'Just weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it’ is one saying that can lead to a very heated discussion in educational circles. The suggestion is that frequent testing does not necessarily lead to improved performance. In recent years, schools have been required to test at certain times of a pupil’s school life and the purpose has been to inform on pupil progress and assess the quality of teaching given in each school. Those in favour of more assessment believe that this is an important tool in keeping schools on their toes and meeting the expectations of the service user (basically the parents). Those against it feel it just leads to more teaching directed to pass exams and less attention to activities that put the subject into a real-life context, or that allow students to investigate areas that are off the main core syllabus and stimulate original thought.
We have gone from very little statutory testing to more and more of it and this has inevitably led to a swing back to a mid-position. Now, the Key Stage 3 SATs are no more, and Key Stage 2 may follow the same way. At the same time, we now hear of plans to ban the use of calculators by 11-year-olds in tests and tougher tests for trainee teachers. Controversy continues to be attracted to the GCSE and GCE ‘A level’ examinations, leading to a more demanding concept of linear exams (with modules no longer considered to be a rigorous enough approach) being adopted or at least recommended. This can be contrasted with current ideas like Slow Teaching that are surfacing in the USA, which are a reaction to the production-line style of teaching to the exam. In the midst of this ever-changing framework, somehow, teachers carry on teaching and students continue to learn but are we achieving the best use of scarcer resources?
Ofsted has continued to be an important feature of how schools organise themselves, monitor pupil progress and aim to achieve better student qualifications. Of course, this is an organisation that is like Marmite – you love it or hate it. It also has changed with time and, having achieved some successes, it is taking a lighter touch in school inspections. Added to the mix are the new academies and free schools, offering more freedom to tailor the content and style of teaching to local preferences. Clearly, it would be confusing to have every school doing its own thing and some overall uniformity is desirable – as has been provided up to now by the National Curriculum.
The Performance Tables have been produced by the Department for Education since 1994 and have provided challenge, bitterness and anxiety during much of this time. There are many supporters and also those who think they have been a bad thing. With time, the use of bald statistics on exam grades and pass levels is being seen as only part of the equation; parents are becoming more knowledgeable consumers in using data and taking other factors into account in their choice of, and satisfaction with, schools.
So what can be done to help parents prepare for likely changes in education from here on? Teachers are professionals and will always be acting with the best interests of their students in mind. Parents are vital participants in achieving the best outcome for their children and should be supportive but questioning partners in the process. So, while change may seem inconvenient and sometimes threatening, it is also inevitable.
LearnersCloud GCSE Resources
LearnersCloud are an online GCSE resource; students get access to comprehensive tutor-led videos that complement the material they learn in-class. Learners watch easy-to-follow clips related to their exam board and answer end-of-topic questions, in this way they can prepare for lessons or revise for their exams to ensure they get the GCSE results they need.
LearnersCloud video streaming and exam question apps are free to download, simply search ‘LearnersCloud’ in your app store.