Michael Wilshaw makes one small step for a man and one giant assumption for education, again.


Michael Wilshaw makes one small step for a man and one giant assumption for education, again.

“Indeed, it is a national scandal that the 28 percentage point gap between FSM and non-FSM pupils at age 16 has barely shifted in 10 years. I believe that one of the principal reasons for this gap at secondary school is the absence of any formal testing between the ages of 11 and 16. “ http://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/hmcis-monthly-commentary-june-2016

Michael Wilshaw’s monthly commentary lambasts the slow progress of the light bulb (brightest) children within our schools. In particular, those in non- selective secondary schools. The success of primary schools is not sustained, with many students failing to achieve the progress that they should. As evidence he cites the primary sectors performance over the last few years, which has had greater impact at narrowing the gap, and concludes that this is due to reintroduction of testing

Let us explore primary testing.

Any teacher who is teaching a light bulb student will know, by the time the phonic screening testing come around. Teachers are asking students to ignore their learning. Imagine the conversation with our light bulb students’. “Yes, you know that phonics only works to begin with, and there are many exceptions to this rule, but for the purpose of the screening test, can you revert back to reading this sound as it appears phonically. Not as you now know it should sound.?” How this improves their learning is beyond me. Apart from beginning early to teach pupils, that tests are about hoop jumping, and nothing to do with assessment of capacity to think, and apply in real contexts. With this system of education, perhaps that is what they need. Seven- year old testing is not, thank goodness directly linked to the phonics screening. Therefore, it gives us results, but does not measure any progress from entry. It can’t, the divide between summer birthdays and winter is still so substantial. A light bulb child born in Summer can be hidden as age related in their test results.

The evidence of success and narrowing the gap, that he is referring to is related to the eleven- year old assessment. This evidence for success occurred at a time when primaries have had a period at eleven where teacher assessment increased. With the written English paper returned to teacher assessment and the Science tests abolished. The progress he quotes, is predicated on the release and freedom from testing! As an aside the low uptake of academy conversions in primary, may also have proved a contributing factor in their success story, as the conversion is now documented as reeking, havoc to many schools.

Yet low and behold, the man that believes inspection is school development, labelling is school improvement and testing is the panacea to all education woes. Concludes that it is the lack of testing at this age, eleven to sixteen is leading to the failure of our most talented primary students progressing, and the constant failure of the gap between those that have and those that don’t, stubbornly refusing to go away.

We could look at this in reverse, at the same time as Primary schools were being released from much of the external tests that underpin our progress measure. Secondary schools were experiencing the complete opposite: an explosion of expectation and external testing, a reduction in coursework, extinction in many subjects and unprecedented grade hikes. Could you we just as easily (but like Mr Wilshaw without any substantive evidence) conclude that the last thing we need is more exams?

Did I miss a trick with the abolition of levels? Were we signing up to producing and education system that believes the only method of assessment is an external test? That more than this, testing, is the method of improving learning and supporting progress? That this summative hoop jumping, supports all students to achieve? Where is the evidence? Is this really the education system that we want to create for our children?

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