Difficult not to laugh at the moment at the DfE’s language. This morning, ahead of the NAHT’s annual conference (oh, how I wish they were more militant!) they issued a statement condemning the year-long chaos that has been the English schools assessment system. This is Russell Hobby’s take on it:

Testing has a role to play in the assessment of children, but the poorly designed tests and last minute changes we have seen this year do not add value to teaching. Increasingly, parents and teachers agree that high-stakes statutory tests like SATs can actually make it harder to find out what children are really learning and to improve their education.

In woeful reply, this is what the DfE said, when asked for a comment by the BBC:

Parents rightly expect their children to leave primary school having mastered the basics of literacy and numeracy, and that is why we have tests at the end of Key Stage 2. A high-quality education in English – and the ability to communicate effectively – is an important part of the government’s commitment to extend opportunity to all.

As an exercise in missing the point, this reply can hardly be bettered. Well done, anonymous spokesperson. But as a non-sequitur of car-crash proportions, it is in a rarely-visited league all of its own:

  • Proposition 1: parents expect children to leave primary school having mastered the basics of literacy and numeracy
  • Deduction from Proposition 1: that is why we have tests.

Of course it is! How could I be so thick? Perhaps I have just misheard and there is a missing step:

  • Proposition 1: parents expect children to leave primary school having mastered the basics of literacy and numeracy
  • Deduction: the only way we can tell if children have mastered anything is by having tests in it.
  • Deduction: that is why we have tests.

Perhaps it really is that simple. But maybe not. Maybe there are some other things going on here:

  • Proposition 1: parents expect children to leave primary school having mastered the basics of literacy and numeracy
  • Proposition 2: parents can only understand progress if we tell them what progress is in simple words like “pass” or “fail”, “met the expected standard” or “not yet met the expected standard”
  • Deduction from P1 and P2: the only way we can think of meeting this parental need is by having tests.
  • Deduction: that is why we have tests.

Or even:

  • Proposition 1: parents expect children to leave primary school having mastered the basics of literacy and numeracy
  • Proposition 2: we are a struggling government trying to bring about reform so we can catch up in educational performance with Finland and Holland without having to worry unduly about social equity (which we can’t fix because we are Tories and social equity is something we break rather than fix)
  • Proposition 3: we want a legacy, oh please, a legacy, like Mrs T had! We’d give anything for a legacy! Schools are easy pickings and not as complicated as the NHS! A legacy!!! Please!!!
  • Deduction from P3: we need schools to fail so that we can change them so we have something to show for all that money we spent/lost/wasted (delete as applicable) since 2010.
  • Deduction from P2 and P4: We must control everything we can change. We can change schools, but to make it easier we need to remove democratic accountability and give ourselves the powers to rule from our offices.
  • Deduction from P2 and P4: this is easier when schools fail.
  • Deduction: that is why we have tests.

I don’t for a minute imagine that this is what actually is going on. It is only what it seems like, so I daresay somebody is thinking it.

Simon Jenkins in today’s Guardian has written an excellent piece on the control issue. It begins:

There is only one purpose in the government’s chaotic regime for primary school testing. It is control. No wonder headteachers are up in arms.

Again, this is all about what it feels like. Jenkins goes on: “The point was the obsession of the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, with reforming school government, and with the targets, measurements and league tables needed to justify it politically” He describes the academisation agenda as the greatest centralisation of schooling in England since the 1860s, and compares it to giving the Royal Navy into the management of a cross channel ferry service.

I am not sure if this is the end goal for the government – I think that the desire to lord it over schools is such a deep desire that they take any cogent argument erected against them as a personal insult. And this is not a government that takes kindly to insults.

(Although, to be absolutely fair, they are not as paranoid as the people in charge of Chicago Public Schools and their treatment of this principal who dared to challenge them. Again, thanks to Diane for this snippet.)

Nicky Morgan is due to speak at the NAHT conference tomorrow. Nice of her to work a Saturday morning. Susan Young has penned this piece for the NAHT (you might have to log in if you are a member to see it) following a Q and A session with the minister. She addresses the issues of legacy, of control and of the reliance on anecdotal evidence used by NM in her defence of the indefensible. All of this hopefully will be torn to shreds by the questioning offered by my massively angry but not quite militant enough colleagues.


About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

One response »

  1. Caroline says:

    Sometime you give the Government too much credit!

    It is so much more simple – something like “there is a rebellion against converting schools into academies therefore we need to prove the failure of the current system, let’s make a lot of children fail under the current system so we can force through these rubbish ideas,” maybe

    And / or “the current education has been so poor for years the only language parents can possibly understand is pass / fail, but under the new system we will increase education so that the future generations are able to understand proper methods, at which point some successive Govt can interfere with education again and introduce yet another new system!”

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