Education minister fails the test

Damian Hinds has never been known for logical coherence, but his latest Telegraph article fails the test completely. Jumping to the defence of the SATs, he shows a fragile hold on reality and a threadbare logic.

Firstly we are told that children’s learning is assessed through national standardised tests ‘all over the world, from France to Finland and America to Australia’. This is not exactly a lie, just ‘economical with the truth’. Finland, as is well known, does not use national tests till age 18. France has recently introduced some national tests, but very light touch (20 minutes in length). ‘In most US States,  they happen annually.’ True, but anyone who thinks they raise achievement should look at the international PISA assessment where the USA, like England, bounces along the bottom.

Hinds goes on to argue that ‘these assessments do not exist to check up on our children’ but ‘to keep account of the system, and those responsible for delivering it’. If SATs are there to check the system is working, PISA does that already – and shows that it is working poorly. The second argument is different: to check on the ‘deliverers’, the teachers. Is this supposed to reassure the parents of overstressed children?

England is a laboratory for control and surveillance. Here standardised tests link to league tables, link to Ofsted, link to performance pay, link to academisation, link to market competition… to create a total system of stress and suspicion.

It is no use Hinds arguing that ‘all over the world, schools guide children through tests without them feeling pressured.’ He presides over a nightmare system which leads headteachers to pass the pressure down the line to teachers who pass it on to pupils – a system held together by fear and stress. It is disingenuous to pretend it’s just an attitude problem.

Hinds continues: ‘Imagine if the government announced that it was going to ban dental exams or stop opticians measuring our eyesight. People would be rightly horrified’. Indeed, but surely dental exams and eye tests are for the individual’s good, not to question the professionalism of dentists and opticians.

There are  two obvious conclusions from Hinds’ dishonest article:

i) If the education secretary wants to know how well the system works, use sample tests as England used to do. (But he does know, from PISA… the English school system performs badly!)

ii) if he doesn’t trust teachers’ judgment, give them better professional development, and find some light-touch means of verifying and moderating it.

Teachers could use a wider range of evidence than the SATs, without any of the stress, without cramming children or narrowing the curriculum.

  • It would be very easy to provide some samples to illustrate a satisfactory or good standard of reading comprehension or maths problem solving.
  • A bank of sample assessment tasks could be made available so that a teacher could check his or her own judgement.
  • Year 6 teachers from different schools could meet up to discuss a sample of pupils’ work. After all, university degrees are moderated by a teacher from another university.

Time to trust the teachers, Mr Hinds.

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