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Formal exams: are you in favour of Nick Gibb’s idea that children should do more tests?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by TES_Rosaline, Feb 12, 2018.

  1. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member

    One former headteacher and one headteacher give their opposing views about the schools minister’s controversial suggestion that children would benefit from more exams:

    'Yes to more tests: More formal exams will leave students feeling like they’ve done this before, and can do it again'

    ‘Why wouldn’t we ease children into the habit of low-stakes but “formal” exams, instead of dropping them in the deep end when the important ones come around? Headteachers and their teams aren’t sadists looking to make kids miserable by testing – they do it to help them when the time comes.

    Getting used to sitting in the big exam hall, learning to write quickly and under pressure, to manage time and to keep answers as concise and clear as possible – all of these vital exam skills and more can be developed through end-of-year exams or whatever. They can be done in an environment where it’s OK to make errors and learn from them, with minimal fuss. (Probably as much of the benefits to resilience will emerge from making mistakes as from successes.)’


    'No to more tests: We have created a world in which every formal examination has become a source of anxiety'

    ‘…I won’t sign up to Mr Gibb’s idea. As teachers have been saying since the advent of the national curriculum – to the despair of hawkish ministers – you don’t fatten a pig by constantly weighing it. Given the pressure on young people from so many directions, practice will not make exams perfect: nor will it render them innocuous.

    The adverse effects of frequent testing on young people’s mental health are evident to every teacher. We have created a world in which every formal examination has become an ordeal or a source of anxiety. Multiplying them will not somehow dilute that pressure. On the contrary, it is far more likely to ramp it up still further.’


    What are your views on this topic?
  2. Jolly_Roger1

    Jolly_Roger1 Star commenter

    If we have many more formal tests, when are we going to find the time to teach students anything that can be tested?
    bajan and chelsea2 like this.
  3. markuss

    markuss Occasional commenter

    The advent of the national curriculum was not meant to create a test culture. The NC assessment model was one of continuous teacher assessment through normal class work.

    NC levels were not written to be achieved through testing.
    chelsea2 likes this.
  4. Stiltskin

    Stiltskin Lead commenter

    I think in principle it makes sense, practising the skills to confidently do tests so when the high stake test occur they're ready for them.

    That said, the is little use for this skill apart from those tests. Perhaps we should be looking at how we're assessing students knowledge from a view to making it more relevant to what is needed in the workplace?
    SomethingWicked likes this.
  5. JohnJCazorla

    JohnJCazorla Star commenter

    I must have been in the wrong school (many times over). The tests I have to keep setting consists of 30 kids crammed into a regular classroom where the 'proper exam' principles of distance, time and facilities are a distant dream. Such proper test environments are saved for the Year 11s and their mocks.
  6. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    There is some truth in these comments, but there seems to be anecdotal evidence that for too many schools, these tests are not low stakes for the teachers delivering the courses and administering the tests, and that their anxiety is often communicated to the students.

    I suggest that there is NOT ONE mainstream school outside SM that is not already making its students churn through sufficient tests to prepare them enough for their formal exams.
    I suspect that if someone was to do a study of stress among teenagers they would find a positive correlation between the amount of internal testing and the levels of stress suffered by the students.
    I am now getting angry just before bedtime, because I think that Mr Gibbs is deliberately misrepresenting the true state of affairs in most schools. They do assess the children, they do give them formal tests, but he can't be bothered to admit that because it spoils his case for denying teachers a pay rise next year.
    JohnJCazorla likes this.

    SEBREGIS Senior commenter

    If we are going to fall back on yet more testing, should we not also beat the children every time they make a mistake? That's traditional and highly effective too.
    BetterNow and phlogiston like this.
  8. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    ..especially Billy Wriggle. If he continues to misbehave the conclusion is that you didn't beat him hard enough. As a low achiever, he also needs far more tests than other children to give him the message that he needs to work harder,:(
  9. moscowbore

    moscowbore Senior commenter

    Same old, same old. The answer is always more assessment, more testing, more interventions, more tracking ..... All bolleaux.
    How about we go back to one assessment per key stage, like in the original national curriculum?

    Get rid of flight paths, coloured pens and other educational snake oil.

    Get rid of all concept of "predicted" grades.

    Get rid of MATs, academies and other people who steal money which is meant to be used for the education of children.

    Trust teachers to go teach.
  10. SomethingWicked

    SomethingWicked Occasional commenter

    When I taught in Korea, kids had fairly formal tests at least weekly, if not daily. The difference is we could afford the time. Missing an hour of teaching time to do a mini-mock is fine in the context of a twelve hour school day. Missing an hour here though is about 20% of a student's learning opportunity gone.

