Not everything that counts can be counted

Author: Kiri Tunks, teacher and NUT Junior Vice President

You Can’t Test This is a grassroots initiative which came out of a conversation between classroom teachers at the NUT’s National Education Conference in 2016. Sick of the impact of a narrow, toxic testing regime, they decided to try and get teachers to find things to teach which can’t easily be tested but which are a rich source of learning.

The idea was to support the Union’s campaigns against the testing regime by enabling individuals or groups of teachers to take action in their own classrooms. Some teachers just did one-off lessons; others worked across their year or department to plan drop-down days; some schools dedicated the whole week to it.

Teachers in Oxfordshire, Nottingham, London, Birmingham, Cambridgeshire, Manchester, Devon and the North East introduced practical, creative activities across the curriculum. In maths, children learnt about ratio through colour mixing with syringes and paint or they set up shops where each table established their own shop and went into business; in English students went on punctuation safaris to look at literacy in action or made books for younger children. Teachers took the opportunity to bring in art, dance, drama and music workshops. Outside Classroom days, Forest Schools, setting up a news room: the possibilities are endless.

Of course, lots of schools do make space for this kind of activity already but it is becoming an extra, an occasional, experience. We want teachers to feel confident about bringing this kind of learning to the classroom on a routine basis; to ensure that learning is broad and rich; to resist the notion that only what can be tested has value.

And reports from participants report how it is having that impact. One teacher commented that the learning prompted children to question how the activities were linked to maths and really got them thinking about how maths links to life and other areas of learning. Another said that she wanted the learning in her classroom to regularly feel like the You Can’t Test This session did.

“It was such a pleasure for the first session on a Monday morning to be creative and inspiring and purely for the sake of learning itself”.

Megan Quinn, a teacher at Gospel Oak Primary School in Camden said:

“We had an art exploration afternoon in year 5 yesterday. It was fantastic – 30 engaged, focused children really enjoying the opportunity to follow projects of their own. I have had an email from a parent saying how much her daughter enjoyed it.”

And this parental voice is important. We know that parents share our concerns about the narrowing of the curriculum and the testing regime. We need to start talking more to them and enlisting their support for our demands.

Our primary curriculum is not fit for purpose. Its enslavement to the testing regime only has value for the ranking of schools for the purposes of privatisation. Our children are being reduced to data files; their needs and interests are being excised from education entirely.

It’s time to stop trying to meet the demands of increasingly pointless tests and start insisting that schools meet the needs of our children and not the ideological, confused and unsubstantiated demands of the government.

More Than a Score is bringing together teachers, parents and people from across the fields of education and child development to call for an education system that enriches our children and young people and gives them the skills and knowledge they need for life and work in the 21 st century.



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