Testing Times

Education Secretary John Swinney came under fire recently for his controversial statements that Primary 1 (age 4/5) tests for pupils should be ‘fun and enjoyable’. 


The controversial point being that hundreds of parents (and staff) were aghast at the fact they are being asked to test children that young anyway. 


What could we possibly test children on at that age, and gain any kind of reliable answers from? They’re just babies, no? Why should we begin their 11 years of compulsory schooling with an intrusive, scary process that comes with so little benefits? 


Schools with a higher starting age have got their finger on the pulse of what is needed in education - time to be children. Time to play. To learn experientially. To gain social and emotional skills that will become the solid foundation for more formal learning in later life. Why do we want to pigeon hole 4 year olds by ‘testing’ their abilities - that’s what they are in school for - to build on their abilities. 


I had my own run in with controversial ‘testing’ in the form of Aaron’s 27-30 month review check up. Having received a letter informing me that a health visitor would appear at my door on a certain date, I viewed in amazement at the 7+ pages of tick box questions that I was expected to fill in regarding all areas of his development.  


Now, I don’t necessarily have an issue with reviewing a child’s development per se. I work in this type of area and I know that developmental delays can be discovered very early on and is useful to then build on skills which may not come naturally. 


What didn’t sit right with me was looking at the list of ‘skills’ he was expected to have at his age. First and foremost, all children are individual and develop at their own rate. Therefore, what he ‘’should’’ be doing, is his own thing. Not something that someone has listed on a sheet because some other 2 year olds did at one point. 


Now, I wasn’t worried in the slightest that perhaps he couldn’t do some of the things on the questionnaire (can he draw a circle shape? I’m not actually sure, but I’m going to guess no!) - but what if I was? Then what? What if I tortured myself over the fact that my boy couldn’t draw a circle, when in fact he can do so many other wonderful things that aren’t listed on this damn questionnaire? Why is drawing a circle deemed as important at 2, but walking with Mummy in the park and pointing out wildlife not? 


Another part of the questionnaire that *really* annoyed me, was the comparison of your own child to other children. Having calmed down after initially reading it, I can see what they’re getting at, and where they are coming from - but the culture of comparing your child to another is a dangerous one, and not helpful at all. Let me say this again - all children are unique. There’s no race. There’s no standard. Your child will do what your child can do, when they can do it - not when some questionnaire deems it the right time to do so. 


If your child is happy, warm, fed and loved - they are already doing well! 


Needless to say, I refused the developmental check up. Im happy with his development and the little character he’s turning out to be - even if he can’t draw a circle! 


What have been your experiences of testing children? Do you think there’s a need to benchmark children by testing their abilities? 

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