Knackered knees, Heterogeneous vs homogeneous, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin, and Adam continue the discussion about Japan, this time asking why they and other high performing nations choose to not formally test younger pupils. Why do we have a KS1 SATs test in the first place? Why do high performing nations not have these tests? Plus, Adam discusses what non-statutory KS1 SATs in the UK will look like next year.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
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Welcome everyone to another exciting episode of The School of School podcast. And once again, Robin brings us challenging ideas to think about. So in the last episode, you'll remember we were talking about some of the practises in Japan, particularly at the introduction of schooling. And one of the things was that there was an emphasis on, it was manners, which we talked about in the last podcast a little bit. But now I want to follow up on another point that Robin picked up on, which was that they don't do any testing till grade four in Japan. They don't think there's any value, I suppose, to testing children younger than children in grade four. So what do you guys think about that?
Can I just jump in? Just for the international audience, grade four, can you give us a age boundary? How old are we in grade 4? Eight, nine, is it? I'm not sure. Is that roughly?
Well look if they start at six in grade one then we're talking about?
Nine, ten, right?
Okay, cool. Cool, cool. Just to get an idea. So we're basically saying that the wee kids that come into our schools, we are not putting them through formalised testing, or at least in Japan anyway.
And so the merits in that, well, I think straight away, straight away I think that if we rewind from assessment. Now we all know the place of assessment. So we won't spend, I don't think at the moment, spend a huge amount of time talking about the benefits of assessment and what it looks like and those sorts of things. But what I would say is that whenever we put statutory assessments in place, there is always a, I'm just going to use the word temptation, for that to take up the largest proportion of time at school to ensure that those statutory assessments are successful.
So I imagine it's going to stand to reason to say that if they're not introduced at a young age, then there's not the same perhaps culture of working towards the test. And maybe there's a focus on other things, which I know when we talked about in Japan, it was kind of, I know we were talking about manners and societal norms and those sorts of things. Why would it be good? Why would it be good to statutory test young children? Oh, that's a question that I'm, come back to the original point, Andy, but why would it be good?
Well, I think there are lots of valid reasons to do it. So forget about the kids for a second. It just sounds like a crazy idea because we're supposed to be talking about education. Nevermind the kids. If you need some kind of calibration to work out whether or not your education system is working. So you need to be able to benchmark what's going on. And it's a quality control thing. So from a quality control point of view, you need to have certain points along the way where you take measurements and then you compare those measurements and then you can help to decipher whether or not things are going the way they should. If you look at it strictly from an engineering point of view.
Look at education as an engineering process. You want to measure what's coming in, you need to measure early on and you need to measure at the end.
Those are almost, like from an engineering point of view, almost like what's coming in, what's going out that tells you how well the process works. So there's an argument from that point of view. Now, does that help the kids learn? That's a different question. Does it help the individual student learn? Probably not. Could it help you? Could it help you? Not does it help you, could it help you create a better education system? Arguably, yes. But does that actually happen? You can collect all the data you want. Are you doing anything sensible with that data? Which is a different question. I think you can make an argument for measurement at any stage.
Right? The point is, is it helping anybody?
It could help people.
Can I throw a curve ball?
Can I throw a curve ball at you, Andy? Sorry, while you were-...
...Talking, I was... Yes. While you're on your soapbox, I started thinking now I'm going to move countries from Japan over to Finland because there's something that I've read about Finland before and they're also, they've got a fantastic education system. I think they rank sixth in the world for their education. And yet kids don't go to school until they're seven. They do not have standardised testing. I think Finland has one standardised test late in high school, but otherwise they don't have homework. They don't do over 20 hours a week of class time. And it sounds a bit like a dream for a student, but yet here they are ranking sixth in the world. They're not doing standardised testing and certainly not at a young age. So something's working there.
