“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making,
the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
Campbell’s Law, Donald T. Campbell
If you worked in a Widget Factory, making widgets, your manager could assess you by testing the quality of the widgets you made. If some of the widgets you built turned out to be faulty, your manager might refuse to award you a pay rise, insist that you undertook additional training, or sack you for incompetence if your widget making did not improve. The widgets themselves would have no influence over whether they were faulty or not – the responsibility would be that of the widget makers alone. The widgets would not be impacted by the testing, since they are inanimate objects. If the worst happened, and lots of the workers made faulty widgets, your Widget Factory may have to close. That is how competition within a market works, after all.
Education is not a Widget Factory; it is a social endeavour, involving small and sometimes vulnerable children. Children are not ‘made educated’ by teachers and schools, as though they are widgets passing along a production line. Children must be willing participants in the process of learning, or the endeavour will not succeed. Learning is not something that only happens in schools, nor is it something that is only done by teachers. A child’s home environment has a powerful effect on his or her chances of educational success. If children were widgets, testing would have no impact on them. But children (especially tiny ones) are not inanimate objects – emotion is more powerful than reason when you’re a child. Any test that measures your school, your teacher, and you, is going to feel scary for some.
Trying to turn education into a Widget Factory, as the Government seems determined to do, is doomed to failure. As Campbell’s Law reveals, when you start trying to test a social endeavour, you begin to distort the very thing you had hoped to measure. The longer we continue in this manner, the more schools are encouraged to become like widget factories. Each one in competition with the others, all trying to produce widgets that will pass this month’s widget test. In her speech today, Nicky Morgan announced a consultation about Key Stage One SATs (which given the current rhetoric will likely translate into making them (a) harder and (b) externally marked). Sadly, Nicky Morgan seems to have forgotten that the children taking these SATs are only seven years old. And she also seems to have forgotten that parents are not sending their children to a Widget Factory to be ‘built’ and to be ‘tested’. They are sending them to school to be cared for and to learn.