Memorandum submitted by Heading for Inclusion (HFI)
a) Heading for Inclusion (henceforth referred to as HFI) has serious concerns at the nature, purpose and effect of the testing regime in English schools.
b) Over the past few decades, formal national testing has shifted further 'down' the education system resulting in four year olds now being tested through foundation stage profiling.
c) The effect in schools is teaching being focussed to the learning required to pass the relevant tests, rather than following the interests or needs of specific children. Children with special needs especially are being marginalised and devalued - as many of them will never be able to achieve many of the targets set them. Their achievements are seen as not meeting broad national expectations, which are based on arbitrary measures - the use of national curriculum levels and even 'sub' levels, which have no scientific validity.
d) Ofsted inspections focus almost entirely on a school's ability to produce high results in tests at various stages, whether they be Key Stage SAT results or GCSEs. This has led to schools devoting much of their time to 'playing the game' and teaching the children to pass the tests.
e) We are concerned that the levels of accountability on schools are resulting not only in a crisis in Headteacher and teacher recruitment - but disillusion from young people themselves. Schools are currently held to account by; governors, parents, children, local authority inspection, SIP inspection, Ofsted inspection, HMI inspection. HFI believes we are spending far more time 'weighing our pig' rather than helping it to fly!
f) A further result has been the negligence of other subjects of interest to children. HFI does not contest that children need to be as literate and numerate as their intellect can manage. We do contest that this is best achieved by a curriculum and inspection system, which has its main focus on the results of one set of tests at the end of Key Stages, GCSEs and A levels.
g) HFI would like to see a system for recording and celebrating achievement which responds to individual rather than political need. We envisage a system of profiling children's achievement across the full range of human endeavour. Such a system would need to be open to scrutiny from parents, educators, some form of outside audit (Local Authority, HMI - or a new organisation developed to ensure the highest standards in education through advising parents, schools, LAs and children how they can improve).
h) We would like to see a significant shift from inspection - to advice and support.
i) Our main complaint about the current testing regime is that it perpetuates a segregated education system, which holds that some children 'cannot cope with' the curriculum in mainstream schools and have to be educated away from their local communities in specialist provision. Schools should be shaped to meet the needs of children - not the other way around!
National Key Stage Tests
2) The current situation
a) HFI has serious misgivings at the validity of the current testing arrangements. For example, children at age ten or eleven are expected to show the full extent of their learning from seven years of education in one week of tests - totalling approximately five hours of testing. Many children find this process extremely stressful. Schools regularly report children who 'break down' in the tests or refuse to take part - or whose behaviour becomes increasingly erratic on the lead up to tests. Anecdotally, teachers are noticing increased levels of tension and stress in young people as they approach these key stage tests. HFI believes this is a regrettable situation and does nothing for the long-term educational experience of the children - or indeed of society.
b) Even given our previously mentioned reservations about the lack of true meaning to measuring a child's 'level', HFI questions the validity of the results from testing. Inspectors set much store from small deviations year on year within and between schools. Although the data is now more sophisticated it is only as good as what is being measured. There is no exact science of levelling and child's achievement. The National Curriculum levels are arbitrary, in some cases contradictory and not even criterion referenced! The new Raisonline analysis purports to be a reliable indicator of a school's achievement taking various factors into account. In the case of my own school, by removing two children with statements for educational needs from the statistics we move from being significantly below the national average to being within normal boundaries. If the contextualised value added measures were sufficiently sophisticated, that would not be possible, as it would weight children with SEN to factor out such a discrepancy.
c) Good teachers have always assessed their children's progress and have always planned their next steps in learning. SATs often get in the way of that good teaching and learning, as so much time is spent teaching children how to read, understand and answer the test itself. The raise in standards which is claimed by the Government, in our opinion, has more to do with teachers becoming more aware of what children need to do in order to learn the tricks of passing the tests.
d) HFI believes that the current climate of 'holding schools to account' and comparing schools through league tables, is actually damaging the education system by tying schools up in self-evaluative knots and taking teachers, governing bodies and Headteachers away from their core purpose of education.
e) We wish to see a new climate of co-operation between schools; a flourishing of inclusive practice; community cohesion and a political will to support and develop schools rather than criticise and blame them.
3) The future
a) SAT tests, GCSEs, A levels should most certainly be abolished. The stress on children and teachers, the limiting of the curriculum and the stifling of creativity has gone on for far too long.
b) HFI would like to see a form of personalised profiling for each individual child across the full range of human endeavour which does not prejudice against but instead positively encourages children with physical and intellectual impairments or indeed children with particular gifts and talents.
c) Our education system should be working with young people; following their interests and passions, and encouraging and rewarding their achievements.
d) The role of schools would be to work with young people to build up a profile of their achievements - (computer technology would make this a relatively simple task).
e) HFI see no need to measure schools against each other in the ways we have seen since the latter part of the last century. Instead, we see a role for a new organisation, which would work with Local Authorities to ensure that all schools are working for the best of the children in their local area.