Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 05 Jul 2007

Surely there are better ways for schools to be accountable than with our tests and targets culture?

Hillary's Advice

This retiring head says his pupils don’t benefit from the current testing regime imposed on schools, and his teachers are run ragged by it. He is not alone. In fact, as education writer Warwick Mansell points out in a new book, Education by Numbers: The Tyranny of Testing, (Politco’s, £19.99), just about the only people who now support the “crude numbers-based accountability” that our children labour under at school are those handful of people in government who run it.

If you want to know why, this book tells you in grisly detail. It recounts the endless time wasted in detailed exam preparation, the thought-deadening ‘teaching to the test’, the disproportionate attention paid to borderline children, and the erratic marking that can leave teachers gob-smacked. (One school was astonished when a pupils was awarded the highest level possible in a Key Stage 3 English test for a Henry V-type speech which began ‘Leson up everyone this is the big day of your life! we have to win this match this is our chance to showing what we can do your mum, dad, your parent…they will all be proud, of yous…’

Mansell says if ministers are irrevocably wedded to hyper-accountability, they must start some serious damage limitation, with more qualitative school inspections and the scrapping of AS levels and Key Stage 3 tests. Better still, he says, would be radical change, with school sampling, enhanced inspections and more teacher assessment. This book is an informed and angry wake-up call that should definitely go home in Ed Balls’s first Ministerial bag.