Over the last few years there has been much discussion on the age children should begin taking exams. Obviously it is important for schools to gauge their student’s academic levels, but is sitting multiple formal tests like the SATs for 7 year olds, the phonic tests for 5-6 year olds, and now the new baseline checks for 4-5 year olds really the answer? The latest news speaks of a trend towards increasing primary exams with more SATs tests for 7 year olds and 12 year olds as well and making current exams a bit tougher too.
You would expect the level of pressure put on the 4 year olds due to start the baseline checks next would not be nearly as much as students studying for their GCSEs or A Levels. However even if the teachers understand that pushing 4 year olds too far is wrong, this does not mean that the school leaders would not worry about attainment, even at this level, as parents and the government are certainly going to consider this when evaluating the school. And then there is the parents themselves… it is good to have pushy parents to an extent, however when it comes to young children you can imagine how scary exams and tests can be. Exam stress is a type of performance anxiety and is something that I am sure all of you can relate to. Tt is usually characterised by tension headaches, stomach-aches, rapid heartbeat, sweating and shaking, and even vomiting or passing out. So is it worth risking an increase in the amount of children who may be subjected to this, just so we can have more results earlier on?
Of course the reasons for increasing the number of primary exams and introducing the new baseline exams for 4 year olds is clear. It makes sense to measure student’s levels early and try and catch any learning difficulties straight away, and for schools to see how they are doing in different areas and age groups in order to improve on any weak areas. In addition it is understandable how the government wants to change the marking process so that these tests are made more difficult and marked nationally rather than by the local area authority.
However since Nicky Morgan’s announcement the term ‘Exam Factories’ has been thrown around a lot by the press. This term was first used by the Confederation of British Industry in 2014, who explained how schools where in danger of churning out teenagers unable to cope with life beyond their gates. Now, nearly two years later, the deputy general secretary of NUT, Kevin Courtney has announced: "It is quite staggering the degree to which the government is unable to understand how their approach to the measurement of the performance of schools, and the system as a whole, is turning schools into exam factories”, he then went on to say that even without the new changes England already had “the most excessively tested children in the whole of Europe”. With so much bad press from the UK’s leading independent employer’s organisation as well as the leading teaching union, it could be time for the government to change its approach to education.