Tom Richmond: Tests row misses point on how ‘three Rs’ change lives

Children at a rally with their parents in protest at controversial Sats tests for six and seven-year-olds.
Children at a rally with their parents in protest at controversial Sats tests for six and seven-year-olds.
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TO me, the $64,000 question is not whether a six-year-old child can multiply eight by eight and come up with the correct answer.

It is what the Government, LEAs and schools do with the results of the tests that were the source of this week’s classroom boycott after some parents withdrew their children from schools.

Of course, education needs to be stimulating and it is important that too much testing at an early age does not kill off a love of learning because of the stress that exams – and revision – can cause. Formative school years need, where possible, to be fun and creative.

But it is also important that this is an early assessment of a primary school pupil’s literacy and numeracy so teachers can determine whether lessons need to be more challenging for quick learners – or whether targeted help needs to be made available to those youngsters who are struggling to read and write.

This was made abundantly clear by Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw whose comments were overlooked in the hulabaloo about whether children should be tested – or not.

“If by the age of seven, a child has not mastered the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics, the odds will be stacked against them for the rest of their lives. This is especially the case for poorer children,” he said. “All the evidence shows that social mobility does not start at the age of 16 or even 11 but at a much earlier age. That is why it is so critical to lay solid foundations from the start of a child’s education.”

It’s a point which is even more profound here in Yorkshire, a county that continues to languish at the bottom of the various league tables.

For too long, a succession of Education Secretaries – Tory and Labour alike – have tried to justify their own existence by tinkering with the GCSE and A-level syllabus because this provides them with cheap headlines. Yet such changes will be totally counter-productive unless children have solid grounding in the three Rs by the time they complete their primary education. Until this is recognised, many will struggle to make the transition to secondary school.

In this regard, the tests are correct – what is open to question is their execution. On this, two points need to be made. First, teachers should not be vilified if youngsters perform poorly – some less than dutiful parents need reminding about their obligations and responsibilities as mothers and fathers with regard to learning, rather than sub-contracting this duty to the local school.

Second, should 11-year-old pupils be held back for an additional year if they don’t reach a set standard in literacy and numeracy? It might just be one of those proverbial instances where it pays to be cruel to be kind. To me, this is the $64,000 question facing education policy.

TORY peer John Gardiner made a profound point in a Lords debate on the rural economy led by former North Yorkshire MP Anne McIntosh.

Sympathetic to the need to rural-proof policies from the outset, he stressed the importance of the countryside to the finances of Great Britain plc before adding: “It is in the national interest that we have a vibrant rural economy. We should respect its traditions and its way of life, but surely our objective is to unlock the enormous opportunities that there still are for the rural economy.”

At least Education Secretary Nicky Morgan appears to have listened to Lord Gardiner and now dropped her plan to compel all rural state schools to become academies. It’s a start.

THE Government’s “cut and paste” PR department continues to work overtime – despite this newspaper’s exposure earlier this year of David Cameron’s phoney “love letters” over his preferred tourism destinations. There were at least six.

Now the “Professional Services Communications Directorate” at the Department of Work and Pensions – Press office to you and me – has been touting around a piece from Employment Minister Priti Patel on the record number of people in work.

It was blindingly obvious that this was a templated piece, with Yorkshire substituted for the South West and so on, and in which which Knottingley was spelt incorrectly.

Even more curious was the fact that Ms Patel’s Press office was championing this piece on the day that the Minister was making a speech in favour of Brexit.

Talk about dirty tricks...

WITH typical tactlessness, Ukip has, once again, erected election posters on the trees opposite the entrance to Rawdon Crematorium in Leeds.

Given the length of time it took for the posters to be removed after last year’s general election, let’s hope Nigel Farage’s party is a bit swifter and mourners don’t have to wait until the end of summer to be spared this tawdry sight.

WHEN Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake spoke in the Commons on Tuesday night on affordable housing, Parliament’s cameras focused on two of his colleagues, pre-occupied with their mobile phones. I couldn’t make my mind up – was this multi-tasking at its very best or the height of bad manners?

I WAS led to believe that troubled supermarket Morrisons is back on track. I made the mistake of dropping into the Guiseley branch the other day to buy skimmed milk, the absence of which prompted me to switch to Sainsbury’s.

There was not a pint – or two pint carton – to be found. Nor were there any staff willing and able to help. I won’t be returning in a hurry. The current management are clearly little better than their predecessors. Bring back Sir Ken Morrison.

EVEN though the Tour de France whizzed through Otley two summers ago, the market town eclipsed it a week ago when it hosted the start of the second day of the Tour de Yorkshire, including the women’s race which featured home town heroine Lizzie Armitstead, the current world champion. For all the communities along the route, this was their Olympics and support was truly phenomenal with streets bedecked in bunting and flags.

Those moaning minnies who decry such events, and the inconvenience of roads being closed for a couple of hours, should think again – this is Yorkshire’s latest shop window to the world.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk