Tests, targets and tables: a head teacher writes

I would urge anyone interested in the effects of statistics-led schooling to read a recent paper by Cynthia Bartlett, head of an Oxfordshire comprehensive. Cynthia, who took a sabattical to research and write the 68-page report, describes hyper-accountability as a “tragedy”, for vulnerable pupils in particular.

Her paper includes findings gleaned from a survey of 22 of her fellow Oxfordshire secondary heads, and comes with copious research evidence.

The testing, targets and tables regime is setting up a sharp divide between schools, Cynthia argues. Those serving more prosperous areas, typically with better results, are able to give disadvantaged or “vulnerable” students the attention they deserve. Those with more children from poorer backgrounds cannot afford to devote too much attention to those at the bottom of the class, as they focus relentlessly on the middle-ability pupils who are the key to the statistical indicators around which league tables resolve. The paper also highlights the human cost of Ofsted inspections, and argues that the system currently offers little to recognise schools’ – and pupils’ – achievements away from the exam hall.

And key stage 2 and 3 tests “stand in the way of progress” – children waste almost a year on test preparation, achieving results which only show that “most children can pass a test for which they are given mock papers, booster classes, revision sessions and drilling on mark schemes for months on end”.

The paper is available from Cynthia at cbartlett@bicester-cc.oxon.sch.uk

   

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