The wrong way to protest about exams

Most secondary school teachers I know came to loathe the GCSE controlled assessments which were introduced under the previous government. They were brought in with the best intentions. Unlike coursework completed at home, controlled assessment write up would have to be done in school, so it would be impossible for Mum and Dad to write it up. Teachers were given a good deal of choice as to the controlled assessment topics and could therefore tailor the controlled assessment to areas where they had a special interest.

As we know, they became a bureaucratic nightmare of portfolio collating, form filling, signature collecting and rigid rules and regulations about what exactly was permitted and not permitted. All of this administrative stuff had to be explained and re-explained to pupils, which took up lesson time. There were arguments when teachers refused to accept work which had obviously been done by someone else and memorized by the pupil. Further lesson time was taken up when pupils did extra controlled assessments to make up for poor grades in the first one. Teachers protested and the government listened. Controlled assessments are on the way out and GCSE exams are being made administratively simpler, albeit academically more challenging.

From what I have read, many of the arguments used by some teachers and parents against SATs seem to be along the lines that the preparation needed for them deprives children of “their childhood”, that their time would be better spent outdoors dipping sticks in ponds or engaging in creative play. Such arguments will cut little ice with  politicians who remember what happened  back in the 1970s and 1980s, when schools had almost no accountability. The scandal of William Tyndale Primary is etched on the collective memory of politicians, even if it was 40 years ago. I would suggest that, if we as teachers want to argue against exams ( I personally wouldn’t), we need to do it from the perspective that the time spent teaching children exam technique, rubrics and success criteria, followed by mocks, is time that would be better spent engaging with the academic content of a subject. In other words, time would be freed up to look at English and maths in greater depth. Arguing that instead of doing SATS,  children should be having fun and learning through play simply raises the suspicion among ministers that, if  schools were left to their own devices, very little academic work would take place.

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