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Headmaster's Blog

2018-06-08

At this time of year there is often much in the press regarding the testing of children.  Having a 15 year old in the house in the middle of GCSEs I can certainly tell you that this has been a subject right at the front of my mind for the past few months.  

Michael Rosen’s article in the Telegraph of 18th April discusses how state schools are failing their pupils by over testing them and suggests that the Government’s plans to introduce baseline literacy and numeracy tests for four year olds is barmy (his words, not mine).

I actually do believe in testing but, crucially, absolutely don’t believe in teaching to tests.  As soon as you do this you limit the curriculum to a narrow band of ‘testable’ outcomes and restrict the opportunities for children to explore a full range of physical, mental and artistic activities which helps them to develop their minds, bodies, co-ordination and creative potential.

To my way of thinking, this has been the biggest failure of SATs in England.  In principle, it is a great help to the teacher to know where a pupil is on their journey...it allows them to identify gaps and tailor the next steps in the learning process.  However, as soon as you put the data into league tables and set targets and use it as a basis for evaluation of an individual school, you force schools to spend months preparing pupils for the test and then this squeezes out all the things that matter (like a long and lively discussion of miserliness after reading A Christmas Carol).  

So, in my experience, the great advantage we have as an independent school is not that we don’t have to do the tests (we have voluntarily chosen to do them each September) but rather that we can opt out of the league tables and so can use the data for the intended purpose, that of improving our understanding of our children's abilities and then fine tuning the next steps to allow them to make progress.

John F Gilmour
Headmaster

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