Last week Nick Clegg unveiled plans to test children's academic ability from the tender age of four years old in an attempt to create a baseline that their individual progress can be measured against. Coupled with the idea to rank 11-year-olds on a national scale, where they will be listed against their peers across the country, the Government is putting yet more pressure on our children in a world where tests are flooding the curriculum and the real focus needs to be on encouraging them to enjoy learning and supporting their development over time.
Children as young as four quite simply shouldn't be subject to high pressure tests. It not necessary and there are much better, less anxiety-inducing ways of achieving Clegg's goals. Teachers are able to very quickly assess a child's natural strengths and weakness through regular observation of activities where children are completing a variety of tasks.
Tests place early pressure on a child who will feel they have to get everything right first time. For many children this knocks self-esteem and confidence. You can find out what children know through much more creative and engaging means that the children will also enjoy. Children need to learn in a positive, nurturing environment where they feel comfortable to try things out, give it a go, and not be afraid to get it wrong.
More tests and league tables for 11-year-olds will only fuel the low confidence epidemic sweeping UK children. Poor confidence is already a massive issue for children today. The University of Reading recently undertook some research to find out exactly why parents bring their children along to our tuition centres, Explore Learning.
Surprising to all, the main reason was to improve children's confidence - followed by the need to address an identified problem in maths or English. This shows that parents are already worried that their children are lacking in confidence, too afraid to put their hands up in class, and worried they are not doing as well as they should be. Surely, by testing further and putting even more strain on children this is only going to have a negative impact.
The Government needs to seriously think about the impact these league tables and tests will have on our children. It is true that children regularly have no idea whether they are on the right track. Self awareness and ambition are powerful elements in effective learning, however, ranking pupils against each other does not achieve this goal. Knowing that you are better or not than your peers does not help you to see the steps you need to take to achieve your goal.
What is beneficial is to have personalised, achievable learning goals - for a child to understand where they are currently and the steps they can take to reach the next level. It doesn't matter if that level is ahead or behind other pupils; it is about providing pupils with a constant sense of growth, achievement and development. Someone in the bottom 10% at the age of 11 is going to feel so overwhelmed by this huge task of catching up that they may lose sight of the steps they can take and give up all together.
Nick Clegg himself has a four year old so knows firsthand just how young that is to be putting pressure on children. However, he insists that he's not creating an 'exam sausage factory' - a strange way of putting it for sure, but I hope he's right.