Secret Teacher: we shouldn’t shy away from examining students

The latest Secret Teacher, who works in a Hertfordshire primary, says that because at some point in life, we all have to step up to plate and perform in tests, why should we shelter pupils from this experience in school. This is from the Guardian

…I happen to believe that tests and exams are good for children for a number of reasons. At certain times in our lives, we are required to step up to the plate and deliver. We can practise, we can prepare, we can lose sleep the night before, but at some point we have to achieve what we are capable of.

Want a job? Do the interview. Want to drive? Take the test. Want to sell your product? Deliver the pitch. No matter our vocation, age or background, at a certain point we all have to be able to take and pass a test. So why should we shelter children from this experience? How are we preparing them for the world if we never subject them to it?

Tests and exams give children something to work towards. As a year 6 teacher, part of my job is to prepare children for their SATs exams in May. Some argue that these exams are just a measure by which the school is judged and that, because the children’s performance doesn’t contribute toward their transition to secondary school, the tests are pointless. I disagree. While achieving good SATs results is important to the school (it is a crucial factor in how a school is judged), I see them as a culmination of everything the children have learned since they were seven. It is a major milestone in their lives and on our class calendar – it is a valuable opportunity to prove how hard they have worked and how much they have learned.

National tests and exams such as SATs, GCSEs and A-levels are objective and nationally consistent ways of assessing children – they keep us honest. Teaching is a noble profession but all teachers, particularly in smaller schools, form emotional attachments to the children in their care. We want them to do well. We want them to progress. Sometimes, in performance management, we are told they have to progress or we are not meeting our targets…

Some argue that the low-achieving children in the class will always feel dejected witnessing the cheers of high-achieving peers. That’s because we need to place more value on progress rather than attainment. “You’re a level 5? Well done, but that’s the same as you were in September. What can we do to help you progress?”. “You’re a level 4? Wow, you came to this class with a level 3? Fantastic.”

All our hearts would go out to the poor hurdler who tumbles over the final hurdle and finishes last in the race despite all their hard work. But would we then restart the race or give them a medal anyway because they were winning but got that last hurdle wrong? Of course, not. That isn’t the way the world works. If you’re a hurdler and you fall over a hurdle, you lose. That’s a fact.

So how do athletes avoid it? They work hard and train and jump over thousands of practice hurdles, so that on the day of the race, their day of reckoning and chance to prove themselves, they can clear every hurdle in their lane, run the time they deserve to run and finish in the place they deserve to finish.

What’s wrong with that?

More at: Secret Teacher: we shouldn’t shy away from examining students

Fair comment from this Secret Teacher? Are some in education too keen to criticise testing and should it be seen instead in a more constructive light? Are the comments about focusing on progress key? Please give us your thoughts in the comments or via Twitter…

Sir Roger Bannister on competitive sport in schools: Children don't suffer if they come second
Guide to school Islamisation, by 'ringleader’ of Trojan Horse plot
Categories: Teaching.


  1. JoNoGo

    SchoolsImprove Very well put – ‘progress’ is the best way to frame conversations with children about their achievements.

  2. Janet2

    Secret Teacher is confusing assessment with mandatory high-stakes tests.  The former is essential and, yes, pupils should be praised if they exceed previous performance.

    But Sats, etc aren’t about that.  They are summative not formative and they’re used to rank schools.  The OECD warned nearly three years ago there was excessive emphasis on raw test results in England – this has worsened.

    Most of the developed world do not test their pupils to the same degree as in England: graduation is at 18.  If tests take place at 16 they are fewer in number than in the UK, not high stakes, and are used to decide post 16 progression.

    Only 4 out of 34 OECD countries had national tests at primary level.  England is out-of-step.

    For more info re exam systems in OECD countries see faq “What are the examination and assessment systems in OECD countries?” – at:

Let us know what you think...