I never had to take any tests at my primary school or at Holland Park Comprehensive (I was there in the 1980s, pictured above). There was no streaming either. Children in my class who couldn’t read or write properly would often take lessons outside the class to support them. Some children could sometimes be disruptive but the teachers usually found a way to keep the class in order (and I don’t mean with corporal punishment).
At the end of my time at Holland Park school (with no streaming), I obtained three A grade ‘A’ levels. I only took three ‘A’ Level exams. So 100% success. I’m sure that having an intellectual mum and dad helped as well as having an older brother who gave me lots of old notes, but the experience of being at a Comprehensive without streaming did not stop me achieving the highest grades possible. I applied for Oxford but I didn’t get in mostly because I am terrible at interviews (and I had the wrong kind of trousers on – but that’s a long story).
About 10 years ago I considered taking up teaching and went back to my Comprehensive school to get classroom experience.
I found that a lot had changed. Streaming had been introduced.
It was depresssing to sit at the back of an English class for 13-14 year olds in the lowest stream. Most of the children were bored and felt like there was no point in learning. To make matters worse, the teacher was obliged to teach a curriculum topic and could not inspire them like something out of ‘The Dead Poets Society’.
The class were given the kind of exercise you get when you learn a foreign language. But these were native English speakers!
They were asked to read a paragraph and then answer questions about it.
The paragraph would read something like: ‘Ben’s alarm did not go off and he was late for school. He ran to school in his trainers and then got in trouble for not having the right shoes on.’
The questions were like:
1) Why was Ben late for school?
2) Why did Ben get in trouble at school?
If anyone were in the position of those children, they would not have any interest in the exercise. Many of the class talked amongst themselves and the teacher ignored this as he knew he was fighting a losing battle.
I decided against going into teaching.
Tests for Primary School children
Two years ago my daughter was tested at her local state primary school. She was only six. For most of the term the teacher tried to drum into the class acronyms that would see them through. Every so often, my daughter would recite acronyms to me about elephants. I got the feeling this was a great waste of time when they could be firing her imagination.
Now she is eight, she is well versed in being tested and has managed to make it to the top or second top steam in her class. She has acronyms with monkeys now.
She tells me which stream everyone is in and I can’t help feeling that those in the lowest stream have already developed an inferiority complex before they are even 10 years old.
The new Prime Minister wants to reintroduce Grammar schools and has argued that as we already have streaming in schools and test children much younger than 11 there should be no objection to it.
This seems like a logical argument but I think it also signals a need for change in our state schools.
Rather than just opposing Grammars, I would now like to see moves to stop tests and streaming in our primary schools and Comprehensives. My experience has shown me that it is not necessary to have streaming to achieve good grades – and tests do not inspire or fire imagination, but demoralise children.