School testing harms children, say MPs

Minister will be under renewed pressure today to scrap school testing for 11-year-olds following a damning select committee report on the subject which found the tests undermined education standards and harmed children.

The chairman of the schools select committee, Barry Sheerman, told BBC’s Panorama programme: “There’s something wrong with the amount of testing and assessment we’re doing, the quality of testing and assessment we’re doing, and the unseen consequences of that testing for the whole school culture.

“It is still a culture where the success of a child, of a teacher, of a school is linked to testing, testing, testing, that is the problem.”

The findings come at an unfortunate time for the government, with a million pupils getting ready to sit the national curriculum key stage tests (Sats) this week. Sats scores contribute to schools’ place in ‘league tables’, a fact which leads some teachers to drilling pupils in an effort to improve their marks.

After checking all the evidence, MP’s said national Sats tests distorted the education of children and even lowered their likelihood of going to university.

They argued the government has found itself isolated on the issue, and the evidence showed children were having their educational diet “skewered” by a focus on passing tests rather than improving knowledge.

The select committee called for a greater use of internal teacher assessment, the replacement of many tests with ‘samples’ where a handful of pupils in each school are tested, a reduction in the number of tests a child must sit, an inquiry into schools ‘teaching for the test’ and a review of assessment standards by the exams watchdog to address concerns about grade inflation.

Philip Parkin, general secretary of Voice: the union for education professionals, said: “At the moment it seems that these tests are designed to suit the government’s agenda rather than the interests of pupils.

“As personalised learning becomes the focus of attention, it is time for the government to have the courage to bring this obsessive testing regime to an end.”

Schools minister Jim Knight has defended the testing regime.

“I look at results, I look at the fact that our results are improving year on year … The standards in our schools are rising, and part of the reasons for that are tests and tables,” he said.

But opposition parties remain hostile to the English testing regime.

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws said: “This report confirms that English pupils are tested externally more than any other children in the world.

“Credible testing and assessment is vital, but there is a real risk that incessant testing is distorting the curriculum and driving the joy out of learning.”