Next month 11-year-olds will sit a series of short tests (SATs) in maths and English—a fact that causes much unhappiness among England’s teachers. At the National Education Union’s (NEU) recent conference, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, announced to hearty applause that he would scrap these tests and that he would review other primary-school assessments.
The attention serves as a reminder of the strength of feeling generated by testing young children. Unlike GCSE (taken at 16) and A-levels (at 18), SATs hold little sway over a pupil’s future. At most, they will help determine which academic stream the child enters in their first year at secondary school. Their chief purpose is to measure teachers and schools. If children are making good progress in their sums but not their reading, a school can devote more resources to English lessons.
Nevertheless, teachers complain that they are under too much pressure to squeeze high marks out of their pupils. League tables are based on the percentage of children reaching certain standards, the schools inspectorate uses their results to inform its judgments and some teachers are on performance-related pay. Not all respond well. One head teacher in Leeds dragged a high-performing pupil from their sick bed to take a test.
Another worry is that the emphasis on results has led to a narrowing of the curriculum as schools focus on maths and English, the only subjects tested. Two-thirds of primary schools spend less than two hours a week teaching science, which was dropped from the tests in 2009.
Both problems arise from the way in which schools respond to the tests, rather than from the tests themselves. Transmitting pressure to pupils “can be a symptom of bad teaching”, says Natalie Perera of the Education Policy Institute, a think-tank. One remedy to the problem of narrow curriculums might be to dictate the time spent on each subject, as is the case in Finland. Instead, the government is planning tweaks that will ease the pressure on schools. Plans under consultation would mean that poor exam results no longer triggered intervention, which can lead to management changes. The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), meanwhile, is placing more emphasis in its inspections on ensuring that a “broad and balanced” curriculum is taught, as the law requires.
Mr Corbyn has promised that his alternative system will encourage creativity. It is a quality he will need himself if he is to find a way to keep tabs on how much pupils are learning without using tests.
31. From the first paragraph, we know that SATs ______.
[A] are disliked by 11-year-old students
[B] will be scrapped by the NEU soon
[C] are applauded by the Labour party
[D] arouse teachers’ negative emotion
32. One purpose of SATs is to ______.
[A] test students’ emotional strength
[B] improve kids’ academic ability
[C] help adjust schools’ curriculum
[D] offer careers guidance to pupils
33. Teachers feel pressure because of ______.
[A] using test scores as their performance indicator
[B] their students’ lower rank on League tables
[C] severe criticism from schools inspectorate
[D] high-performing pupils’ poor health condition
34. Which of the following statements is true according to Paragraph 5?
[A] Natalie Perera criticizes teachers for their bad teaching skills.
[B] Narrow curriculum is not in conformity with the current law.
[C] Schools plan to hire consultants to cope with poor exam results.
[D] The government intends to dictate the time spent on each subject.
35. The author’s attitude towards Mr Corbyn’s promise is one of ______.