Testing, Testing, 1×3

I often wonder the point of Education Secretaries.
I wonder if they exist just to wind schools, teachers and parents up
I wonder if they actually do add value to the direction of our education system.

Personally I think that educational policy in the UK should be a cross party affair. Not just with the sitting government in power but a coalition (that words seems so distasteful now) of policy makers and politicians carefully thinking through the direction they want Britain to go beyond biased party politics. Kenneth Baker kind of hinted at this at a conference I attended in December, but we always only hear these kinds of things AFTER the politician or secretary has left.

As an educator myself and father of two girls in secondary schools, I am very keen to read and understand the application of educational policy. Firstly as to how it affects my children and secondly on how it informs the work that I do around attainment and career development for students. More often than not the news headlines and soundbites can frustrate in their frequency and the lack of thought done in seeing the bigger picture.

For example, Nicky Morgan, the incumbent education secretary has declared a “war on illiteracy and innumeracy”. (What is it with politicians and wars, weaponising and other military soundbites?)
She says “We will expect every pupil by the age of 11 to know their times tables off by heart, to perform long division and complex multiplication and to be able to read a novel. They should be able to write a short story with accurate punctuation, spelling and grammar. The new tests for 11-year-olds we are introducing next year will be strengthened to ensure that every young person is meeting the mark.”

One the face of it this is a great initiative. Let’s get our kids literate and numerate and ready for secondary education and ready for the wider world. The flip side is that head teachers will be punished or removed by “superheads” if all their students don’t attain this level. But hey I don’t just want to be a cynic. I just have a few questions

1. Are we doing this for children’s benefits or just so we can look good on PISA tables?
2. If you can learn the time tables by heart does that mean you can solve maths problems that require analysis and not just a repetition of a number in a times table?
3. What about inclusive schools which cater for students many others shun due to special needs or free school meals?
4. Does this also cater for school with high ESOL students?
5. Why only learn up to 12 when we are decimalised?
6. How are going to install confidence by threatening staff when education is facing a recruitment crisis for front line and senior leaders?

I get it, I do get it. Having worked with some schools and colleges where the post 16 standard of literacy and numeracy is incredibly poor, the need to drive up standards for students is necessary. I know I left primary school, and my children did as well, being able to meet those standards and much more, but I am also incredibly cognisant that much of that was driven by a family ethos and passion for reading, maths and a good education.

I just can’t help but wonder if the target testing of another government policy is the right way of raising such standards and addressing imbalances; another model of trying to enforce public school and grammar school ethos on all schools, when in reality not education is equal.

We shall see.

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