I struggle, sometimes, to believe what I’m reading from those who have been supposedly amongst the most well-informed and influential experts on education in England. These are the Government’s policy advisers, who have helped shape its attitude to what goes on in our schools, and whose opinions may have an impact on the educational experience of millions of pupils. Prime in my sights at the moment is Conor Ryan, the former adviser to David Blunkett during his time as education secretary, and then to Tony Blair in the years before he stood down as Prime Minister. Last month, Ryan wrote a piece in the Independent defending national tests, whichRead More →

I was impressed with the coverage of Robin Alexander’s weighty and thorough Primary Review report on the curriculum last week, not least with front-page stories in the Independent and the Guardian. Particularly thoughtful, I thought was this leader, the following day, in the Guardian, which made the point that proper, independent inquiries operating without fear of coming up with findings which could embarrass the politicians are, surely, what good Government should be about. Alas, this is not the situation we have.Read More →

  I spoke yesterday at the joint National Union of Teachers/National Association of Head Teachers conference on the future of assessment, arguing that there needs to be a proper inquiry into the damage being wrought by high-stakes testing and exam statistic- obsessed schooling on our education system, and then reform. The full text is below.     “We get taught things in lessons to prepare us for things like the Sats tests.” I thought I’d start with this quotation, as I read it only last week and it struck me as shocking and powerful, even though I’ve been investigating the impact of high-stakes testing inRead More →

  Followers of the Premiership will be well-versed in the post-match professions of Arsene Wenger, esteemed manager of Arsenal Football Club and someone whom I generally have a great deal of time for. Yet if there is one phrase guaranteed to raise a smile among those familiar with these things, it is when Mr Wenger utters the words “I did not see the incident”. This usually passes his lips when one of his players is alleged to have committed an indiscretion, or a dodgy penalty is awarded to his team. It is his way of avoiding any controversy and playing it down, and trying toRead More →

When Ed Balls, schools secretary, first proposed creating a new regulator for the exams system, a perceived conflict of interest was one of the main reasons put forward. In a 2007 paper setting out its plans to establish Ofqual, the Government said that the fact that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority reported to ministers made it harder for the public to be sure of its independence. And the fact that the QCA developed national tests and exams and was supposed to regulate them gave rise to potential problems in the public mind, and notably a possible “conflict of interest” between those two roles. Now anRead More →

I am a fan of Simon Caulkin’s management column, tucked away in the Observer’s media and business section every week. Last week’s, I thought, was very interesting indeed. I have argued that English schools have suffered from a combination of Stalinism and Thatcherism over the past 20 years. Read the piece here.    Read More →

Hmm, I thought to myself on reading the headlines about this report, produced last month by the National Audit Office. So where’s the news? On closer inspection of the report, it turns out that this review of primary maths teaching had come up with the not un-staggering conclusion that test results have hit a plateau, despite billions of pounds of investment. Well, you don’t say? I am tempted to put in a Freedom of Information request to the NAO to try to find out how much money was spent producing this finding, which could have been reached by anyone who knows where to look on theRead More →

I recently gave a speech to a meeting of the “Anti-Sats” campaign. The text follows below: I wrote my book from a simple perspective. I was trying to imagine myself as the parent of a child going through the current English education system. Then I considered all the evidence I had amassed on the impact of the test-based accountability regime on pupils’ learning experiences to answer what I thought was the fundamental question: would it help or hinder my hypothetical child in acquiring the kind of education I would want for them? The sub-title of the book: “The Tyranny of Testing”, says it all aboutRead More →

Ed Balls’s surprise decision last week to scrap the KS3 tests is the biggest Government retreat on testing policy in the past 20 years. It is, of course, to be welcomed, in terms of the immediate implications in the classroom: teachers I have been in contact with this week are already savouring the chance to inject some creativity into their year nine lessons, although there are some more cautious voices out there. But the implications, in terms of what the decision says about the relationship between the accountability system and pupils’ educational experiences, are also worth considering. In a sense, as I implied in an article for the TES lastRead More →

It’s taken me a while to update this blog with the latest missives on teaching to the test – as ever, it’s hard to keep up with the evidence piling up on this subject, and some of these go back over several weeks now – but here goes: – Ofsted put out a report on maths teaching which included the finding criticising “teaching to the test”. Rising exam results in the past decade were not proof that pupils were getting better at the subject, it added. Among its findings were: “Evidence suggests that strategies to improve test and examination performance, including ‘booster’ lessons, revision classes and extensive intervention, coupledRead More →