Top adviser to John Swinney in attack on standardised testing

Written by Tom Freeman on 3 May 2017 in News

EXCLUSIVE: Professor Andy Hargreaves attacks key Scottish Government policy of standardised testing and says England is a "policy vacuum" on education 

Andy Hargreaves (right) and John Swinney - Scottish Government

A senior international adviser to John Swinney on education policy has attacked the reasoning behind the Scottish Government's key policy of standardised testing, saying it causes “ill-being” in students and devalues teacher judgement.

Standardised testing is due to be rolled out across Scotland this August in reading, writing and maths in P1, P4, P7 and S3, with the Scottish Government insisting the move will not lead to ‘high stakes’ tests and league tables.

But speaking to a conference of teachers in Rotterdam this morning, Professor Andy Hargreaves of the Lynch School of Education in Boston, who is one of the Scottish Government’s international education advisers, called standardised testing an “attack on decisional capital”.


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The speech suggests John Swinney may have met resistance to the flagship policy in meetings of his international council of education advisers.

“Data isn’t a bad thing, evidence isn’t a bad thing… but data shouldn’t drive us. We should not be the driven, we should be the drivers. More testing means the testing replaces the judgement,” he said.

Education secretary John Swinney has said standardised testing will meet recommendations from the OECD that Scotland needs more evidence of pupil attainment. He told Holyrood last October Hargreaves had urged him to "move from a culture of judgement to a system of judgement".

But Hargreaves, who was a member of the OECD Review Team who visited Scotland, told delegates attending the ‘Unite for Quality Education and Leadership’ conference, organised by Education International, today that there was evidence “of testing actively causing ill-being”.

He pointed to evidence from Ontario, where standardised tests are regarded as ‘mid stakes’ because they have no punitive consequences, where usually animated children “completely lose interest” once preparing for tests.

“When we are creating wellbeing, we also actively have to dispose of the things that create ill-being,” he said.

Speaking to an international audience, Hargreaves said the “strongest countries” value teachers’ status and judgement, while other countries are turning to a business capital model to reduce the tax burden.

The “driving force of business capital” has led to charter schools, academies, more technology, lower teacher salaries, he said.

”This is our enemy, worldwide. And when I say ‘our’ I mean the enemy of teachers. I mean the enemy of children. I mean the enemy of the poor.”

He was particularly scathing of policy in England.

“England is now a policy vacuum. No character, no focus, no sense of what England’s citizens, its young people should become. Just markets, academies, grammar schools. Choice, fracturing, segregation. More of the inequalities that separate each of us from all the others around us. More intersecting identities less interacting identities.”

Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence was envisaged to provide a broad general education with a primary emphasis on well-being until age eight.

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