Well, absolutely. And there's lots of interesting things. So I'm not trying to make an argument that testing young children is a good idea. I'm just trying to say that you could argue that it's a good idea from a scientific point of view. Right? There's a valid reason why a government might want to do testing. And again, if you look at countries like Finland, you've got this other play. You've got this heterogeneous, homogeneous society. If you look at most of the top performing, most not all, most of the top performing nations in education, they tend to be homogeneous nations where there's more cultural cohesion and heterogeneous countries tend to on the whole struggle a bit more. So there's other factors. We know that. We can't pin it for sure. I don't think testing young children will help the children, but it could help the minister of education design a better curriculum, right?
Yeah. I think that that could happen. The problem is most people in decision-making, a.k.a. politicians in a lot of countries, decision-making positions about education, don't look at any of that stuff. They do what's going to get them votes. Look at the United States as a perfect example, in Florida. Let's forget about what anything that we've ever learned about education, let's forget all that stuff. And let's just say stuff that's going to make people vote for us. And as long as education is manipulated by politicians, there's no point in measuring anything in education really, because it's kind of a crap show anyway. So Finland seems to do remarkably well by some people's measures. Other people are very critical about Finland, right? But you tend to hear the headlines. Again, you don't know the whole story. There's things about Finland that are quite interesting. Finland was the number one country in PISA, I think.
Wow. Way back when. I don't remember when. And they were the headline story. And since then, everyone's been talking about Finland as if they're the greatest country in the world in education. And people still refer to Finland all the time, but they've been dropping like a stone since then. But no one's talking about that because they still remember the headline from 20 years ago that Finland's the greatest country in education. They're not anymore. Actual fact, they've been dropping quite a lot in international standings in the last 20 years.
But we don't want to talk about that because that's not the headline. But Finland's done lots of right things and I wouldn't criticise them. They do a lot better than most people, but other people are doing better. But you might not want to live in that environment. Look at Shanghai, right? Shanghai does remarkably well as a city state. They're not really a city state, but if you considered them a city state, because they kind of are, they operate like one. They do remarkably well, would you want your kids going to school there? Probably not. There's something missing in that school system. That's what exists in Finland, right?
Yeah. It's like they do really, really well academically. Is that the only thing you want your kids to go to school for? So I don't know. All this stuff is a bit, this ranking stuff is dangerous. You need to know the whole story.
Well, just coming with a slightly different angle. So I'm here in the UK and we have the SATs tests, right? So standardised testing in year two and in year six. So the 2022, 23 academic year is going to be the last year. It's been announced, SATs, 23, 24, they'll become non-statutory. So read into that choice. I'm fascinated because I think for a lot of schools they'll be saying we don't want that level of statutory testing to define our school or to set the benchmarks for progress. Because sometimes if you've got schools where there's a lot of coming and going, different children coming and going, some of those statistics can look quite different for different children depending on how you use them. And we bring in the data from previous schools and those sorts of things. But what I was going to say, what will be really interesting, is when it becomes a choice for schools. I guess there's more incentive for schools to look at the worth of them.
And I wonder how many schools will use them and how they'll be used and whether it will be used in a way that will benefit the schools in its entirety. Whether or not some schools will simply say, that is not for us. We are not going to do that level of testing until the end of the primary school. So I think that's going to be really, really interesting as to how they're used or whether there's a sense that we need to keep doing them for exactly what you are talking about, Andy, which is that benchmarking against other people. And that's the... Now of course we need to know if schools are doing well, but I just think it's interesting the government over here, at least in England, moving away from that statutory assessment at a younger age, but leaving the choice to the schools. And I wonder what people will choose. I wonder when it comes to that end of that year, whether or not, because it's still be assessments available for schools. I think it'd be really interesting.
One has to question, what the purpose of this is. So we're not taking statutory testing away entirely.
We're not saying that national tests are going to disappear. We're just saying it's going to disappear from primary schools
Just for the key stage 1. So just for the six and seven year old.
Yeah. Yeah. So year two.
