Education: Time to Teach Clarke a Lesson

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Education minister Charles Clarke's idea of school life as a 'magical experience' is not one that many school students - or their teachers or parents - would recognise.

His vision of education as a narrow instruction in the needs of big business lies behind both his attack on 'irrelevant' medieval history and his obdurate defence of Standard Attainment Tests (Sats).

Today's students are forced to endure up to 87 public examinations in their school careers. This includes Sats at the ages of seven, 11 and 14. But a wealth of evidence shows that the tests provoke damaging stress for large numbers of them, and that the league tables they are designed to suit force teachers to focus on exam cramming to the detriment of music, sport, drama
and art.

They also place an added burden on already under-resourced schools, many of which are threatening teacher redundancies and the prospect of four-day weeks.

'Play' is an essential component of children discovering the world around them. But for Charles 'Gradgrind' Clarke it is a distraction from the task of business-orientated categorisation. It is no coincidence that fee-
paying schools are not compelled to sit Sats as state schools are.

Although Sats are dressed in the language of 'raising aspirations' of the poor, in practice they marginalise a layer of deprived children deemed failures from their first unsuccessful test. Of the quarter of students who fail to meet government targets at 11, only 10 percent go on to attain 5 A-Cs at GCSE.

In response to the tests and the workload they create, delegates to the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference voted to boycott Sats in an effort to get them scrapped. Although they have voted to do so before, and had the decision ignored by general secretary Doug MacAvoy, this year teachers look determined to carry the campaign forward. In the face of this Charles Clarke has conceded that Sats results for seven year olds will be considered alongside teachers' assessments. But more pressure will be needed to scrap these damaging tests entirely.