21st June 2018

Elizabeth’s story: children are not data

I am a parent with three children, aged 10, 7 and 5. I first became aware that England has a terrible obsession with testing children when my middle child, Henry, sat the government’s ‘Baseline’ test in September 2015. To my horror, I learned that within 10 hours of school, Henry had been assessed, labelled, ranked, scored and placed in the lowest of five within-class “ability” groups because he didn’t have an understanding of phonics and didn’t yet know how to write his name. I then learned that the results of this test would be used to project his SATs performance seven years later. He was four years old.

All three of my children learn differently and have different strengths and weaknesses, but they all have the same unlimited potential to succeed. One of my children absorbs lessons and memorises facts very easily. I have another who ticked all of the boxes when she started school this year and will undoubtedly be privileged through the system for fitting inside the ‘one-size-fits-all’ box. Then we have Henry, who is extremely creative, imaginative, has enviable social skills and learns through doing. He’s my square peg, and none of the things he excels at are assessed or valued because they can’t be easily tested and turned into data.

It is clear the Government loves data. They love measuring progress and proclaiming their success in churning out more and more children with top SATs results year after year. This is the first priority when assessing children aged four through to eleven, but there’s one enormous problem: children are not data.

SATs are currently looming for my eldest child – the one with the great memory. He won’t be assessed on his ability to write beautifully or think critically. Instead, he’ll be assessed on how well he’s retained the facts his teachers have been forced to drill into him. The government thinks recognising a fronted adverbial in a sentence is of more importance than thinking critically. Is it any wonder that the UK ranks top in “low-value” learning?


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