Head teacher of Pocklington Community Junior School

Alex Reppold, head teacher of Pocklington Community Junior School.
Alex Reppold, head teacher of Pocklington Community Junior School.

I read Mr Woodhouse’s column last week with interest; I hadn’t seen the article he referenced from The Guardian about the teacher who had felt compelled to cheat in the SATs tests, but I share his disappointment in the whole system which places too much emphasis on external testing which ultimately doesn’t matter to anyone but central Government.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of the story, because right now there is a consultation making its way through the bowels of the Department for Education following feedback from the general public on Primary Assessment in England.

Maybe we should be focusing on developing children's abilities so they want to learn.

Maybe we should be focusing on developing children's abilities so they want to learn.

This sought to determine how progress would be measured across the primary age range, with possible testing for five-year-olds being a seriously considered option. I mean, if testing at 11 is flawed, how on earth is testing at five going to be a help for anyone?

Interestingly, I was reading a wonderful book called “How children succeed – Grit, curiosity and the hidden power of character” the other day and in it the author explored the idea that developing ‘character’ was more important than developing academic ability.

This wasn’t to undersell the importance of learning to read, write or be numerate, but rather teaching children ‘things’ before teaching them how to approach the things in the first place is very much putting the cart before the horse. One illustration within the book of this comes from an experiment from the 1960s, which was research into self-control.

You may have heard of the experiment – a child is left alone with a marshmallow and told they can either choose between having that one, singular marshmallow now, or they could wait 15 minutes and then have two marshmallows.

In an interesting twist, following further testing, the children who managed to wait for the larger reward and displayed a higher self-control, showed ‘better life outcomes’; they achieved more highly in tests in later years, they were physically healthier and they earned more money in their job. Correlation does not equal causation, but self-control is a trait we could all do with more of, I’m sure.

Now, I don’t know what Department for Education would think if I recommended that we give all children a marshmallow to determine what we should target for the end of Year 6 or the end of Year 11, but it is an interesting thought.

We obviously want to make sure that all children do as well as they possibly can – and its right that schools and headteachers are challenged to make sure that happens, after all, you only get one chance for a good education.

Maybe we’re looking at it all the wrong way – maybe we should be focusing on developing children’s abilities to want to learn, to see the value in education, and then want to put the work in, rather than just keeping on clobbering them with more challenging tests.

Who knows, maybe Mr Woodhouse’s end-of-SATs marshmallow bonfire is exactly what our education system needs.