Socialist Worker

The tests treadmill

Issue No. 1734

Have you noticed how David Blunkett is becoming rattier and rattier with every interview he faces?

I get the impression he wants to be acclaimed for having abolished inequality. He picks out a group of children-usually described as 'the kind of kids I knew when I grew up in Sheffield'-and boasts that such kids are now well on the way to being able to 'read, write and do sums', and (you feel he's about to add) to being judges, cabinet ministers and multinational executives.

The main reason for this optimism is that he's imposed a tedious, creativity-sapping curriculum based on tightly controlled daily 'hours'-a literacy hour, a numeracy hour.

It comes on top of a tightly policed testing system that has dragged teaching into a slavish treadmill of preparing for mock tests...marking mock tests...preparing for real tests...marking real tests...preparing for inspectors...facing inspectors...facing the debrief from the inspectors...and so on.

But somewhere deep in the heart of the state education machine there is a whiff of anxiety.

You may not have noticed, but creeping up on the inside track are one or two initiatives on 'creativity'. Someone somewhere has noticed that ten year olds are spending four days a week on 'the basics' and less than one day a week on such things as music, art and drama.

This wouldn't worry Blunkett one jot, other than that some of New Labour's millionaire chums use the word 'creativity' to mean entrepreneurial risk-taking and flexi-working, along with originality in design, advertising, product origination and all that.

The chums say they want all that at the same time as needing shelf stackers, van drivers and cleaners. And here lies a contradiction-how do you produce a varied population? One where you've got some people who can invent, design and sell new things, and others who you hope will do what they're told and question nothing.

Well, alongside Blunkett's shopfront full of tests, literacy hours and numeracy hours that are supposedly 'ending inequality' is New Labour's secret weapon-backdoor selection.

Labour's front bench knows they can't go in front of the electorate and announce 'the end of comprehensive schools'. Imagine it. 'And today we are unveiling our plan to ensure once and for all that you kids who fail will now know that you will always fail. We're dumping you in schools where you can see that the school next door is full of the kids who passed the very same exam you failed. What's more, we're spending less money on you lot than the successful ones. Vote New Labour.'

Difficult one to sell. But what if you bribe schools across the country into letting this or that one select 10 percent of its children at ages ten and 11 because they do better in a maths exam, in a music exam, in an IQ test or a reading test?

There are already hundreds of schools that select because you've got baptised, circumcised, confirmed, got enough money...

What you get is a capitalist dream-an education system that delivers up a workforce at age 16 that's been layered and labelled for the previous five years: Mary, creative; Tariq, maths; Sinead, science; James, fail; Samantha, fail.

What this means is we're no longer fighting on the slogan 'Defend comprehensive education', as some of the comprehensives we might be defending might not be comprehensive. Our struggle, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, is a 'fight for comprehensive education'.


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Features
Sat 10 Feb 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1734
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