop a love of learning and nurturing their ability to interact with others.
We have already seen the damage done to children in this country through over-testing. Research has shown that our children are more worried about tests than in any other developed country. Crucially, there is no evidence to show that testing and ranking children improves their learning, but plenty that demonstrates the effect being labelled a failure has on self-esteem.
We prefer to look to the model of education in Finland, where there are no inspections, no punitive lesson observations and minimal testing, yet we see consistently high standards, huge levels of teacher satisfaction, minimal social selection and an education sector that is lauded throughout the world.
Instead, this government wants to test children earlier and force a more formal education, where learning by rote and parroting facts will be driven right down into the early years. We suspect this is part of a move to hand publicly owned education over to the private sector though an increase in the number of schools forced to become academies.
Christine Blower NUT, Kevin Courtney NUT, Max Hyde NUT, Malorie Blackman Children's laureate, Michael Rosen, Alan Gibbons, Andy Seed, John Coe National Association Primary Education, Dr Terry Wrigley Leeds Met University, Dr Clare Kelly Goldsmiths University, Sara Tomlinson Lambeth NUT, Jess Edwards Primary charter co-ordinator, Dr John Yandell Institute of Education, Alex Kenny NUT Inner London, Sarah Williams Downhills campaign, Debra Kidd AST for Teaching and Learning
• Having recently returned from Singapore after 18 years of working within its education system (unlike ours, it is a system), I find what is going on in England's education policy-making truly horrific. The Singapore system takes place in a sort of Chinese 1984 where the meanings of words are changed, if not on a daily basis, then at least seasonally. Peter Wilby (Primary school tests follow the Piccadilly Circus rule, 18 July) mentions the use of cliches, such as wanting schools to be "world-class". "Excellence" is one of Singapore's favourites. Yet many of the truly excellent Singaporean educators are frightened of a lack of creativity in their schools to the extent that that government has listened and tried to do something about this.
But my intention is not to criticise their system, but rather to point out the catastrophic effects the current UK government's tragic misconception of education will have and is having. Education by audit is contrary to the natural gift which is education. Once you try to audit a developmental process you kill what you wish to encourage. As in Singapore, the terminology with which we used to be able to discuss the true pedagogical issues has been dismantled by those in power with the result that proper educational discourse is well-nigh impossible. But of course, this is exactly what the government wants.
Professor John Matthews
• Of course, Tory backbenchers will be "salivating at the prospect", as Peter Wilby is absolutely correct to suggest, that this consultation document will see the return of the 11-plus, selection and grammar schools. The irony is that the document was issued by Nick Clegg, the very man who objected to Michael Gove's attempts to bring back O-levels because they would lead to a two-tier system of education.
• I wish people would stop mocking the secretary of state for education; he only wants every pupil in the country to achieve above-average grades in all their studies.