Testing five-year-olds: why a blazer and an exam cannot fix everything

Nick Clegg’s proposals sound good, but the reasons why some children don’t learn are many – and failure can scar for life – says Polly Toynbee in the Guardian…

…The reasons why some children don’t learn are many. Some schools are not good enough and need prodding, but most of the reasons why are caused by things beyond a school’s reach.

Schools in deprived areas often have a huge churn of pupils coming and going, speaking English or not. Some only arrive a year before their final test. The great uprooting of children through the bedroom tax, benefit cuts and the benefit cap will accelerate the churn. Already, some primary children are commuting an hour and a half each way, as their family is moved but parents struggle to keep their school place.

As social conditions worsen, as the poor get poorer and more insecure, and as some children go hungry, schools are the great place of safety and calm. But they need to offer wraparound services, from free breakfast to after-school clubs, with community services inside the school. The value of all this has been downgraded by Gradgrind Gove.

Some children who fail to learn are from the most chaotic families, and have barely been in school. Welfare officers are thin on the ground or nonexistent, due to local authority cuts. The plan for a national register of all children to stop them disappearing from one authority to another was struck out by this government. The amount of help available to families on the edge through depression, mental illness and addictions is almost nonexistent, unless they reach a stage of abuse where a child may go into care. The quality of nursery teaching is even more critical than what happens in primary – yet Sure Starts are closing. Excellent that the pupil premium is to be to raised – but remember how many fewer pupils are eligible as the government lowered entitlement to free school meals to families on less than £16,000 a year.

Nick Clegg, David Laws and Michael Gove treat schools as entities floating above the turmoil of society, where a blazer and an exam fixes everything. To test schools’ achievement with their 11-year-olds makes sense – though only if each child’s length of time at the school and social condition is weighed in the balance. But to grade individual children in 10% ability bands is the worst idea yet to come from the Gove stable. Bad enough that some children do go to secondary without basic skills – but how much worse to arrive with failure branded on their soul.

Failing the 11-plus scarred children for life, and it still does in the areas where it’s still used. I should know, I failed, being a chaotic child – and that failure still hurts, despite recovering later. Since I wrote about it ages ago, I still get taunting comments saying it proves I’m an idiot, so plainly others regard that test as omniscient, despite multiple studies showing otherwise. Teachers, parents, other 11-plus failures – what do you feel about a return to sheep-and-goats division of young children?

More at:  Testing five-year-olds: why a blazer and an exam cannot fix everything

So are you with @pollytoynbee here or do you you think the new proposals for nationally ranked year 6 testing will be more meaningful and more helpful than the current national curriculum levels?

If the issue is with potentially branding children as failures, could the tests work without individuals ever knowing their results or would that be pointless? Please let us know what you think in the comments or on twitter…

Let my three-year-old play - not sit exams
Two school playing fields a month sold since 2012 Olympics
Categories: Primary.


  1. monty back

    What research of learning are they drawing on?! If only learning wee a simlpe upwards line or even a spiral

  2. EYofExcellence

    SchoolsImprove LauraChildcare pollytoynbee Many good points and so sad to think of encouraging more feelings of failure

  3. technologytotea

    SchoolsImprove pollytoynbee yes I agree with her! the little yr 2 child who came into class Tuesday having no breakfast broke my heart!

  4. learningafrica

    SchoolsImprove pollytoynbee and tests often only show us performance other than if there was a change … if real learning took place.

Let us know what you think...