• Schools

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    20 May 2016

    It is the stuff of nightmares. The MP in the recording studio – coffee flowing, the interview going so well when suddenly - the killer question. The quiery that can have just one clear straight reply and for which a wrong answer sees the hapless interviewee skewered and branded out of touch – with the world or with the policy he is promoting. It is the ‘how much does a pint of milk cost?’ moment. Get it wrong and you’re divorced from reality even though knowing the price of a pint can surely hardly be held up as a gilt-edged qualification for speaking with authority on the great issues of the day. I wonder if Winston Churchill knew the price of a pint? Anyhow, the killer question award for last week goes to World at One presenter Martha Kearney who asked Education Minister, Nick Gibb, the following: ‘In "I went to the cinema, after I'd eaten my dinner." Is the word "after" a subordinating conjunction or a preposition?’ Mr Gibb went for preposition and, as I am sure you know, he was wrong. Martha had scored. The education minister not knowing the answer to a question apparently typical of the new Sats tests for 11 year olds. There, if the minister doesn’t know then how on earth should we expect our youngsters to? Fair enough? Well, no, not really. The question bowled at Mr Gibb was amongst the hardest – there are many simpler – what is the difference between an adjective and an adverb for instance. Getting the Gibb question wrong doesn’t necessarily mean you have no understanding of grammar, it might just mean that you are not as good as the person who gets it right. Nonetheless some parents took their children out of school to protest against what they see as the unnecessary stress caused by testing. They suggest that these tests (at 7 and 11) place a greater emphasis on dry results than the joy of learning. I disagree. The UK’s educational performance is certainly improving. Free schools, academies, greater rigour in secondary school exams and curriculum reforms have resulted in improved standards but there is still a long way to go to catch up with the best in the world (OECD rankings see us close to bottom in Maths and English) and if you do not get the basics right early on then you are disadvantaged from there on in. Poor performance at primary means stunted performance at secondary and currently over a third of primary school children do not reach the required levels in Maths and English. High quality teaching can help children cope with 2 sets of tests in 4 years (private schools typically test way more frequently) and whilst tests can be stressful they provide vital data on progress and the kind of support individual children need. The killer question should not be about prepositions or milk prices but how we continue to effectively use testing to raise standards for the benefit of all our children.