Tests don’t hold all the answers

Daniel Mann

Image © Mackius

A-levels, GCSEs, GCEs, Highers, Standard Grades, 11-plus, and SATs. Comprehensives, key stages, and grammars. Sixth form, primary, secondary, and reception. What does it all mean, what is the point, and most importantly, why do several acronyms and how one performs on them determine the course of one’s life?

Each of the acronyms above represent either a standardized test itself, or something that is determined by standardized test. A-levels are often the sole factor where one goes to university, GCSEs the sole factor in determining if and where one goes to sixth form, and in several places, one test an the early age of eleven years old determines the outcome of two more standardized tests by determining the quality of education that one receives.

Ostensibly, the purpose of standardized testing is to determine what educational stream a child should be put into, as well as determining how successful he or she is likely to be. The issue that arises here is one of educational diversity. No two people are exactly alike and, as such, no two people learn in the same way. Some are excellent in a testing situation while others perform better in a practical assessment than an exam. Education and testing is an issue which the Labour Party has historically been indecisive on, having overseen the implementation of the Tripartite System – whose sole determinant was the 11 plus to making plans to eliminate state grammar schools.

In opposition, it is incumbent upon the Labour Party to set out a clear, concise and workable education manifesto, especially having seen the effects of such Coalition-driven legislation such as the Academies Bill. The answer is not to do away with standardized testing in its entirety, but it is not practical nor is it fair to put an emphasis on testing above all else and also to attempt to stream children at the age of 11 as is done in several local authorities with, in many cases, no chance for reassessment at a later age.

One of the main reasons behind the lack of coherence to the UK education system is the fact that it developed asynchronously. As a result of the myriad of changes which successive governments have implemented, from the partial abolition of the Tripartite System to the introduction of the Academies Bill, it has also never been allowed to fully adjust to changing structural and societal demands.

Ultimately, it should not matter whether a student attends a faith school, a community school or a voluntary aided school. Every student should have the equality of opportunity that in many cases is available now to those who pass one standardized test at the age of 11. The answer is not necessarily to do away with streaming but to move from a system of one-time upwards streaming to one which is fluid and provides linear movement not only at multiple times but also determined through multiple means.


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