The government's response is entirely predictable, only accepting the findings of 'independent experts' who produce favourable reports:
But the Government rejected the findings. Lord Adonis, the schools minister, said: "In recent years there have been unambiguous rises in results using standardised tests.
It is only since National Curriculum tests were introduced that there is a solid basis of evidence showing improvement on a consistent basis. These improvements have been validated many times by independent experts." (from Daily Telegraph report 2 Nov.)
Lord Adonis ignores the fact that the Cambridge Primary Review is independent and that its findings echo the concerns of teachers and parents throughout England.
Here are some observations from my years in the education advisory service, where I worked with teachers, pupils and parents in schools and in the home environment:
- While the introduction of the National Curriculum resulted in improved standards in some failing schools, I saw an increasing emphasis on core subjects and teacher-led lessons
- Young children learn best through experience, observation and experimentation. I found that nature walks, collecting items for the science table, play, practical sessions where children try for themselves and talk about what worked and what failed were squeezed out of the timetable because of the amount of time needed for the Literacy and Numeracy strategies. Six year-olds could tell me about prepositions and participles but couldn't describe the wonder of frogspawn and tadpoles.
- Of the 67 schools on my 'patch' there were about ten which took great pride in being among the highest scoring schools in the country on SATS. I could visit these schools on any day and find every class working towards SATS tests, whether they were in a test year or not. The pupils could tell me exactly what level they were on and how much work they would have to do to improve. Year 6 pupils would be given extra lessons to practise on past papers in test conditions.
Talking with pupils and parents revealed that children felt they were under constant pressure to do well and not to let the school down. The SATS rivalry among some parents was just as bad as that among the ballet and sports team parents.
- Some parents reported children having headaches and sleepless nights because of tests.
- I was under pressure from the heads of these particular schools to advise the removal of children with special educational needs on the grounds that the school could not meet those needs - what they really meant was that these children would bring down their SATS average.
- On the whole, the children in schools where SATS were not taken too seriously were happier and, in my opinion, receiving a richer and more varied education.
- There is no evidence that general standards in the basic skills have improved since the introduction of the national programmes and incentives.
I did not put my own children through the state system; they attended an independent school which does not follow the National Curriculum. They and their peers are well-educated, well-adjusted, hard-working and happy members of society. You might say they would have turned out that way whatever school they had attended because they had caring, involved parents. I would answer PRECISELY! Good education requires the effective co-operation of the school and the parents.
Independent schools do not necessariliy have the best teachers or resources. I have met hundreds of brilliant teachers in the state sector and I have seen resources there that some independent schools would love to have. The difference in the quality of education lies in that word 'independent' - in this case independent of government interference and popular trends. Those schools know what works and they also know that they have the support and co-operation of parents.
My advice to Lord Adonis? Forget your multi-million pound experiments in our children's lives; listen to teachers; listen to parents; advise your colleagues in government to make it possible for parents to be more involved in their children's lives in the early years.