Friday, 21 March 2008

Tests will put mental health of pupils at risk

The Times reports that children will face a battery of tests under a “lighter touch” assessment regime that could be every bit as stressful for their mental health as the national curriculum SATs test they are designed to replace, teachers were told yesterday. Instead of being drilled for “high-stakes” SATs at age 11 and 14, pupils face the prospect of testing at least twice a year under the Government’s new system of single-level tests. Mary Bousted, the general-secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, told delegates at the union’s annual conference that SATs were already responsible for poor mental health among many young people and that this could get worse. “Children suffer stress and anxiety as the test looms and the rise in children’s mental health problems cannot be divorced from their status as the most tested in the world,” she told the union conference in Torquay. “The tests label young people as failures, and this leads to one of the lowest rates for staying on post16 of any industrialised country.”

The new tests are designed to show the progress that children are making rather than to find their absolute standard. Teachers are expected to use their knowledge of children’s achievements to judge when they are ready for testing and what level they should be tested at.
While welcoming this approach in principle, Ms Bousted said she feared that the new system would create as many problems as SATs. While high-achieving students face the prospect of continual testing as they progress swiftly past each attainment level, lower-achieving students would become demoralised because they would be less able to make the progress at the expected rate. “The danger is that schools with disadvantaged intakes will continue to be penalised because their cohort of students will not make the same progress as those schools with more advantaged intakes,” she said. There was also a danger that the continual assessment of pupils progress could be “degraded into assessment for covering the teacher’s back – reams and reams of recording of levels with very little focus on the individual student’s understanding of key concepts in the subject”. Ms Bousted, who sits on the government-appointed group overlooking pilots of the new single level testing system, said that teachers needed to be on guard to make sure that what replaced SATs did not make things worse.

She also made a passionate plea for teachers to be given more freedom from the national curriculum so that they could concentrate more on teaching students skills of independent thinking rather than on rote learning and drilling children in lines from Shakespeare or historical battles.

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