Lobby demands an end to ‘obsession’ with testing

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National and international teaching unions lobbied the annual general meeting of education and publishing company Pearson last week as part of a protest against high-stakes testing and the influence of profit-making organisations on education policy.

The organisations, including the National Union of Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the American Federation of Teachers, want Pearson to “publicly reject and immediately stop all practices that promote and support the testing obsession”.

The lobby took place outside Pearson’s headquarters in central London on Friday (April 24).

The campaigners also say that Pearson “must call for the cessation of high-stakes consequences that are predominantly based on student test scores”. They believe that the company’s “silence on the current misuse of test results shows a conscious decision to reject the research consensus in the name of profit”.

However, Pearson said that it supported “the principle of fewer, better tests” and in a blog directly responding to the lobby, CEO John Fallon said that exams and assessments “should be just one measure of progress as part of a wider framework”.

Pearson is a global education company employing 40,000 people around the world. In the UK it also operates Edexcel, a profit-making exam body that marks and certificates GCSE, AS/A level and vocational exams and administers and marks key stage 2 tests.

The lobbyists also sent an open letter to Mr Fallon in which they warn that high-stakes testing is “out of control”.

It states: “Children in the UK are among the most tested in the world, and the World Health Organisation has found that 11 and 16-year-olds in England feel more pressured by their school work than in the vast majority of European countries. 

“Many teachers harbour growing concerns about the impact on children of standardised testing and the commercialisation of education. They feel that companies should not be allowed to profit from a testing regime that is narrowing children’s educational experience and contributing to high levels of stress, anxiety and disaffection among children and young people.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, was among those taking part in the lobby. 

She said: “Education is the second largest global service after healthcare, with spending at 

$4,5 trillion in 2012/13. It is not surprising, therefore, that for-profit companies should seek to expand their services to governments in the provision of schools, curricula and tests.

“The danger is that this expansion undermines and perverts the core function of education – to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, appropriately assessed, which enables pupils to develop the skills and abilities needed for a successful and productive life.”

She continued: “School curricula should not be patented and charged for. Tests should not distort what is taught and how it is assessed. Unfortunately, as the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world, these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged.”

A spokesperson for Pearson said: “Like most governments and education experts we believe some testing is useful and important. For students, tests and qualifications are a passport to their next step in further study or employment, and it is one, though not the only, way of understanding where a system is doing well, and where it can still be improved.

“As our CEO John Fallon wrote in March, we support the principle of fewer, better tests. Our focus is on ensuring that our assessments encourage deep and enriching learning, and that results are an accurate reflection of what a student knows and is able to do.”

Writing in his blog, Mr Fallon added: “We do think assessments – or exams – are important, to give parents reassurance that their kids are on track to do well – and, if not, the confidence that something is being done about it. They are also really important for universities and employers. 

“We do want fewer, smarter, better exams – or assessments – and we do think they should be just one measure of progress as part of a wider framework. We do believe in higher standards – and that teachers need to be given the time and support to adjust to those standards.”


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