As I write, there will be seven year old children around the country being tested on frontal adverbials, modal verbs, tenses and subjunctives. If I have not lost you already or have just sent a cold chill down your back, you may well reply, ‘Just how cruel is it possible to be to a seven year old?’ Meanwhile, many other seven year olds are being kept off school this week by their parents in order to avoid having to sit these tests.
An education that fails to prepare pupils for the challenges and the tough days in life is ultimately not much of a preparation for the real world. School life should be about much more than just testing but similarly children have to learn to be able to perform under pressure on occasions. It is why we get every junior class to produce a class assembly and perform in the choir and drama productions and it is why we invest heavily in the work outside the classroom throughout the School. If you have sung a solo in front of 700 people at the Cathedral or performed in the play or won national competitions for the School, you will be better equipped to deal with whatever life and work can throw at you.
For all of the fears that my first sentence may have created, the truth is that each of us will have used all of those grammatical points within the last day. It follows, therefore, that our children should both know and understand how to recognise and use them. A good working knowledge of our language can only be a good thing for all of our children in their future lives and careers.
I am sure that much of the concern caused amongst parents by these tests is that they have looked at the content and do not recognise the phrase ‘frontal adverbial’ etc. The reason for this is that for the last thirty to forty years the education system in this country has not placed a great emphasis on the learning of grammar. This is not the fault of parents or pupils but rather is the result of a conscious decision within education.
The briefing evening that the Junior School held last week to inform parents of the changes to the junior curriculum showed that the development should provide a thorough grammatical and mathematical background for all children across the country.
In my time at DGS, one of the joys has been seeing our pupils learning the detailed mathematical, grammatical and scientific fundamentals. Indeed, the main reason why this School was in the vanguard of a switch to IGCSEs a decade ago was the conviction that the theory-light versions of the Sciences offered by the domestic versions of GCSEs were not a suitable preparation for A Level and degree level study.
If this country is to flourish we require a top class educational system and it cannot be justifiable to see that other countries can be up to two and half years ahead of us in internationally standardised tests. The best schools in the country already bridge this gap but most of us have, for a long time, offered a curriculum that is based upon the same principles as the reforms now being introduced. It is no coincidence that recent Independent School Council research demonstrated that the average independent school educated sixteen year old was two years ahead of their state educated counterpart.
Testing, grammar and mathematical principles should never be the sum total of a child’s education but it is right that they are an important part. Thinking skills, problem solving and discussion are also fundamental to a quality education. The problem has been that for the length of my career, politicians and educationalists have too often acted as if the two are mutually exclusive.