A Gradgrind ethos is destroying the school system

Recent revelations that pupils with special needs are being excluded to improve school performance can be put down to one thing: an obsession with testing. Since public league tables were introduced by John Patten in 1992, they have defined English education. First it was just A-levels, then GCSEs, then Sats, as the cry went out to measure everything. The Guardian reports.

Ministers of both main parties have become obsessed with the OECD’s Pisa tests, a crude way of comparing the incomparable. Under Michael Gove, English schools were to be benchmarked against Chinese ones. Under Nicky Morgan, tougher tests were demanded for six- and seven-year-olds. These were “essential to make British pupils more competitive with students abroad”. Education was treated as a branch of the Olympics.

In an attempt to make the important measurable, we have instead made the measurable important. This month we have a first straw in what, it must be hoped, is a wind of change. Ofsted’s boss, Amanda Spielman, has criticised schools “where too much time is spent preparing for tests at the expense of teaching”. This is like the chief of the defence staff joining CND. Ofsted has for years judged schools on “exam floor targets” – the regime that led the last chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to declare that fully “a third of British schools are failing”. That was after nearly three decades of league tables used to score, penalise and humiliate schools and their teachers – before starving them of money.

Exams are educational dross to which politicians turn when they can think of nothing else for pupils to do. The new GCSEs last June produced a deluge of criticism for challenging pupils’ mental resilience more than their memory. Such was the pressure that half of London parents bought private tuition. There was a predictable surge in mental stress among children.

Examination implies a public loss of faith in the profession of teaching. We don’t judge doctors by patient longevity, or lawyers by cases won. Yet we reduce education simply to what can be recalled on a particular day, even if promptly forgotten. It scores not just children but teachers and schools. A teacher recently wrote to the Times that in Germany, largely exam-free schools “are trusted to educate in the broadest sense, and objectively assess their own pupils, without recourse to any self-serving, outsourced exam industry”. I doubt that a modern English school would know what to do with its time without exams.

Askmost people what they remember from school and they mention an inspiring teacher, not an exam result. Ask employers what they look for in a recruit and they list articulation, presentation, creativity, imagination and social skills – qualities that appear nowhere in an English curriculum. They might be the benefits of talented pedagogy, but scoring them is absurd.

Read the full article A Gradgrind ethos is destroying the school system

Does the system frustrate you? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Budgets, Data, Exams, Mental Health, Ofsted, Primary and Secondary.

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