It’s really not been a good few weeks for the Education Department. It is already facing pressure after the controversial announcement that they intended to transform all existing schools into academies. This would have the effect of removing all these schools and their budgets from Local Authority control while still insisting the Authorities maintaining standards. As a large and vocal number of opponents on both sides of the political spectrum have pointed out, there is no proof that Academies are any better than Schools, especially with recent reports of poor Academy performance.
This week saw another embarrassing climbdown after an important spelling test due to be taken by thousands of seven year old children had to be abandoned when it was noticed that the test had been accidentally published online. The Key Stage One SATS assessment was due to be taken in May, along with maths and reading tests.
Instead, the test had been uploaded to the Standards and Testing Agency website back in January – it was only as it was used for practice runs for the exam this week that anyone recognised the questions and the test was hastily cancelled. An extensive internal enquiry has already been announced, and it is believed that the error came about from someone not following internal clearance procedures properly. The schools
There had already been fears that the tests would be used as part of school rankings as well as a test of pupils’ progress, and fierce criticism has been levelled in a number of areas over what has been seen as flawed and overly complicated grammatical rule advice. A number of people, including the former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, have taken the published advice to task for being overly complicated and for trying to reduce the English language to a tick box exercise that allows children to be categorised.
And here’s where a lot of the debate starts to get complicated – leaving aside matters of whether or not the Education Department and it’s associated Ministers can conform to the very standards that they are expecting seven year old children to conform to (hint: it appears not) – the whole focus on standards has people worried about the stifling of creativity at such a young age.
There’s no doubt that literacy levels in the UK need work. We’ve all lost track of the number of people bemoaning the ability of various students and colleagues when it comes to the English language. The problem seems to be that the UK Government is taking the same top-down cookie cutter approach to solutions in Education as it is in other areas – such as the National Health Service, or the narrative of austerity. It all smacks of “we have to be seen to be doing something, so we will impose this thing so that we can be seen to have done a thing and we can blame the problem on the previous administration.”
Unfortunately, it seems to most onlookers to be another case of an autocratic government trying to enforce an ideologically chosen solution on a situation and making the situation seem even more confused than it was before. This is a shame really because the general idea when it was first introduced in 2013 did seem to be a good thing – with the then Education Minister Elizabeth Truss saying that the tougher tests would mean that no one left school without being able to read or write or without a solid grounding in maths.
It’s just a pity that, yet again, the imposed methodology doesn’t seem to be measuring up to the ideal.