The over-testing of children in the UK… or soon to be.

I read this with interest, as I was schooled in Singapore’s education system in the 80s and 90s and even in those days, kids in school usually had 2 annual examination periods every year of their school life starting from Primary 1 (7 years old). One would be in June and one in December – to coincide with the end of 2 semesters. In SIngapore, the school year starts in January and ends in December. A child can be held back a year if they flunk these exams.

The UK has often been seen as a bastion of holistic primary school teaching and a more rounded, happier, more stress-free childhood for the younger children. Well, to Singaporeans anyway. Many Singaporeans I know who are stationed in the UK as expats say the benefits of the UK system are that it is less stressful than Singapore’s. Many Singaporeans think their education system is … well… the word would be “draconian”. And this is the case, because if you don’t have twice-yearly exams with the threat of being held back to contend with, each year of your life from the age of 7, then that is something to be applauded. The final Primary School exam all Singaporean students have to take are the PSLE exams, taken at the end of Primary 6, their last year of primary school. The PSLE exams serve as the means to gain entry into schools based on merit. So if a child wanted to go to a selective school – the equivalent of Grammar School here – then he/she would have to score enough marks on the PSLE to be accepted. Even normal state schools differ in the points criteria they have, so you get differing levels of standards across normal state schools. Quite right.

Let’s not try to pretend that all schools are similar in terms of academic focus and standard, or output. Even in the UK where attempts have been made to make state schools more similar in order to stop more parents from picking and choosing particular schools for academic focus and results – it has not succeeded in eradicating the differences between the academic focus and output of each school. Now this surprises me though.

As the article implies, schools are going to make kids resit SATS if they fail them. This to me seems to be really contradictory to what SATS were developed for. SATS were developed to assess each state school’s ability to teach their students. They were always intended for school use, not really for the parents, although it seems that some parents are concerned about which levels their kids were assessed to be at – lower levels being a cause of concern for some. There is a very exam-like nature to the SATS tests. I had my kids try them out before on the advice of a home education course provider, so I could place my kids on the right level of course for them. Past SATS tests can be easily Googled and downloaded online, so try them out if you want to see how they’re conducted. Some of the papers require a child to be seated for around an hour answering exam-style papers.

Why am I surprised? Because already in UK state schools, children undergo a lot more testing when they reach secondary school age. If they want to get into a selective school, they’d usually have to attend an entrance examination that will take a few hours to do on a Saturday or such-like. If they get into a “normal” state school, the schools test them again anyway, just to assess their academic level in order to place them into groups/classes based on ability. I think all this testing done is quite redundant. Just one test will do, if the country is headed towards the sort of system in Asia where the primary school leaving exams are the ones that make or break your next 4 years of school. Either scrap SATS or scrap entrance exams and internal assessments when kids start normal state secondaries. Anyway I feel this is quite sad as it kind of marks the end of a school system revered by those from Draconian education systems like Singaporeans…. what difference does this make?



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