Pressure on children as well as teachers has been building up for years, but the new National Curriculum, established by Michael Gove, has tipped matters over the edge. Groups of parents have decided enough is enough, and are planning to withdraw their children from school on test days. Parents have got together to plan special events and learning days for primary children in over 20 locations. This is a protest at the start of the testing season designed to show opposition to the tests. The organisers hope parents will bring not only Year 2 and Year 6 children, but also others who are subject to tests in the future.
For more details of this growing movement, see Let Our Kids Be Kids.
The government cannot claim they weren’t warned. The three official subject experts for English, Maths and Science resigned in protest at Michael Gove’s failure to listen to their advice in June 2012. All the main teachers unions wrote to spell out their objections, as well as the National Association for Primary Education (NAPE), various subject organisations and many children’s authors. An open letter signed by 100 academics even hit the front page of the Independent and the Telegraph in March 2013.
The professional consensus was that the new curriculum set impossible targets for young children.
As the 100 academics letter argued:
It takes no account of children’s age and will place pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation.
Little account is taken of children’s potential interests or of the need for young children to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.
This was not a call to lower standards, but a clear reminder that children need time to develop and to learn with confidence. Young children come to understand symbols such as written words and numbers in conjunction with experience and activity. Trying to short-circuit this process by setting premature and unrealistic targets actually undermines long-term progress.
Michael Gove’s response was simply to heap abuse on those who tried to warn him. He called the 100 academics “enemies of promise” and accused them of being a conspiracy “hell-bent on destroying our schools”.
The current National Curriculum on which the SATs are based was put together by adding together the most advanced targets in the countries with the highest scores in global tests, and then bringing them forward by 1-3 years.
That is why all Year 1 children are now expected to understand apostrophes, and spell correctly the days of the week – think of Tuesday and Wednesday!
The list of spellings for Year 2 includes energy, adjust, gnaw, quantity, merriment, plentiful, national, improve, quite / quiet and there / their / they’re.
In Maths, Year 1 children are expected to add and subtract two-figure numbers up to 20, including zero; name cuboids, pyramids and spheres and recognise them from different angles; understand three-quarter turns and anti-clockwise.
In Year 2 they are expected to count in threes, compare numbers up to 100, count in fractions up to 10, write fractions 1/3, 1/4, 2/4 and 3/4 and distinguish quadrilaterals, cuboids and prisms.
Some children will be able to do these things confidently by the age of 7 and many won’t. It is hardly surprising if teachers are desperately trying to cram children through the tests, given that failure can cut their pay, put their jobs at risk and even lead to the school being inspected ready for take-over by an academy chain. It is no wonder if many children already see themselves as failures.