Debate: ‘Let’s End the Tyranny of the Test’
Thursday 22 October 2015
At Queenswood, we are fortunate enough to have an ethos thatprizes highly all that is done outside of the classroom, whether it’s
on the sports pitch, in the theatre, in the Debating hall, in the Art Studio,
in the Music Hall or any of the other co-curricular activities that take place
This is very much what is seen as an essential part of education
and is being passed over in many schools. It certainly chimes with the
arguments of Tony Little (former Head Master of Eton) and Tristram Hunt MP at a fierce Intelligence Squared debate held on 1 October in the heart of Westminster.
Is testing working?
The question under discussion was whether this country’s
culture of testing and league tables actually works for the benefit of our
young people. Our children are now the
most tested in the industrialised world, with the average pupil enduring at
least 70 formal tests during their school career.
The pressure on parents to get their children into the best
schools and universities has led to an arms race, with children spending
increasing amounts of their time being drilled for exams, and schools becoming
obsessed by results and league tables.
However, in international rankings Britain lags behind many other
countries that don’t obsess over exams and league tables the way we do.
‘The heart of education is in the classroom’
These are some of the ideas put forward in the debate and there were fierce arguments both for and against the
motion. Tristram Hunt, former Shadow
Secretary of State for Education until his resignation in September 2015,
argued the means have become a barrier to the ends.
He postulated that the purpose of education is to prepare
students for jobs that, in our fact-changing world, have not even been created
and that the system of testing and retesting doesn’t prepare students
for work life. He argued for the
abolition of the GCSE and the creation of a new Baccalaureate system for 14-19
year olds. He also is a proponent of
strong teacher training, and believes that the heart of education is what
happens in the classroom, not the examination hall.
Also arguing for the proposition was Tony Little, former Head
Master of Eton College from 2002 to 2015.
He believes that schools need rigour and accountability but that exam
measurement has gone too far. He argues
that exam pressure has created a shrinking curriculum with the arts and
creative subjects forced out. This will
lead, he believes, to an erosion of culture with the heart ripped out of learning
‘Rigour and Accountability’
Taking the opposing view was Daisy Christodoulou, Head of
Education at the charity Ark. She argued
that tests prepare students for everyday life and also that tests provide
accurate assessment. Backing the power
of the test, she believes that children have been let down by discovery
learning and instead advocates traditional fact-based lessons.
Another speaker opposing the motion was Toby Young, Chief
Executive of the West London Free School Academy Trust who stated that schools
need rigour and accountability. He
derided the notion that tests are cruel and cause children pain and
anxiety. He argued that life is a test
and children need to be equipped for this.
‘Children are talented in different ways’
Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College from 2006 to 2015,
and a renowned expert on education, chaired the debate and underlined that the
key issue in the debate is the kind of young people that schools are turning
out. He maintained that we should stop
the culture of the one-size-fits-all exam factory and allow our schools to
recognise that children are talented in different ways. As Albert Einstein said, ‘Everybody
is a genius. But if you judge a fish by
its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is
Independent learning at Queenswood – ‘curiosity, enthusiasm and enjoyment’
Here at Queenswood, we encourage the girls to explore their world as independent
learners, both inside and outside the classroom. However, testing is a very important part of
the girls’ lives and we have a duty to prepare the girls as best as we
possibly can to excel in their school exams as well as their national exams:
GCSEs and A-Levels.
Our challenge is to
encourage and enable them to succeed with flying colours but also to keep alive
that enthusiasm, curiosity and enjoyment that will enable them to continue to
love learning throughout their lives.