Today the nation’s 6-7 and 10-11 year olds (years two and six) will set off for school knowing they have got ‘exams’.
Whether it is reasonable to ask that children so early in their educational development should be subjected to pressures associated with standard assessment testing is an open debate. It certainly deserves a carefully constructed reply. And we can discount anything issued in statements from the relevant government departments, such as: ‘These are merely assessments, they will not impinge upon your child’s prospects for future education’ and ‘There is no cause for concern’.
‘Don’t worry’ is a standard treatment. When you hear it from an elected official; worry.
And if we are asked to believe that every child who sallies forth this morning will not do so with their equivalent of that same official platitude ringing in their ears, that is the strong ‘encouragement’ of their ambitious parents, we are being accused undeservedly of naivety. In a child’s world, parents are officialdom; anxiety to please is a pressure, and competition is a test of those friendships and attachments so important at this formative age.
When will Academia finally admit it does not understand its own market place? When will ‘elected’ politicians accept that not everything is determined by a league table or a series of ‘targets’? It might be great for modern marketing, but it is not for kids.
In a sense, I have a stake in this. But at the same time I have to emphasise I am somewhat unusual in my antipathy towards ambition and material greed. So, in another sense, I have no personal axe to grind.
When I was a child of ten or eleven, there was an instituted testing system called the ‘Eleven Plus’. All children of my time (other than those in private education) took this test, and upon its results went on to Grammar or Secondary School education. I failed it.
Did that shape my future education? You bet it did. Did it prejudice my career choices? Absolutely.
It was another twenty years before I sat another test to uncover what apparently someone, somewhere, missed. I took the Cattell IQ test for British Mensa and passed with an IQ of 160, placing my IQ rating in the top 0.5 percent of the population. At the time, as for most of my adult life, I was running my own business. It did not affect me then, nor does it now. This year I resigned my Mensa membership because I have been inactive for some years.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I enjoyed my education, probably because it did not stretch me to the maximum. I have spent the rest of my life trying to compensate for that deficiency. I became the head boy of my school and took a number of examinations when I left, but they alone could not help me recover the lost ground the Secondary Ed. label produced. I repeat, it did not matter so much to me. I was a child of the ‘sixties.
I am upset, nevertheless, to see our education model slithering surreptitiously back in the direction of that late ‘fifties early ‘sixties model. For some reason we feel it is essential that our education targets match those of China or Japan, that somehow we have to ‘lead the world’ in education. Our case is not the same. Our children are not, by and large, striving to rise from abject poverty, and the society waiting to welcome them is not so narrow it can only encompass an intake of youthful genius. The extreme danger is that it will become so. One of the immense advantages of Western civilisation is its sense of breadth and balance. If we lose that through an attempt to embrace Academia as a growth industry rather than a service we risk narrowing our personal focus.
Therein lies insanity.