I know that this may seem like re-heating old toast but please bear with me. Coming up in May are the tests for Year 6 pupils in spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary and probably, handwriting. I think these are seriously misguided and that there is absolutely no evidence to justify bringing them in. That's to say, there is no evidence that doing the tests or teaching what's required by the tests will improve children's writing. There is however, reams and reams of evidence from all over the world to show that sustained reading for pleasure, involving children choosing what they want to read, does in fact improve writing. I've cited some of it on this blog. (I also have some interesting anecdotal evidence from a casual 'test' that I did with my daughter, which I will write up soon.)
So, how does a major educational innovation like this happen? Where does it come from?
I've been doing some digging on the Department for Education website and as far as I can make out, it seems to arise more as an outburst than a sustained piece of reasoning and it's to be found at the heart of a report that wasn't set up to think about these things in the first place!
Lord Bew's Review was primarily supposed to be looking at the question of assessment and accountability for Year 6 pupils (though I see in the small print at the bottom in its terms of reference it could also consider matters related to the curriculum. You can check all this out on the DfE website.) The commission set up to review course content was the Curriculum Review with Mary James, Andrew Pollard, Dylan Wiliam and Nick Oates. As we know, that broke up in disarray when Pollard and James resigned. However, prior to all that, Lord Bew had pronounced: first in a 'Progress Report' (April 2011) and then in a 'Final Report' (June 2011).
In the Progress Report, Bew et al spend most of the time talking about assessment and accountability, presenting reams of research and evidence. Then towards the end they made a pronouncement about writing, given with absolutely no evidence. At this stage in April, they make no mention of a test in spelling, punctuation, grammar etc. Then the Final Report came out three months later and there they recommend exactly this test.
My question is - and I have no answer - where did the idea for this test come from? How come Lord Bew et al made it? Why wasn't it in the Progress Report? How come they could make this recommendation without the same kind of evidence that he furnishes re assessment and accountability? And, mea culpa, why or how didn't I notice any of this before?
Someone reading this - I'm sure you did spot it, you do know how it arose, you could tell me, but you're worried about losing your job etc etc.
However, if you want to spill the beans, and want to do so anonymously, you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org under any pseudonym you like.
Of course, Lord Bew and the rest of the committee must know, including none other than Ruth Miskin - she who has benefited financially from being government adviser on education whilst being the writer of one of the initial reading schemes that receives direct government funding. But surely the SPAG test couldn't have come directly from her? And surely she can't have devised some materials which will exactly fit the SPAG test and which schools will be buying in their thousands? Surely not. That's cleared that up, then.