By Natasha Isaac, Awareness Director at The School Exclusion Project.
In her speech yesterday to the centre-right think tank the Policy Exchange, Nicky Morgan outlined a new regime of formal assessments for 7 year olds.
This is a worrying announcement. The main concern is the negative effect that earlier testing will have on children’s mental health and the likelihood of them being permanently excluded. I believe that formalised testing at an ever younger age will dramatically increase the pressure that young children are under, particularly considering the heavily league table-driven nature of our education system. Most worryingly, earlier formal assessment will likely result in head teachers seeking to ‘prune off’ under-achieving children at an earlier stage – a course of action which we feel will disproportionately affect children with Special Educational Needs (SEN).
Pupils with SEN already account disproportionately for 7 in 10 of all permanent exclusions, despite only making up 20% of the student body. Moreover, according to the latest Government figures, pupils without formal recognition of their SEN have the highest permanent exclusion rate and are around 9 times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion than pupils with no recognised SEN. Critically, undiagnosed SEN is most prevalent within younger children.
Consequently, the earlier testing proposed by Ms Morgan today will likely hit those younger children who have undiagnosed SEN hardest because without the support given to students with recognised SEN, they will struggle under a rigid system of formal assessment. The pressure that this struggle will create is likely to see young children with undiagnosed SEN become more disruptive as they feel unsupported, or cause them to be viewed as a hinderance on a school’s league position – both of which regularly lead to permanent exclusion.
Finally, in her speech Ms Morgan maintained that she wanted to “build an education system that truly unites us as one nation”. However I feel that the measures she announced will do the exact opposite of this. Testing at a younger age will discriminate against children with undiagnosed SEN and leave them more vulnerable to permanent exclusion through no fault of their own. An education system for one nation would recognise these dangers and work for all children so that as many students as possible can flourish in mainstream education.