England’s schools – more testing than teaching?

This story confirms what most people already know – teachers and pupils especially – that the education system in England is geared towards hitting bureaucratically-determined targets and is warped by the unhealthy competition borne of the publication of league tables.

How to change this? Well, I can’t help thinking that if an English parliament had been solely in charge of the education system, recent neoliberal “reforms” would have been stalled. Tuition fees being one example, but we’re talking about primary education, so I digress…

I think it would be far better to involve parents, teachers, and pupils in the management of each school – something which has become much easier with the advent of new technologies. More than any “Britishness” lessons, children learn valuable communicative and organisational skills from working in schools councils, become responsible, confident, and able to solve practical problems within the school.

Anyhow, here’s the article:

Primary school children in England are subjected to more testing at an earlier age than many other Western countries, according to a study.

This is mainly due to a system uniquely “preoccupied” with national standards and accountability, it argues.

The Cambridge-based Primary Review’s report suggests starting school at the age of five may be too early and questions provision for the very young.


By comparing England’s curriculum and assessment policy with those in 22 other countries, including France, Norway, New Zealand and Japan, the authors found a “unique” system dominated by tests and league tables.

Kathy Hall from the National University of Ireland and Kamil Ozerk from the University of Oslo said in their report: “No other country appears to be so preoccupied with national standards – a preoccupation which is manifested not only in the aims and curriculum rationale but also in the structure of the curriculum and in the nature of the assessment system.

“It seems that England leads the emphasis on published league tables where individual schools are listed in relation to the aggregated attainments of their pupils, thus holding schools to account in a very public way.”

They found an education system with more external testing, which occurs more frequently, at a younger age and in more subjects than other countries.

‘Stressed’ four-year-olds

Another report looks at the age at which children start school in England – this is usually four, because of the growing practice of admitting children to school at the beginning of the year in which they become five.

The authors – Anna Riggall and Caroline Sharp, from the National Foundation for Educational Research, question whether four is too young.

The study said: “The assumption that an early school starting age is beneficial for children’s later attainment is not well supported in the research and therefore remains open to question.”

The authors note: “There has been a continuing concern about the quality and appropriateness of provision for four-year-olds in reception classes. It has been suggested that starting school at such a young age may be stressful for children.”

Recent research shows that the youngest summer-born children – those born in June, July and August – perform less well all the way through their education, and gain fewer good GCSEs.

Children in some Scandinavian countries, including Denmark and Finland, start school at the beginning of the year in which they become seven.

Primary review

Teachers say the findings show the shortcomings of a system driven by testing and league tables.

National Union of Teachers general secretary Steve Sinnott said: “Uniquely, England is a country where testing is used to police schools and control what is taught.

“I call on the government to initiate a full and independent review of the impact of the current testing system on schools and on children’s learning and to be prepared to dismantle a system which is long past its sell-by date.”