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Is our obsession with testing ruining education?

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

The recent announcement from Ofsted of a new inspection framework has prompted many within education to consider what really matters in our schools.

It’s an opportunity to re-evaluate and take stock – a natural pause to do an ‘curriculum audit’ and re-shape a school’s offering for the future. Of course, the fact that is the release of details of a new inspection framework that has served as such a catalyst will be seen my many as a perfect example of everything that is wrong with education in the UK.

We have a system that is basically led by the need for schools to jump through whatever hoops the inspectorate puts in front of them.

Looking at things a little more positively, at least it has got people thinking about what our education system should be. Exams should not be the prime focus of education It has to be said news of the revamped inspection framework was met with a good deal of scepticism from schools, in terms of concerns about how it might actually work in practice.

However, there has been almost unanimous support for the perceived shift in emphasis away from examination results. For too long, examination results have been placed on a pedestal and seen as the be-all-and-end-all of education.

Of course, exam results should really be nothing more than a pleasing by-product of a great education system, not the major focus of it. What we should be doing is asking ourselves what the overall purpose of school really is.

Is a school providing an excellent education if its pupils achieve an excellent set of examination results? Well, it’s perhaps difficult that it isn’t – but does it mean that schools are becoming ‘exam factories’? Does this mean that the focus of schools has become about filling students’ heads with the knowledge necessary to pass exams? At what cost does this occur; and do those exams actually prepare young people for the future? Are imagination, originality and creativity suffering? Many people within education believe that our obsession with testing is damaging education – arguing that students’ imagination, originality and creativity are all suffering as a result, as young people are not being allowed the opportunity to develop their critical thinking or creative side. Maybe we should be looking at successful education systems in other countries.

Scandinavian countries, particularly Finland, are often held up as the yardstick to follow.

These are countries that have been consistently outperforming the UK for well over a decade. The common denominator in the education systems of Scandinavian countries is that there is a conspicuous lack of any form of testing until students have reached the age of 16. What this means is that education (and students) from the age of 6-15 can develop without the worry of passing tests.

The major flaw of a testing regime is that it supposes that children should be ‘at a particular place’ by a certain age.

Outcomes-based learning presumes that children progress at the same rate and learn in the same way – which, of course, is a nonsense. The by-product of this approach is that teaching and learning becomes forced, and increasingly time is devoted of getting students through tests.

Is this really what we want education to be?


1- Are we over testing our students?

2- When should be begin testing?

3- Creativity, not testing and data is key to education

4- SATs stress: mental health first aid is not the answer

5- Exams - How could they be done differently?