The Headteacher: Young pupils don’t need more tests

Headteacher Steve Woodhouse
Headteacher Steve Woodhouse

Cast your mind back to when you were seven. Hopefully your memories will be of playing with friends, enjoying family time and maybe even climbing trees.

In years to come, ask the same question and the memories of our youngsters could well be clouded by unnecessary national testing.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Nicky Morgan has justified the reintroduction of national tests for seven-year-olds in England, saying “robust” assessment is needed to measure progress in schools.

I am strongly against such a measure and I am yet to meet a headteacher who agrees with her dangerous idea.

Of course, I will share my opinion with her if she ever answers my email...

“We’ll be working with headteachers in the coming months on how we get this right, holding schools to account and giving them full credit for the progress they achieve,” Morgan said, announcing that the consultation on primary assessment would include teachers and unions. However, does anyone genuinely believe that we will be listened to and the tests be shelved?

I see, firsthand, the unnecessary pressure that our young children feel when facing tests. The idea of putting seven-year-olds in this position is quite simply cruel.

The stakes are high with Ofsted, parents and local communities often judging schools on their recent test results.

Some of that pressure is bound to fall upon the children taking the tests.

Worryingly, many schools will inevitably choose to tailor their curriculum to suit the content of the tests, stifling teachers’ natural creativity.

There are so many aspects of primary education that tests can’t measure: thoughtfulness, creativity, honesty, confidence, kindness, loyalty, determination, compassion, intuition, the list goes on and on. These are the things we should be focusing on, not testing whether or not a seven-year-old can identify a subordinate clause. Childhood is precious and should never be filled with fear or uncertainty.

The current system works very well; probably why Nicky Morgan wants to change it. Teachers regularly assess seven-year-olds themselves, without a need for any formal testing. After all, they are the trained professionals who know their children inside out.

However, continuing in the same way would require the Government to trust our teaching workforce, something they are not too keen on doing these days.

Teacher assessment works because it is hidden from view, is relatively stress-free for pupils and prioritises child-centred learning over bottom lines. Anyone with an ounce of compassion knows that testing children at this early age, enforcing exam conditions on them at the beginning of their learning journey, is an unnecessary burden.

The high performing European countries, with which we are often compared, haven’t even sent their children to school by the age of seven.

The well-being of our children is once again being put at risk by the implementation of these mindless policies. Politics is getting in the way of what we do best; teaching children to be skilled, knowledgeable, well-rounded citizens in a rapidly changing world.

How about we develop a test for MPs instead and assess how well they are performing? ‘Must try harder’ springs to mind.