For once in my life I found myself agreeing with the teachers’ union delegates who’ve been quarrelling with the baseline tests for 4-year-olds.
British children are already the most tested in Europe and to no effect as far as pulling us up the league tables is concerned. So isn’t this a case of pouring good money after bad?
Testing four-year-olds is not what the first six weeks of school should be about, they rightly say. Infants should not ‘sitting down and repeating words like parrots’.
I remember happy infant school days spent colouring in with bright wax crayons, creating symmetrical patterns, carefully writing the letters of the alphabet (lower case) on specially lined paper and getting different coloured stars for my efforts, plus plenty of story telling. Then came the achievement, at around 5, of recognisably writing your own name.
Today’s reception teachers can’t even enjoy this with infants – now they have so many children arriving in reception lacking the most basic social skills which, understandably they say, is their overwhelming concern.
This is the crux of the ‘underachievement’ that the baseline test is meant to address. Some hope.
If that is indeed its point. But as Nick Gibb, the Minister for Education, revealed on the BBC yesterday, the real point may well be otherwise – to allow a fairer way of measuring schools’ performance in terms of what they are up against. Ah yes – about the PR, not about the child.
For if the Government really wants to address underachievement (and child neglect it is often based on) then they should reintroduce the testing of children’s physical development by school medical officers. This was phased out in the 1980s when responsibility for assessing the development of school-aged children was handed over from the Department of Health to the Department of Education. It was a poor and false economy to make.
According to Sally Goddard Blythe, Director of the INPP (Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology), the children performing in the lowest quartile on measures of educational performance tend be the children with poorest motor skills. Typically their problems are not picked up before or at school, or not until when the children are about 8 and are very visibly behind or not coping. It is hardly rocket science but it points to basic childrearing and nurturing inadequacy. It also genuinely demands specific intervention.
New and concrete evidence to support this need for a simple screening assessment of children’s balance and coordination – and for introducing ‘developmental moving programmes’ into the school day to rectify it – was published last autumn.*
Sue Harte, headteacher at John Stainer School in Lewisham, found it proved: “… the key to unlocking the potential of the group of children who don’t progress or attain as well as…they should…”
She used a movement programme with children for 10 minutes a day over the course of one academic year, the idea of which was to recapitulate those earlier stages of physical development that infants had missed out on at home or in daycare. The aim was to secure the child’s foundations for posture, balance and coordination – all of which are fundamental to all aspects of formal education. She has witnessed increased levels of attainment in the classroom as a result .
The problem seems to me is that more the family relinquishes its nurturing and childcare roles to the State (the more the State provides ever earlier daycare or formal education) the more children’s basic physical development will suffer or be neglected. The ‘monitoring vacuum’ of children’s physical readiness for learning will get bigger – after all who is responsible?
Of course, it should be a family responsibility. But until the State reverses its round-the-clock control of children, infants will be condemned to its testing panacea while their baseline real needs still go ignored.
*Assessing neuromotor readiness for learning. The INPP developmental screening test and school intervention programme. Goddard Blythe SA, 2012. Wiley-Blackwell. Chichester.