Testing: Flogging a dead horse

With so much testing chaos, Dr Bernard Trafford asks whether ministers will ever admit that the time has come to change our approach

During a particularly difficult battle at the school of which I was then head, a wise chair of governors once said to me: “If it hurts too much, you can always stop banging your head against the wall!”

I wonder if politicians ever feel like that. First, the accidental publication by the Department for Education of key stage 1 exam papers online. Then, having expressed dissatisfaction and concern about the stress put on pupils by government tests, parents witnessed children in tears because the new, tougher SATs last week were too difficult.

Are the wheels falling off? Or is the chaos, as suggested by ministers and commentators (generally from the Right), the result of feeble-mindedness on the part of schools? Such reactions are predictably robust. Of course tests must be harder, we’re assured: standards can only be seen to be rising if more children fail exams. As for stress on pupils, the same voices claim that schools should be preparing children for tests in a measured and sensible way, so that they are made ready without anxiety.

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