Guest Post: Colin Richards: Revising the testing regime

Colin Richards contributes to the current discussion of testing and examinations in his post…

At this time of the year when we have an understandable, if unhealthy, pre-occupation with testing and examinations, I came across this description of “education” under the Revised Code (1862) written by Charles Birchenough in 1938. With only minor changes and with apologies for the class-and sexist nature of the language it could be a description of the worst features of our current performance-obsessed system. Note particularly the passage in bold:

“Enthusiasm for results got anyhow was to replace enthusiasm for education, for improving methods, for alertness to make the school work meaningful. The child became a money-earning unit to be driven, the teacher a sort of foreman whose business it was to keep his gang hard at work…..A more short-sighted policy could hardly have been devised. It betokened an entire want of imagination and understanding of what was and what was not fundamental. It denied that there was such a thing as a science of education. Initiative on the part of the teacher was not wanted, he was a cog in a machine, and it totally disregarded what in these days, viz. diverse local conditions is regarded as fundamental. The school in a poor neighbourhood was to reach exactly the same standard as the comfortable school attended by a good class of children. If it did not it was to be penalised. Cast-iron annual standards were applied to the whole country. The whole arrangement was ridiculously simple.

The Revised Code desperately needed to be revised. So does our contemporary test-ridden regime with its reductionist assumptions. It took 35 years to abolish the Code. We, and especially our pupils and students, cannot wait that long.


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  1. Very prescient, Colin. Interesting how countries which have most recently been very successful with exam passes are now looking at teaching methods which develop creativity and bring out individual potential – which we seem to be abandoning.

    • Colin Richards

      I couldn’t agree more Cheryl. To use a pun we should FINNish with our current system and learn from our Scandinavian neighbour!

    • Colin Richards

      A very memorable reply, Victoria. Your second paragraph is especially powerful.Let’s keep up the pressure on the government.

  2. Victoria Jaquiss

    “A more short sighted system could not have been devised”. Exactly. Poor schools given exactly same targets. Exactly.

    This whole system of education that they had then and we have now has nothing to do with educating, or bringing a child out. It is an evil, corrupt, pointless, damaging thing and it is already and will traumatise children for life and the teachers who are obliged to carry out the whole shameful act.

    At school children should be able to find themselves, their skills, their talents, their personalities, their strengths, their weaknesses, their friends while at school (not “academy” the word suggesting as it does not only supposed intellectual excellence, but also a limited intellectual curriculum).

    Children as a social group are particularly vulnerable and teachers stay in teaching trying desperately to mitigate the damage they are asked to inflict. I personally was was very lucky in some ways to leave English and PSE for Music as my present subject is less under scrutiny (and is in fact not even properly valued). But I still feel the pain and damage done.

  3. Norman Thomas

    I thoroughly agree with Colin. The overriding purpose of education is to provide the learners
    with skills and knowledge that they can use to enhance the circumstances in which they live for the
    b benefit of themselves and the world in which they live.
    Norman Thomas, former primary school teacher, HMI not, not Ofsted

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