Quality Assurance or Quality Control?

Just after 7am this morning I was telephoned by a researcher from BBC 5 Live to ask what I thought about the new ‘tables’ tests for Year 4 pupils? Not a great deal at that time of the morning was my first and honest thought. However, early morning phone calls are an occupational hazard for anyone prepared to make a comment on issues of public interest and that response wouldn’t do. Some calls of this nature develop into big stories and make headlines: others disappear onto the modern equivalent of the editor’s spike, either dumped or relegated to a footnote in a news bulletin.

Sometimes, you don’t get a call back, as promised, but a text message saying that the item isn’t proceeding either due to other stories taking precedence or some similar phrase, as happened this morning and you then wonder whether the point of view you expressed to the researcher was too similar to those everyone else was expressing and what they were looking for was a different view to balance the debate?

On the story about multiplication tests  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43046142 or ‘checks’ as they are being called, my view is that they should be scrutinised through the lens of whether they are a quality control or a quality assurance measure? If the former, then they are likely to be required of all teachers at the same time. The results then tell us on that day how well the age group are doing. We would possibly expect summer born children to do less well than those with a longer exposure to schooling and those that have remained in the same school to do better than those pupils that have already been subject to changing school one or more times. Pupils will a poor attendance record, for whatever reason, might also do less well.

A quality assurance check would allow the DfE to provide both an expected level but also to help teachers diagnose why those pupils that don’t reach the level expected fail to do so. The DfE might them provide some research into what will work with these pupils to help them reach the standard expected of most children at that point in their education. Such an approach, rich in a developmental approach aimed at helping the system, is more expensive than a simple check that will allow Ministers to blame failing schools and by implication their teachers through the medium of the Ofsted inspection.  If I was in charge of Ofsted, I might want to take the DfE to task for making the job of improving our school system a bit harder if it further reduced trust in the inspection system.

I guess that the DfE cannot afford to spend money on diagnostic tests and a simple pen and paper exercise to be marked by teachers in their own time looks more profitable in terms of political capital.

Take this new the test when a pupil is  ready; collect the data electronically and then let the results tell the DfE if their choice of Opportunity Areas is the correct one or whether key areas such as South East Oxford City have been consistently overlooked for intervention and extra resources? In this technological age, we need to harness the resources at our disposal to help both teachers and their pupils to learn effectively not just impose more burdens on everyone.

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4 thoughts on “Quality Assurance or Quality Control?

  1. Instant recall of a multiplication problem using tables up to ten (11 and 12 are unnecessary) is a useful skill. But more important is the maths behind the multiplication. A child may be able to give an answer to 7×8 immediately but still not understand what multiplying the number 7 by 8 means (or that 8×7 gives the same answer). Neither will s/he necessarily understand the relationships between numbers (eg where multiples of two intersect with multiples of three).
    Teachers assess children all the time – it doesn’t have to be imposed centrally, with the results collected and used for inspection. The proposed test smacks more of political spin (ie returning to a more ‘traditional’ education, as the Mail put it) than helping learning.
    On a personal note, I have a problem with instant recall. So I keep a multiplication square on my noticeboard. Despite my poor showing in mental arithmetic, I still passed O level maths. At the moment I’m fascinated by Fibonacci numbers and their application to textile design (sounds good – it actually means applying them when knitting stripes to achieve a pleasing pattern).
    Just as decoding random words in a phonics test isn’t reading, so being able to bark an answer to a multiplication sum doesn’t necessarily show mathematical understanding. But it gives politicians something to crow about.

    • Janet,

      We want a 21st century education system for the world the pupils will have to live in, not a 19th century schooling system where the masses left school to enter a labour market that needed many unskilled workers. if we spent a tenth of the research being spent on driverless cars on research into improving our schooling system we might prevent Minister wrecking half-term holidays for many teachers, pupils and their parents with this announcement over tables. What next, bring back slide rules and log tables?

      John

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