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The BBC's Sarah Nelson reports
"Teachers know that they are measured by results."
 real 28k

Kenneth Clarke, former Education Secretary
"Tests do not harm seven year olds."
 real 28k

Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Adults blamed for pupils' test stress
Parents have claimed tests are causing too much pressure
The man who introduced school tests - former Conservative education secretary Kenneth Clarke - says seven-year-olds are stressed by them only because of "over-concerned adults".

I think we've heard some rather over-concerned adults and some examples of rather over-concerned adult behaviour.

Kenneth Clarke
And the organisation which administers the national curriculum tests says its evidence is that children do not find them stressful - contrary to what some parents and teachers are saying.

On Wednesday the present Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said he would consider changing the testing arrangements - if it could be shown that stress was widespread.

HAVE YOUR SAY It was made clear later by his department that the tests should be carried out so that they did not put young children under undue pressure.

The Department for Education says seven-year-olds should be tested in normal classroom conditions and should hardly be aware of what is happening.

'Not a normal lesson'

On Monday a parent and former primary school teacher in Somerset, Penny Holmes, said she intended keeping her seven-year-old off school during May when the tests are carried out.

She complained of unnecessary stress on children so young - and that the tests were being used politically to show that standards were rising on a narrow curriculum.

Other parents and teachers have since contacted the BBC.

Read your views on testing seven-year-olds.

Teacher Catherine Emmitt thinks Mr Blunkett is not aware of the guidance schools are given regarding the tests.

"We have a script to read the instructions to the children. They mustn't talk to each other, they must be undisturbed, work individually, and in order to do this in an ordinary classroom children have to sit separately from each other, be quiet not talk to each other as they would normally do in an infant classroom, and I would call those test conditions," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The pressure is even greater at Key Stage 2 - when the results of children's tests in their final year of primary school are published annually and form the basis of school performance tables in England.

"I feel quite nervous because I want to do well and I don't want to let down my teacher," said 10-year-old Charlotte Dove.

"It puts pressure on the class because everyone's really worried about whether they are going to do well or not."

Her mother Jan said children were coming home from school knowing they had eight days after the Easter holiday before they were to take the tests.

"If the children are coming home saying that it's really highlighting how much they realise is riding on them," she said.

'Necessary measure'

Kenneth Clarke was education secretary in the Tory government which brought in the tests in 1991.

"I think we've heard some rather over-concerned adults and some examples of rather over-concerned adult behaviour," he said.

The tests did not harm seven-year-old children and were necessary to measure what progress they were making.

"Until we had the tests ... parents had no information at all about the progress being made by children at school.

"And the huge variations in performance that existed, the huge variations in quality of education in different schools was just taken for granted."

It would he said be "a disaster" to reverse these educational reforms.

'Ninety per cent stress-free'

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) administers the national curriculum tests for seven, 11 and 14-year-olds in school Key Stages 1, 2 and 3.

It says most pressure is put upon children by their parents.

Gail Cowmeadow, the QCA's Key Stage 1 assessment team leader, said over 90% of teachers thought the tests did not stress their pupils.

"Generally speaking they give them a positive rating for lack of stress," she said.

"However parents have become more aware of the tests and I think sometimes they are putting pressure on children, they don't know they are doing it, but they are putting pressure."

Do you think seven-year-old children should be tested? Let us know what you think.

Send us your comments:

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Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

Your reaction

My son is in Year 1 and from what I have seen of his schoolwork is perfectly capable of holding his own in spelling, reading and maths. Yet he is continually anxious about his performance compared to his friends - he only got four out of five while Jack got five out of five etc - and has already started to worry about he will perform in his SATS tests - which aren't until next year!

My son should have nothing more on his mind at the end of the day than if it's fine enough to play outside. For heaven's sake, let's allow our children to BE children and not force them to take on more "grown up" worries at such a young age.
Rebecca Parsley, England

As a mother of three and a grandmother of three, I am appalled that seven-year-old children are subjected to these tests. The tests themselves are certainly not valid and only show what that child can do at a given time. There are far too many variables involved - what if a child comes to school without breakfast or from a dysfunctional family where there is abuse of some sort? How can a child perform well under such circumstances?

I believe it is far better to allow teachers to evaluate what a child can and can't do, and preferably the evaluation should take place over the course of a year. My children were never subjected to these kinds of stresses and I relied on their teachers to do the best job they could given the "raw material" I sent them.
Jennifer Hawkins, Canada

Cut the whinging and let's test, test and test again, in order to identify the problem-pupils.

Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK
I don't see what all the fuss is about. When I was at primary school in the sixties, we had homework, and at the end of each term we did tests in reading, writing and arithmetic.
I certainly didn't find it a stressful experience, and as to feeling under pressure from my parents, well, they assumed that I would do well, and acted to reinforce my belief that I would.
So cut the whinging and let's test, test and test again, in order to identify the problem-pupils and give them extra assistance to improve their standards.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK

If the tests are integrated in to the annual cycle of events in a school then the pupils should be ok. The wider issue is that the broader curriculum needed to enrich the lives of our kids is being distorted by the current desire to "weigh the pig." Blunkett is in danger of distorting the creative parts of the curriculum for political gains.
L Toye, England

Who wants children to hide their light (no matter whether it is blazing, dim or ordinary) under a bushel?

