Culture of tests 'stifling' joy of learning 

Will Woodward, education editor
Thursday April 17, 2003

From the Newspaper, The Guardian

Children are being railroaded into a testing culture that squeezes out the joy of learning and turns schools into "factories", a leading teaching union warned yesterday.

Delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, in Blackpool, assailed the government's teaching regime for England, condemning national tests for children aged seven, 11 and 14, the number of exams for the A-level curriculum, and the pressures on children aged three to five that could make pupils feel like a failure.

Michael Moore, the association's president, said the "straitjacket of education" was "being doled out by robotic teachers day in and day out".

The union's conference slogan this year is "teaching to learn". Mr Moore said: "Too may children... are turned off learning because they are fed up with what they see as a boring curriculum diet that has little choice and less relevance to their lives. No wonder they start to misbehave.

"What sort of education system do we have if we brand children as failures by the time they are 11, or worse, seven? What sort of morality is it to force on young children an impoverished curriculum diet just to help politicians meet targets and keep the Treasury happy? What difference does it really make to a child's life if he or she achieves [certain levels] aged 11? Will it really make them a better person, a genuinely enriched human being with a passion for learning? Of course it won't."

Some delegates praised the foundation-stage curriculum, but said teachers were being pressured to prepare seven-year-olds for key stage tests.

Avril Brown, a teacher at Grange community infants school in Swindon, Wiltshire, called for compulsory schooling to start at six to allow more time to learn through play. She said children who did not do well became unhappy and in some cases violent. "SATS [tests] get introduced too much, too often and too soon... I have a timetable for six-year-olds that has history, PE, geography and science."

Julia Neal, a member of the association, said reading for pleasure had been squeezed out by the relentless tests.

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "Assessment is vital to ensure continued improvements in learning and teaching."