Synopsis:

Testing has been part of education for centuries. Children used to sit in front of blackboards sitting maths and English tests. With that, some would argue ‘why fix something that isn’t broken?’

However, many educators of today are calling for a shake up to our age-old standardized testing system. They maintain that testing creates a toxic environment for not only children, but the whole family and that schools are just testing for testing’s sake. The other side of the argument is that testing is important for a child’s development, as well as ensuring that they are on track with the national curriculum.

“A national conversation on the state of testing in education is long overdue”

Darren Tye, National Operations Director of the UK’s biggest learning support provider, Exemplar Education, asks how can we rethink the way we present testing to children?

In recent years crucial national issues like our education system have taken a back seat while the war around Brexit rages on. Now they are once again starting to rise on the national agenda. In March, laying out a clear mission statement on education,  Jeremy Corbyn said he would scrap SATs if he got into power. The Labour Leader said the move would support both teacher retention and recruitment. Meanwhile, the government’s pledge to phase out SATs for 7-year-old children has added more fuel to the argument that tests are damaging for the mental wellbeing of the younger generation.

And yet, testing has been a fixture of the school day for centuries. Children of many different generations will vividly remember chanting times tables and having to participate in weekly spelling tests. With that, some would argue ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

Generations of children have successfully passed through an education system with a steadfast curriculum and exam structure – taking SATs, GCSEs and A Levels – and progressed into the working world with an acute and realistic understanding of how they must perform to deliver real results.

Arguably, it’s a system that works; ok not perfect, but, anecdotally the best we’ve got. However perhaps it’s this approach of indifferent acceptance that shuts down any hope of reimagining an alternative that meets the needs of 21st century pupils, teachers and families.

The reality is that the high-stakes pressure weighing heavily on teachers is largely due to the fact that many parents don’t know how to help their children succeed in a testing environment. From my experience at Exemplar Education, getting parents involved in their child’s education early on only has a positive effect on their learning.

The last five years have brought increased focus on mental health and the importance of self-care in everyday life. Many parents, teachers and media commentators are suggesting that testing is becoming too stressful for children alongside the other trials and tribulations of school – from navigating tricky friendships and complex social media interactions in addition to getting equipped for a hi-tech, AI focussed job market of the future.

The role of the teacher has evolved significantly from the classrooms of the past. The pressure on teachers is rising; from bigger classroom sizes to budget cuts, in addition to caring for an increasingly complex web of learning and holistic news. A sane and rational conversation is needed to address the status quo – can we step back from the media noise and take a different perspective to find a way which meets more needs for more people?

Ultimately, we need to achieve middle ground – a way for students to excel, whilst keeping the very foundation of our education system intact. While there are many arguments both for and against testing, the fact remains that calling time on tests altogether would destabilise a learning framework that has shaped the school day and our very understanding of what it means to be academically successful.