I think it's okay. But the question is as a school, do you need to do a summative assessment and what's your benchmark? Okay, what's the point of your two SATs? Let's look at it that way. At the end of key stage 1, what's the point of doing them in the first place for a school?
National measure from key stage 1 to key stage 2 are children making expected progress, better than expected progress, not the same progress. So we can be judged, schools can be judged on a national model with national statistics at each level to tell us. So that that's the kind of headline data in terms of... I don't know a school that doesn't do some form of summative assessment that would drop summative assessment. I think the vast majority of schools will keep doing summative assessment because they want to know what the children have learned at the end of a term or a half term or a year. But I think that an answer to your question, it's a measure of progress from one phase of school to another.
So as a school leader, which you've been, are you happy trusting your teachers entirely, trusting your teacher's judgement on how the pupils are progressing at the end of year two?
Oh, that's a loaded question. I mean you have to, yeah.
But that's the question though, right?
Yeah. But of course, I think the thing is, I think that I'm going to be slightly like a politician on this one and just bounce to the right, just ever so slightly. I think that you've got to, whilst those assessments are in place, you need to make sure that the judgments and the assessment that's being done is as accurate as possible. Now there's going to be a range of assessment in terms of how well you can assess or how the assessments are given or how valid different assessments are. I could go to the internet and pull off an assessment that may have no quality assurance whatsoever and start to put that into my classrooms to say, are we on track for a good SATs result? But what I would say is that there has to be two forms of assessment in our school.
There has to be our day-to-day formative assessment. There has to be summative assessment. So I think that we all need something to support our assessment because we are limited as to how well each of us can assess. And I think that one of the things, this is going to go down a slightly different topic is assessment writing is incredibly difficult and a very complex and acquired skill. So I think that, in answer to your question, how confident are you? You have to be confident in your stuff, full stop. You've got to be confident that you've employed the right people, put them in the right place and given them the right training to be able to assess. But I also think, and I know a bit more about this than I did when I first started teaching, just the complexity in a well-written assessment paper that can perhaps provide us with information that we've not looked at in classrooms before. I think you have to trust the assessment, but you also need to have it validated at some point. You have to, in terms of summative assessment.
So if you've got to do assessment anyway, summative assessment, what's wrong with it being a national test?
Just more heat. It's as simple as that. I think that people feel more pressure.
Yeah, more pressure.
Yeah, totally. And whether or not that translate to something good, does that create a more focused curriculum? Sorry. Yeah, like a more narrow curriculum because we can just concentrate on those things that are going to make national headlines and in the face of the school, or if that's taken away, does that impact negatively or does that allow for a different emphasis on different areas that might be more beneficial to kids?
So do you feel that the pressure translates down to the children in year two?
It can do, yeah. Yeah, yeah. For sure.
And that's detrimental potentially to their learning experience?
I think potentially it can be. Potentially. But I think it depends on how it's managed. Ultimately what they're learning shouldn't change. We've got a national curriculum and it should be taught well and children should learn really well. So the summative assessment by rights should tell us what we already know and what we've observed in class. And it should be a validation of what we've done. But I think that I have seen SATs that haven't been as well managed because, I don't know, it usually comes from the top. So if I'm a head teacher in a school and I'm really up against it and the SATs results have been dropping and dropping and dropping and dropping, then my staff are going to be aware of that. If the staff are aware of it, they're going to feel that their own personal positions, what's going to happen.
And then that can translate to children. And I think that the pressure that you feel as a head teacher, that shouldn't be felt by a child. The pressure you feel as a teacher shouldn't be felt by a six or seven year old, but they should take pleasure in learning mathematics. It shouldn't be something that is... Or any subject, anything that that's tested. So I think, yeah, it has to be managed, but that that's also at year six, the 10 and 11 year olds as well. It has to be really well managed because children, they feel the pressure. It's not to say that they need to be wrapped in cotton wool, but I think that it's a chance for someone to do well and to show what they're doing as opposed to if you don't get this right, this is my job on the line, or that pressure that as an adult you might feel from external sources. There's no place, there's no place for a child to feel it.
