I have no professional understanding of education and confess that my own educational attainment is not something which looks very coherent on a job application form. However I have two grown up children who I have seen grow from their birth and have plenty of opportunity to hear about the educational experience of the children of some of my closest friends. I am also married to someone who is an early years professional. With this amateur background I can confidently state that all children are very different. They learn in different ways and they play in different ways and in time they work in different ways. Hopefully all of us will continue to work, learn and play until it is time for us to be cared for in an intensive way at the end of our lives.
According to this mornings news Michael Gove has decided that he will test our children when they first arrive at school, at the age of 4 or 5. I am certain that if he is able to implement his idea that the tests will be designed to be as effective as possible for 4 or 5 year olds and that the data which emerges when the tests are marked will prove useful for the teachers, schools and a whole panoply of organisations including the Government. As I have written previously, there is no evidence that any of the Ministers in the Department for Education have any professional experience in teaching or even in running Schools on a day by day basis. However I am certain that this idea has emerged after discussions with educationalists who are all a great deal better qualified than me, or perhaps I should say I really hope that this is the case.
Having outlined how ill qualified I am personally to write about education, nevertheless it is my strong view that Michel Gove is wrong to introduce testing in this way. The qualifications I do possess are in engineering, specifically electronic engineering. What I know from empirical evidence and a hard won Bsc Degree, is that measuring things impacts on the things being measured. The expectation is that one will use a technique that mitigates this impact. It is possible to measure very small flows of electricity in certain components that are needed to run powerful computers, but the equipment that is needed is usually very costly and takes a great deal of care. This is because the intervention techniques that are used to measure large flows of electricity introduce chemical and physical components into the circuit which impact on the small flows of electricity. The tools used to measure if mains power is present, say in a TV or cooker are completely unsuitable to measure how electricity flows in the components that run the Internet.
Measuring the knowledge and understanding in very young people can be much more disruptive in the lives concerned than the benefit of the test in the first point. If the Government was proposing investing the sort of money that will be needed to assess these young people in an effective and sensitive enough manner then I think that some of those who have written in the Telegraph to oppose this proposal would be more open. To give a practical example, it might take a whole term to fully assess and test the children who arrive at each local primary school, the testing would probably require someone who is fully qualified (what most of us call a teacher) who could sit with the children and find out what their understanding of numbers, letters and words is. Each class would need an additional teacher for say a term. By the end of the term there would be an independently measured and assessed understanding of each of the children. Of course some people might argue that the benefit of this knowledge was achieved at a cost that was unsustainable or that the money could be better used, but as I can attest from my electronic studies, as much as we might want to know how electricity flows in a given item, using the wrong techniques simply gives the wrong reading and can damage the components involved. Our children are too important to be damaged by destructive techniques or the sort of false readings that are commonplace in the electronics lab when the wrong techniques are applied.