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Tests aged four? Just let them play!

3 years ago

Matt Thrower writer
Matt Thrower Parent. Gamer. Coder. Writer. Bath, Bath and North East Somerset, UK
The UK government recently announced that it was extending its testing framework to reception children. From 2016, four-year-olds in their first tender weeks at school will be rigorously assessed in literacy and reasoning.
It’s a logical step for a state that trains teachers to a high standard, only to utterly disregard their professional judgement in terms of pupil assessment, instead preferring callous, unsubtle tables and ratings.
Many parents seem to love this which is why, presumably, we stray ever further down this mad path. Even those that don’t approve seem drawn hypnotically to the rankings. Who has not dared sneak a peek at the performance of their local schools, and done their utmost to ensure a place at a highly-ranked institution?
We want the best for our children, of course. But maybe it’s time to step back from just our own kids and look at how this appalling edifice is crushing the creativity out of children as a whole.
The model that successive governments have striven to emulate is that of East Asia, where schools have consistently topped international leagues for spelling and maths, thanks to their long-hours, test driven schooling systems.
But governments in this supposed educational nirvana are now reaping a bitter reward for their efforts: children who can faultlessly parrot rote-learned information but who are devoid of creativity and inspiration. There’s even a Chinese term for it: gao fen di neng. No wonder Chinese officials have started to issue proclamations to reduce testing, just as our government is keen to extend it.
This cause and effect is perhaps obvious. Rather more insidious are the hidden psychological dangers of forcing children to spend too much time over their books.
When researchers deprive baby animals of play, they grow into socially dysfunctional adults who react to new environments or individuals with either excessive fear or excessive aggression. Play allows children to practice for unfamiliar situations and the mysterious constraints of the adult world, something that’s likely obvious to any parent. 
Yet we now have the UK government sending out feelers over the possibility of starting children from the age of two, or having ten-hour school days.
It seems screamingly obvious that the result of this obsession with intensive, rigorous schooling is going to be a generation of emotional and creative cripples, who’ll panic when faced with anything they didn’t rote-learn in dull, repetitive lessons. As parents, we’ll be trying to unpick the effects of school lessons rather than building on them.
But so long as mean-spirited adults continue to want to inflict the same strict, joyless education they experienced onto the next generation, these vital lessons of education research will, ironically, remain ignored by educational legislators in favour of vote-winning, headline-grabbing policies.

Do you agree with Matt's reading of the proposed changes? Tell us in the comments below! 

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