Sunday 24 April 2016

The test-crazy regime is based on treating our children as if they are machines.

This is about the teach-test regime where the tests are used to measure schools and not to help teachers to teach and children to learn. It's the input-output method (or theory) of measuring schools and it comes from technology, business and some science.

The input-output model of measuring performance works on the basis of measuring output as a way of measuring how good the input is.

Imagine, for example, a racing car test on petrol. In a test, you could change nothing apart from the type of petrol : same, car, same driver, same pressure on the accelerator, same amount of lubrication, same wear on the tyres but in one run you use one kind of petrol, in the next run you use another kind of petrol (same amount in the tank, each time), same weather, same track, same route. In these circumstances, you could measure the difference in performance and draw conclusions about which petrol is better.

The measure of performance would measure the input.

What is going on in education is based on this principle.

So, the Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation tests for Years 2 and 6, were brought in specifically because it was claimed that they give right and wrong answers. This means that on the basis of the performance of the children in these tests, the relative worth of the 'input' (ie teachers' teaching) could be measured. It's the input-output model.

So, why shouldn't we use this method?

One reason is because the output (the tests themselves) are unreliable. There are too many ambiguous features in the tests. Multiple choice can be done without any reference to knowledge (stick a pin in and you get a one in four chance of being right). Some things that are being marked as wrong, are in fact right.

The other reason - more importantly is that children are not cars. They are not machines. This is an argument about education itself.

We have to ask ourselves, what kind of person do we want to develop and grow within education? If we want children to be responsive, thinking, interpreting, inventive,  flexible people aware that what they say and do can affect materials, language and other people around them, then we shouldn't treat them as if they are empty receptacles waiting to be filled up and measured.

We will want them to express choice in what and how to learn; express ideas that can change things around them, things that they meet. We will want them to learn how to discuss things, to swap ideas between adults and children around them. We will want them to learn how to question things.

These are not add-on skills. They are not add-ons that you stick on in the sixth form or at college or in adult life. They can be part of how we enable children to investigate, choose and discuss.

Needless to say, this is much harder to measure in ways that the government wants. But if the way the government wants to measure teachers and schools is against the interests of our children, we should say so. If we think this input-output method is constraining our children's growth as thinking, choosing, reflecting, inventing, developing people, we should say so.

I think we can say that we reject the 'Top Gear' way of treating our children.