It is interesting to see the direct action parents are taking in objection to the new primary tests which start next week. Feelings ran high as parents kept their children off school and signed a petition for the tests to be boycotted complaining of a damaging culture of over-testing.
Natasha Devon, until this week, the mental health champion for UK schools, also criticised the government for the levels of mental strain being put on pupils by rigorous testing.
At Sidcot we too are concerned about the mental health of students and putting them under too much pressure. Is testing and measuring children, as the Government proposes, the right approach to charting progress? We don’t think so. We don’t do SATS or Common Entrance exams because we know children don’t grow by measuring.
However, according to the famous management guru Peter Drucker in the 1940s: ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure’ which would seem to make sense. Without establishing a base line, how is it possible to measure improvement and plan for success? The question at Sidcot is not whether children’s intelligence and attainment can be measured but how this is achieved and the purpose it serves in ensuring students fulfil their academic potential, without creating a culture of stress, pressure and anxiety.
For our primary students we believe it is more important to get to know the children, understanding how they learn and embrace their idiosyncrasies in order to tailor an education to the individual – this is the real key to fulfilling a child’s potential. It is of course important to understand the progress each child is making and behind the scenes this is monitored very closely to give a clear view of how to support them further to achieve their potential, without the pressure of tests and without stifling their education. For us and our students it’s more important they know what the next stages are in order to improve themselves.
With our secondary students we use cognitive ability tests (CAT) as a tool to provide information to teachers about the children they teach over and above that which they establish in their own experience of working with the young person. They give a better developed understanding of the academic profile of the child: are they more disposed towards maths and science than the arts and humanities; do they have good problem-solving abilities, are they a visual learner, and so on. The real skill is in interpreting this information and putting it in a context that is relevant to each individual. Just as human beings don’t look or sound alike, so there are a wide range of complex influences that will determine educational outcomes.
That’s why we do things differently at Sidcot: Without a culture of pressurised testing our students fulfil their academic potential – which is evidenced in our outstanding results, but they also grow personally in a culture that values the individual, understands the variables in developmental progress and one that fosters a love of learning, that ignites their curiosity and enriches their soul.
IWK – May 2016