Monday, 14 May 2012

Testing and exams

In the next few weeks A (age 6) will be tested and examined more than three times. On top of her weekly spelling test (more of that later) she will be entered for her first ballet exam and will be tested by the government for her ability with phonics. All of this sits very uneasy with me.

Lets look at phonics first. Phonics is the method of learning to read and spell by sounding out the words and blending them. All very good and obvious when you have words like c-a-t or d-o-g but what happens to words like a-l-l and w-h-y. English as a language is rich and notoriously difficult, we do not have words that are all phonically obvious, unlike Spanish for example. So actually, phonics is just one way of learning to read, it can help you a bit but children use many other ways of getting to grips with stories. A uses the pictures of the book, sometimes guessing the words, but that doesn't matter as long as she is enjoying the story and is helped along the way. She also uses context and her memory of what the words look like. Testing all 5 and 6 year old's in phonics is therefore a bit useless in examining their reading skills, apparently the test will:

"... require pupils to sound out or decode a series of words, SOME OF WHICH ARE MADE UP,"

Made up words, are you serious? This will surely put children at their wrong reading level. If A has to read a word like glimp (one of the words suggested in the phonics test which my spell check has just highlighted is not a word - obviously) then she is surely going to feel very confused. What on earth is a glimp? She can read, so this is not going to make any sense to her, perhaps make her feel like she has failed. Great start to education, government, thank you. A's class has started drilling them on their phonics just for this test - you can imagine what I think of that, on top of 3 hours of tedious maths and literacy every morning. A's interest in school is waning. My patience is running out.

Spellings. Every week she has new spellings on a Monday and a test on a Friday. This is what I did 30 years ago, surely education has moved on from that? She can achieve maybe 7, 8 or 10 out of 10 every week but by the following week her correct spelling of those words in her stories or a weekend diary has vanished. A doesn't seem bothered whether she gets them right or not but some pupils surely will, only to increase their sense of failure or competitiveness and perhaps distress at being tested and compared to every week. Some schools don't bother:

I'm not really sure what I think of ballet exams - A is no Royal Ballet contender but enjoys skipping round the village hall each week, conducting plies as if she is sitting herself on the loo and leaping in the air like a baby giraffe, with a big smile on her face and her tongue just slightly sticking out. She would like to do the exam as all her ballet friends are doing it, yes she will hopefully pass but to serve what purpose? I know sod-all about dancing but I would have thought that at age 6 it would be really nice to develop a love for it, enjoy the freedom and fun it provides you, moving your body to music, not standing lines being judged on your first position.

Rant over. Comment if you wish. I do feel sorry for children these days, I guess it is up to me to provide the fun, the magic, the inspiration and love for learning, because school is not providing this at the moment.


  1. Totally agree. I have just asked that D could continue learning piano without doing exams - she was getting stressed, and I see no reason why she can't just learn the pieces without the stress!

  2. Absolutely Antonia, I used to play the piano and was made to do the exams. Hated, hated, hated it, cried every week and was so nervous in the exam hall thought I was going throw up. Which is a shame really as I would love to be able to sit down at the piano now and enjoy playing music. Can't remember a note :(

  3. My violin teacher just said that I had to *either* do exams or join an orchestra, so that I had something to work for. Which at least let me choose what fit with my personality (I was a loner so I did the exams!) But then again, I was 11. Which is quite a bit different from 6!
    As for the phonics, as you know I was going to write a blog post. But it seems you've done it for me! I also looked at a video on the national curriculum's website, aimed at teaching the teachers how to conduct the test. It was depressing. Never have I seen such miserable, lifeless children! A huge waste of resources, if you ask me.

  4. Oh do write a blog post Donna, I am really keen to hear what people think as I sometimes feel alone in my thoughts over here.