So, Adam, just a question then. They've made this decision to get rid of this assessment at a younger age, and I'm just curious, is this, do you think, post pandemic? That they have something to do with the pressure or the stress that they're seeing that kids don't need that?
Yeah, possibly. I'm not sure. I'm not sure. But I think that the way that we look at it... I mean assessments been an upheaval since the pandemic's hit. You don't need to look at secondary grades and A levels and GCSEs and the disruption to those sorts of areas where we're having to make decisions or the government's having to make decisions about how that's marked. But I think that the baseline assessment was pushed back. That was part of it was because of the pandemic. So the baseline assessment for young children coming into school. And I think that just perhaps there is an emphasis on looking at assessment overall in an environment that's changing. But I don't, the short answer on it is, I don't know. I don't know, because we are still... Assessment is key, right? Assessment is the single most important thing as far as I'm concerned.
Well, and the subject knowledge of the person doing it. But you've got to know, if a doctor doesn't know what's wrong with you, they can't help you. The better the diagnosis, the better the treatment is a general rule. And that holds true in schools and that's assessment. And so even though we might talk about some statutory tests, some people might think that's like a dirty word, assessment is so crucial. And I think never more so with the disruption that we've had to schooling over the last couple of years. And I think that we need to be very careful and we take assessments away or new assessments are introduced that we're very clear about how this supports learning. And I think that's probably the biggest thing is the focus on what the point of these assessments are.
If you look at high performing nations, there's a mix, right? So some high performing nations don't do a lot, especially early on, like national summative assessments. Some do. So I don't think it's a huge factor. I mean, I think you can succeed whether you do it or you don't, right? But you certainly don't need to do it to succeed, I guess is what I'm saying. You don't need to test six year old children to have a successful education system. We know that. Right? But the question is, does it hurt to do it? In Japan, for whatever reason, they don't do it. I don't know what the reason is for them not to do it. I know in other countries that don't do it, Finland for example, as Robin pointed out earlier, Singapore only the first national exam is at the end of primary, they're all high performing nations.
Canada tends not to do, it's province by province, but they tend not to do national exams at young ages. I don't know of any provinces that do. I don't know if you do, Robin? I think pretty much throughout the board there's no national exam. But for the most part there is a end of primary school national exam. And I also know that some of the research tends to point that if you really, really want a high performing, and I don't know how accurate this is, but if you really want to want a super high performing education system, there has to be a high stakes exam at the end of primary. And by high stakes, I mean it needs to be decisive. If you don't do well, you go to a different school than the people who do really well. And there has to be a push factor and there has to be a pull factor.
And that really difficult high stakes national exam at the end tends to generate better results overall than if you don't have one. And that's been shown in research. But again, you get into the, is that the cause for the good results or is that just a correlation? You don't know really, right? So you can't categorically say that because you have a high stakes exam, you're going to do better. But it's a tricky subject. Yeah. It brings back the question, why are you assessing the kids in the first place? If you really don't know why you're assessing them, then don't assess them. Right? Because you're wasting everybody's time. That's not to say you shouldn't assess them. That means you should know why you're assessing
The last little 2 cents from me. And also, what do you do? You know why, but what are the tangible outcomes of doing it and the data that you get, the wealth of data? And I think that's, again, from what I know about some high performing jurisdictions, that information's well used and well thought out and forms part of a longer evaluation of education. Not just, we've got some headline data and that's it. I think that, I know it's not used like that in government, but the cynical part might say, once the SATs are over, do we use them? And I think if the assessment is not supporting learning, then it's either the wrong assessment or at the wrong time. I think it has to come back to have tangible impacts on supporting learning to help us know more, to treat better. Not just to tell you, Andy, your knee's gone anyway, mate. That's the headline for today. Off you go and we'll test it again next year and we'll see how your knee is. Still knackered. Oh, well that's a shame. We've got to use it. We've got to use it.
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Good insights.
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