'Guinea Pig' Pupils Tested Too Much, Warns Union Leader

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'Guinea Pig' Pupils Tested Too Much, Warns Union Leader | Getty

"Guinea pig" pupils are tested too much and should not be labelled "substandard citizens" if they fail to meet the Government's definition of academic achievement, a union leader has warned.

Today's schoolchildren are made to feel like failures if their results or rankings are not considered up to scratch, according to Alison Sherratt, the new president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

She attacked the government's education policies, arguing that pupils are subjected to too much testing, a prescriptive curriculum and intense pressure to achieve certain targets.

Mrs Sherratt said that in the 1970s, when she began teaching, her first class of pupils was not made to sit formal assessments on a regular basis, "bombarded with phonics" or treated to daily doses of "'must do' curriculum in short meaningless bursts".

Instead, they took pride in producing quality work, had time to investigate topics, and knew that they would get the education and skills they needed for the future.

Mrs Sherratt compared these youngsters to those in her final class as teacher, who are at the start of their school careers, saying they have had to survive the tick-boxes of the early years curriculum, and been "guinea pigs" for the Government's reading check at age six.

"In Year 1 they have been teacher assessed, and have already been subjected to so many tests to see what the forecast will be for their Sats scores at the end of this year. Unfortunately these children are in school at a time when there are pressures from the Government for league tables, and data collection forced on the profession against all better judgments."

Mrs Sherratt went on to say: "Anyone who has studied, as I did, child development will have a greater understanding of what the present government are trying to force on the profession and, as a consequence, our children.

"They are following a path which ignores basic child development and, let's face it, not allowing children to be exactly that. Children! Not test machines and units of data to feed look good league tables.

"If they had looked at research to do with child development they would realise that to down-score a teacher because the children in the class had not achieved global league table standards is neither fair nor tenable.

"In my view, if a child begins school with very low attainment and works really hard, and to the very best of their ability, and achieves a higher score at the end of their time in school, is this failure? If a child does not reach the Government's notion of achievement, does this mean he or she has become a substandard citizen?

"Well, anyone who is made to feel they are a failure because of their ranking or test scores, from the early years profile onwards, risks continuing to feel a failure, and is likely to continue to fail."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "While exams are part and parcel of school life, education should not be an endless treadmill of revision and testing. That is why we are scrapping modules and January assessments to end constant exams and ensure pupils develop a real understanding of each subject.

"The new national curriculum is in fact far less prescriptive and has almost halved in size - 242 pages, down from 468 - allowing teachers to use their creativity to shape the curriculum to meet the needs of the pupils they know best.

"In addition we recently consulted on plans for a broader accountability system to look at how much progress all pupils make - not just those on the C/D borderline."

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