Simon Crome, England
What an odd discussion this is. These tests are only benchmark tests for the school and the school system, not the child. Seven-year-olds are delighted to show what they can do, and are only fussed by what they cannot do if the school or their parents make them so.
No doubt some children are upset, but it will only be the school or the parent upsetting them, not the test. Who wants children to hide their light (no matter whether it is blazing, dim or ordinary) under a bushel? Give them a chance to shine as they will.
The results of course reflect on the school, but they only provide a base. Anyone can tell that an average result from a school with an above average intake is nowhere near as good as an average result from a school with a disadvantaged intake, provided one can be sure that that the actual level achieved that is shown by the same result is actually the same for both schools.
Simon Crome, England

No, seven-year-olds should not be tested in this way. I'm sure a more appropriate assessment could be made by studying the kids' general capabilities and understanding of the subjects over the course of the year, and leaving out the stress involved for parents, teachers, and children.
Broadening the national curriculum is a means to an end, if anything it should be reduced. We run the risk of becoming a nation of mediocre all-rounders, rather than highly skilled specialists.
Alex, England

My daughter is due to take her Stage One SATs after Easter and is already showing signs of stress and anxiety.

Sue Adams, UK
My daughter is due to take her Stage One SATs after Easter and is already showing signs of stress and anxiety.
The teachers have said that the children do not know they are to take tests as they are not told, and we haven't mentioned it at home, but my daughter and her friends have definitely picked up that something is going on! There is much emphasis on past papers and working in a different way. Whilst I am all in favour of infants doing some homework, I do feel that the amount my daughter is being set at present is onerous - spellings, maths, reading and a story to write all in one weekend!
Sue Adams, UK

Class tests are something they positively enjoy as a chance to prove themselves.

Elizabeth Meath Baker, Turkey/UK
I have four daughters, the third is aged seven, and their British school here in Turkey does not offer these tests. However so far class tests are something they positively enjoy as a chance to prove themselves. As parents we take a relaxed attitude, and the children do not even tell us if and when they have a test.
My eldest child, 12, is at boarding school: when asked if she liked exams, she replied that the only thing she could think of that would be more exciting would be bungy-jumping. She thoroughly enjoys the challenge and it pays off. I do like to think that a fairly casual parental attitude makes this possible for her.
Elizabeth Meath Baker, Turkey/UK

Realising the Obvious: Paper I, 13 April 2000.

Answer one question only.

1) Parents genuinely believe that their children's future can be made or broken by testing them for a day, at the age of seven. At the same time, teachers are obsessively opposed to any changes whatsoever to the status quo.

Discuss, with reference to:
a) Providing hard evidence of whether the performance of schools and pupils is improving, and
b) Rooting out the large minority of teachers who are dangerously underqualified, neurotic, hate-filled and plain unsuitable for the job, given the impact this has on the nation's children.

2) Many teachers are opposed not only to OFSTED practice, but also the idea of their performance being examined, in general. List three vocations which are
a) as large-scale as teaching,
b) have as much potential for social damage, and
c) have no formal assessment of staff quality.

You have half an hour to complete this test. No reference may be made to what it was like "in your day". Answers which assume 100% teacher competence will be disregarded by the examiner and any rational person.
Max, England

No child of this age should have that pressure on them. Ban the idea!

Mrs Heather Jones, Wales
Primary School children should not be given homework. Parents are spending at least 1-2 hours each evening try to help their children keep up with their work. There are too many reports that the teaching staff are required to complete. This cuts down the teaching time with the children.
Far too much emphasise on MUST be done. What the teacher is unable to do the parent have to. My own granddaughter 7 in August 2000 is having to be tested in May. No child of this age should have that pressure on them. Ban the idea!
Mrs Heather Jones, Wales

The point is not so much do children get stressed by all these exams, but more how much time are they taking up? With schools forever under pressure to improve results, what can they do but concentrate on getting pupils through exams at the expense of a wider curriculum.
Governments have to learn that their pursuit of statistics is damaging the thing they are trying to improve. Let the teachers get on with teaching!
Lee Mason, UK

Schools have lost the magic, they have become rigid and linear.

P. Collinson, England
Without a doubt, all children, staff, parents and Governors are put under pressure and stress to achieve government lead results. In my opinion it is a form of bullying! You do not promote quality of learning by cramming children to pass tests.
A school should be a happy learning environment. It should be fun, exciting and imaginative. Schools have lost the magic, they have become rigid and linear. Many heads and teachers are exhausted and are losing the enthusiasm they once truly had for education.
We need to allow children to express themselves through music, art, drama, languages, sport, and teamwork. They must be given training in social responsibilities. Yes we do have all this in the National Curriculum, but we are only measured on SAT results!!
P. Collinson, England

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See also:

12 Apr 00 | Education
Tests could change to cut stress
31 Jul 99 | Education
UK students face testing times
15 Sep 99 | Education
Pupils shine in tests
13 Dec 99 | Education
Spelling out school improvement
10 Apr 00 | Education
Mother keeps son off school tests
12 Oct 98 | Education
Stress testing schoolchildren
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