    Our system is not set up to withstand the time commitment of such regular testing.
  11. Stiltskin

    Stiltskin Lead commenter

    I would say that a good professional teacher is quite capable of assessing students without the need for standardised testing. Tests are not a very efficient method of improving learning. They are very good at measuring learning if you do not trust the reliability of teachers though.
    JohnJCazorla likes this.
  12. Scintillant

    Scintillant Star commenter

    Repeated exposure to stress.

    Mmm.... sounds like a good idea.

    Has anyone ever noted any negative effects of this?
    Mrsmumbles likes this.

    SEBREGIS Senior commenter

    Yeah. You end up going into bloody teaching because you've been institutionalised!
    Stiltskin and JohnJCazorla like this.
  14. giotto

    giotto New commenter

    In 35 years of teaching in a grammar school setting, there were always twice yearly formal exams for every year group: at Christmas and at the end of the school year.
    Then, in the last 10-12 years of my teaching life (I left in June 2016) came the "Tracking" model. To start with we had formal tests 6 times a year (including the Christmas and June exams.) Exhausting! After several years of this and many protests from staff this was reduced to 5 and then 4. So school started at the beginning of September, ended on 30th June and there were Tracking tests just before the end of October half-term holiday, early December, late February and late May.
    In my experience there was hardly enough time to teach pupils anything test-worthy before you had to submit your test to senior management for "approval" in order for it to be accepted and tests printed in time for pupils to sit them. Then hours had to be spent creating a number from 1-4 for Behaviour, Effort, Homework and Organisation and all this data plus pupil percentage had to be logged onto the computer programme.

    Result of all of this: those pupils who were carefree, uninterested or disinterested in their schooling/any particular subject paid as little attention to the tests as they did to their usual homework and classwork but those pupils who were keen to do well put themselves under serious pressure and stressed themselves out. I well remember a 14 year old girl coming to me two days before a Tracking Test, full of concern about whether or not she needed to learn some really fine point of French grammar for the test. I took one look at her stressed face and frown lines, closed her book and said something like this: "Look, Jane, your work is excellent. You pay really good attention in class. Your homeworks are always handed in on time and done to the best of your ability. That's because you work consistently well all through the term. Even if you didn't revise another thing for Thursday's test you'll still do very well in it because you've got a very sound knowledge base as a result of your good work ethic. You need to relax. In the grand scheme of life this Tracking Test in your third year at Grammar school is of little or no importance. Please don't worry about it any more."

    In my opinion, more frequent testing causes more stress for those pupils who take it all seriously. In the first 20-25 years of my teaching career we, as class teachers, were trusted to give class tests during the term, as and when we felt a class needed them, without it all having to be formalised and recorded for data production, with reports sent home every time. And don't get me started on the "interventions" that were expected to follow the Tracking tests. We were supposed to follow up with the pupils in the year group who were in the bottom 10% of the year group. We were to work with them to get them moved up out of the bottom 10% by the next Tracking test. This meant that, if we were successful in this endeavour, some pupils who hadn't been in the bottom 10% in the previous tests were going to take their place in the next test.........and so the interventions would continue! Senior management didn't want to hear that ranking pupils in the year group from top to bottom meant that just under 50% of them had to be below average - you couldn't make it up! If only they could all be above average!

    Whoever said that you don't fatten a pig by weighing it was absolutely right. Teachers need time to teach without having to produce data to prove to others that they are, indeed, teaching!
  15. chelsea2

    chelsea2 Star commenter

    I worked in a school in Latin America a few years ago. Every couple of weeks there were tests (called 'quizzes'). They were pointless. Because they happened so frequently, the pupils didn't care, didn't revise, didn't bother in the tests. These experiences did the opposite of preparing children for more important tests.

    Familiarity breeds contempt is true in this case.
    Mrsmumbles likes this.
  16. bessiesmith

    bessiesmith Occasional commenter

    Giotto explains the point well. Formal tests, once or twice a year, in KS3 are good practice for GCSEs / A-levels. The problem comes with the micro-managing of both teachers and the results of these practice tests which creates a culture of stress and distorts the amount of attention these tests should attract.
    Mrsmumbles likes this.
  17. chelsea2

    chelsea2 Star commenter

    The thing is, teachers have always tested, as and when, as one of many ways of assessing progress and identifying issues for individuals & cohorts. The problem which has developed is the high stakes of the results, and how they are misused by school leaders, OFSTED and governments. More frequent formal testing will do nothing to alleviate that.
    Mrsmumbles likes this.
  18. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter


    Says it all really!
  19. bonxie

    bonxie Senior commenter

    Those suggesting that children should sit all these unnecessary tests should be forced to take the same tests live on air. It'd give them a clearer idea of the stress they're putting these children through
    Mrsmumbles likes this.
  20. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    My thoughts are that Gibbs is clearly now certifiable and that I’d do a better job than him after a night out in Newcastle on the brown ales and two hours of sleep.

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