Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Test shambles isn't parents' fault

It is little wonder that Education Minister John O'Dowd has welcomed a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) into the transfer test system here. For the thrust of its findings echo the minister's desire to do away with testing altogether.

The OECD researchers point up the polarised debate over testing, the negative impact this has on children, parents and schools and, by implication, seem to suggest that testing at 11 is the wrong way to do things.

However, it also goes on to blame parents for the current mess, saying that they pressurise some primary schools into ignoring government policy and preparing for unregulated tests. This is surely the wrong attitude to adopt. Why shouldn't parents want the best for their children? If that means seeking a place for them at a high achieving grammar school, who should deny them that aspiration or opportunity?

The problem with any outside organisation looking at our educational shambles, is that they see only what the position is now, not the context in which it has evolved. It may well be the case parents and some grammar schools are flouting the Government's desire to end testing at 11, but that is only because they see it as the best option for their children.

It is not the fault of either parents or grammar schools that those schools deliver the best results later in pupils' lives and give them better career opportunities.

The real fault in the current educational shambles lies with the politicians who have failed to sort out the mess. They cannot even streamline the educational system by creating a single educational authority, which the OECD says would be a positive move.

But ultimately our educational system should not be about testing or non-testing.

It should be about devising ways of ensuring that children – who are all taught a common curriculum – have equal chances of achieving the same outcomes irrespective of whether they go to grammar or secondary schools.

We are a long way from setting that sort of benchmark as another recent report demonstrated.

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