League Tables Damned by Major UK Report

Friday October 23, 2009

Just as Australia is introducing reporting of school test results and the inevitable league tables that will follow, a major review of the primary curriculum in England has issued damning conclusions on the impact of standardized tests and league tables.

The Cambridge Primary Review released last week says that the testing and reporting of school results in English and maths has distorted children’s learning and eroded their entitlement to a broad education. It says that 10 and 11-year-olds spend around half their time in the classroom studying English and maths and this has “squeezed out” other subjects from the curriculum.

The Review recommends that the English and maths tests be replaced and that league tables that report school performance on these tests be axed as well.

The Review’s 608-page final report is the most comprehensive review of primary education in England in 40 years. It is based 4,000 published reports and 1,000 submissions from around the world. It makes 78 recommendations for reforming the English system of primary education.

The Review says that the current focus on passing exams and hitting targets at a young age was “even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools”. It claims that the existing system caused significant “collateral damage” as children were drilled to pass exams, marginalising other subjects such as history, geography, art and science which have been “squeezed out” of the curriculum. The study said:

The prospect of testing, especially high-stakes testing undertaken in the public arena, forces teachers, pupils and parents to concentrate their attention on those areas of learning to be tested, too often to the exclusion of other activities of considerable educational importance.

As children move through the primary phase, their statutory entitlement to a broad and balanced education is increasingly but needlessly compromised by a ‘standards’ agenda which combines high-stakes testing and the national strategies’ exclusive focus on literacy and numeracy.

The head of the Review, Professor Robin Alexander, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that primary education should amount to much more than basic literacy and numeracy, supremely important though these are. He said claims that tests in those areas can serve as a proxy for the rest of a child’s education are both wrong and misleading to parents.

The report proposes that the tests be replaced by a system of less formal teacher assessment throughout primary school which could be externally moderated. A random sample of children could then take place at age 11 to gauge national performance in all subjects.

Information on the Cambridge Primary Review is available at this link

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