Thursday, 28 February 2008

Testing times for education

The Daily Mail reports that education standards in primary schools have slumped because of Government meddling and an obsession with testing, warn leading academics. They add that New Labour's influence in the classroom has introduced a centralised "state theory of learning".

The largest inquiry of its kind into primary education found that today's children spend too much time preparing for "batteries of tests" in English and maths. This has come at the expense of a broader education in other subjects. While test scores have risen, educational standards "may actually have declined".

The findings, which form part of the Cambridge University-based Primary Review, are a huge blow to the Government after it invested billions in primary education. A report by Dr Dominic Wyse, lecturer in primary and early years education at Cambridge University, says: "Government control of the curriculum and its assessment strongly increased during the period from 1988 to 2007, especially after 1997. The evidence on the impact of the various initiatives on standards of pupil attainment is at best equivocal and at worst negative. While test scores have risen since the mid-1990s, this has been achieved at the expense of children's entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum and by the diversion of considerable teaching time to test preparation."

Drilling pupils to pass tests does not help their longer-term learning and is resulting in a narrower curriculum, poorer standards of teaching and lower quality of education. The quality of interaction between teachers and pupils in the classroom has not improved and could have become worse as schools try to boost their test results. The focus on national English, maths and science tests for seven- and 11-year-olds is "driving teaching in exactly the opposite direction to that which research indicates will improve learning".

Instead of using a variety of classroom methods, including teaching children in small groups, schools often do little more than hold whole-class lessons to prepare pupils for tests. Dr Wyse says that National Curriculum test results "seem to bear out this analysis". The proportion of children reaching the required standard in Key Stage Two English tests sat by 11-year-olds have risen from 58 per cent in 1996 to 80 per cent last year. The figures in maths rose from 54 per cent to 77 per cent over the same period. However, results in both subjects have plateaued in recent years. This is likely to be because teachers "learnt very quickly how to coach for the tests, hence results improved, but any benefit to be squeezed from the system by such coaching has long since been exhausted".

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