Standard Assessment Tests

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 MH900439442should 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’.

Yeah, right.

‘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.

 

 

 

Tom’s Story

Image
Not Tom. This is just a stock photograph. Throughout this article names and identities have been altered to protect the besieged.

I’ll call him Tom.

Tom is eighteen years old and he lives in a typical English village.   That is, a small community of chocolate-box cottages with a shop and a pub surrounding a placid village pond.   The outer perimeter of this idyll was blessed in 1948 with the addition of a small clutch of social housing, and again in 1985 by a further estate of featureless rabbit hutches which their developer sold as ‘desirable executive homes’.   Commentators at the time suggested (quite unfairly) that the developer had only built them to give the social housing tenants something to rob.

Today the owners of the chocolate box cottages huddle by their wood-burning stoves to the tune of the picturesque village street, which is filled with window-rattling heavy traffic.  Taken over by a large brewery the pub was run down and closed in 2006.  It remains boarded up and empty.  The village pond is far from empty.  Abandoned by any wildlife two generations since, it is full of old car tires and the occasional shopping cart.

In Tom’s council-built estate many prospective Banksies have bequeathed their efforts to the critical eyes of those short-stay tenants who come, desecrate and depart. Detritus adorns those places the planners intended as recreation areas:  abandoned furniture, abandoned cars, abandoned needles.

The ‘executive homes’ gaze out upon all this with tombstone inscrutability.   Owners do their best to pretend they have nothing to do with the village.  They never use the village store, for example, preferring to drive to a larger town nearby.

Tom drives too, though the cars he drives are rarely his own.  The village store, or the area outside it, is where Tom spends most of his time.   He and his friends, seated on their pedal-cycles or just on the pavement filter the store’s customers:  the chocolate-box people are intimidated by him and unwilling to shop there.  Soon the store will go the way of the pub, and the village will have no facilities at all.

Tom does not work.  There are no jobs in the village, but this is not his real problem.  His parents have never worked or provided him with a role model:  in the benefits culture there are no disciplines and few routines, so the nearest Tom ever got to either was during his brief, sporadic relationship with school.

Academia has no place for him.  He is disruptive; he is not bright.  Any spark of brilliance there might have been was extinguished promptly by teachers who singled him out as a butt for ‘class humor’, leaving him with a dread of the desk and the dusty room, and a phobic terror of examinations.

Nevertheless, Tom does work, albeit in unskilled labor and the ‘cash economy’.  With his benefits and irregular extra earnings he has enough to finance his expensive smart-phone and trainers.  Perhaps his purchasing choices are more responsible than anything else for society’s verdict.  They belie his real poverty, giving the impression that he is living well on the benevolence of The State when he really has very little of any worth.

Tom is eighteen.  His girlfriend is pregnant.  He walks with his hood up and his head down.  People say that if he looks up it is only to check out your roof for any loose lead.  He drives stolen cars fast and recklessly, because he likes it.  One day the magistrates’ patience will wear out.

I know that this is not a new story.  It is entrée to a genre that promulgates a certain view of British society which, however accurate, will win no friends at the tourist board.  It is one view, but it is the crossroads at which I stand, because Tom, or someone very like him, is the ‘hero’ of my next book.

This is the book I need to write.  It is the tale of all the Toms I have met and known down the years, people not equipped to meet the demands of the technological society, the ‘no hopers’ who are not that way of their own making, but who simply landed on the wrong planet at the wrong time.  Real people with real value, and with a real morality which sadly all too few of the gifted, great and good appear to share.

Tom deserves his story, but how, from where I sit, do I truly get inside his head?  Where is his future and from where does he dredge the one thing we all seek, his shred of hope?