A-levels, GCSEs, GCEs, Highers, Standard Grades, 11-plus, and SATs. Comprehensives, key stages and grammars. Sixth form, primary, secondary and reception. What does it all mean, what is the point, and most importantly, why do several acronyms and how one performs on them determine the course of one’s life?
Each of these acronyms above represent either a standardised test itself, or something that is determined by standardised test. A-levels often the sole factor where one goes to university, GCSEs the sole factor in determining if and where one goes to sixth form, and in several places, one test an the early age of eleven years old, determines the outcome of two more standardised tests by determining the quality of education that one receives.
Ostensibly, the purpose of standardised testing is to determine what educational stream a child should be put into, as well as determining how successful he or she is likely to be. The issue that arises here is one of educational diversity. No two people are exactly alike, and as such, no two people learn in the same way. Some are excellent in a testing situation, while others perform better in a practical assessment than an exam. Education and testing is an issue which the Labour Party has historically been indecisive on, having overseen the implementation of the Tripartite System-whose sole determinant was the 11 plus-to making plans to eliminate state grammar schools.
In opposition, it is incumbent upon the Labour Party to set out a clear, concise and workable education manifesto, especially having seen the effects of such Coalition-driven legislation such as the Academies Bill. The answer is not to do away with standardised testing in its entirety, but it is not practical nor is it fair to not only put an emphasis on testing above all else but also to attempt to stream children at the age of 11 as is done in several local authorities, with in many cases, no chance for reassessment at a later age.
One of the main reasons behind the lack of coherence to the UK education system is the fact that it not only developed asynchronously, but also has never been allowed to fully adjust to changing structural and societal demands, as a result of the myriad of changes which successive governments have implemented, from the partial abolition of the Tripartite System to the introduction of the Academies Bill.
Ultimately, it should not matter whether a student attends a faith school, a community school or a voluntary-aided school. What should matter is that no matter what, every student should have the equality of opportunity that in many cases is available now to those who pass one standardised test at the age of 11. The answer is not necessarily to do away with streaming, but to move from a system of one-time upwards streaming, to one which is fluid and provides linear movement not only at multiple times, but also determined through multiple means.