Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Opposition politicians fail tests at seven

How worried should we be by the Guardian report that a quarter of seven-year-old boys in England have failed to master basic writing skills, while just over a fifth cannot read simple words?

Clearly, children must be taught to read and write, but I have always been sceptical of these national standards. Where did they come from? What is the connection between performance at seven and performance later in a child's school career? And is it remotely reasonable to expect standards to improve year on year indefinitely?

And when I read something like:
The gap between boys and girls in writing and science widened by one percentage point this year.
it is hard not to smile at the spurious claim to exactness and objectivity.

What are less amusing are the reactions of opposition politicians quoted later in the article. You might think that after 12 years of Labour they would be pointing out that the imposition of targets and testing from the centre has been a failure.

Not a bit of it.

For the Tories, Nick Gibb declared:
"We need a rigorous focus on the basics, with effective synthetic phonics for reading and proper maths teaching, so that all children achieve the keystones to future success."
Synthetic phonics have long been an obsession of Gibb's, but what he seems to be advocating here is that central government should dictate how lessons are taught even more than Labour has.

And for the Lib Dems, David Laws said:
"The government should be especially ashamed of the fact that one in four boys has failed to master basic writing skills by this age. Ministers clearly need to target additional resources in this area to reduce class sizes."
Weren't these Orange Book types meant to offer a break from the social democrat consensus? There is precious little sign of it here: just an acceptance of Labour's approach and a call for more public spending.

Still, I wouldn't worry too much. The people who take these sorts of test results seriously are the very same ones who believe that standards at A level have been rising for the past 27 years.


Stephen Bigger said...

The most important target is to ensure that children enjoy their school and school work and feel empowered to want to learn. Children if well nurtured are good at wanting to learn. The various tests, SATs and National numeracy and literacy schemes remove the enjoyment and make school a fence jumping exercise. Many refuse or are unwilling to jump. If children enjoy well thought out activities, they will learn. If it always is a chore, they won't. Baker of the Tories started the targets and testing (he never was a listener), Blair carried it on and now its time to bury them all and allow schools to enthuse their pupils.

Frank Little said...

There used to be a schools inspectorate which used to do a pretty good job of keeping up standards. Then Thatcher (Baker?) privatised it.