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Testing Times

I remember an assembly at my primary school in which our Headteacher, Mr Sidnell, opened with the question, ‘What season is it?’. There was a clue at the front, where Mr. Sidnell had proudly displayed a vase of freshly cut pussy willow. I was sat next to John Bainbridge, whose hand, very much to Mr Sidnell’s surprise, shot up. Without waiting to be asked, Bainbridge blurted out, ‘it’s the football season, Sir.’ And he was right. In those days, there were but two seasons. The football season, which was coming to its end, and the cricket season.

Unfortunately, these days it always appears to be the football season, so in order to help provide a better measure of time, the DfE introduced the exam season. I blogged on this at a similar time last year, but it seems that this year there are even more exams coming the way of our lucky children.

As if the Year 1 Phonics Screener, the Year 2 SATs in reading and maths and the end of KS2 SATs were not enough, we now have something for Year 4 in the form of the new ‘Multiplication Table Check’. What we have is perhaps a taste of things to come as the test is administered ‘on-screen’. Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, assures us that the ‘check’ (note – it’s officially not a test) ‘has been carefully designed to avoid causing additional stress for children.’  As each child is required to enter their own personal log-in just to get started, I’m not sure this will be the case for teachers – but we’ll give it a go.

The other pilot coming our way this year is the ‘Reception Baseline Assessment’. According to the DfE, the purpose of the latest test is ‘to provide an on-entry assessment of pupil attainment’. A more accurate description might be ‘a stick with which to beat school leaders.’ Apparently, into the future, a school’s performance will be measured by the progress pupils have made from their different starting points, all based on the result of a test, to be taken by children aged 4 in their first few weeks of school. My limited experience tells me that a test in the first weeks of reception might not necessarily give the most accurate measure of a child’s abilities, but what do I know?

Our children are officially the most tested in the world in a system that puts considerable and unnecessary pressure on pupils, teachers and school leaders. I wish I’d joined last week’s ‘March of the four-year-olds’, where a petition was presented to Downing Street to highlight the nonsense of this latest initiative. The banner, ‘say ‘poo-poo to tests’ gets my vote.

William