The politics of measurement

The politics of measurement December 15, 2014

Pisa tests and the need to be seen as internationally successful are increasingly dominating education policy. Sir John Rowling, of the PiXL (Performance in Excellence) Club, argues that Pisa tests are so politically important that schools should actually prepare pupils for them. Not unsurprisingly, the PiXL Club is ‘dedicated to boosting pupils’ performance’, so teaching to yet another test to gain footing on an international stage fits the agenda. You can try the tests yourself if you want to know what all the fuss is about.

Whatever your opinion of his views, Rowling was correct in one assertion – that the UK Pisa position would cue ‘another blast of negativity’. Sure enough, when SE Asia dominated the results table again and when Poland was the most improved European nation leaving the UK languishing in Little League, the recriminations began.

But here’s the thing – a country’s education system is a mirror of its social system, its culture, its aims and its people. But is anybody criticising social values? So while we beat our brows, blame the teachers and plan the next round of political meddling, SE Asian children continue to win out because they are growing up in cultures which value educational achievement highly, in countries which are dominating the global economy. In fact, they place such a high social value on education that they are willing to commit to sustained hard graft as a means not only of personal advancement but also of the continued economic growth of their countries. And how do UK media respond to this? With something midway between pity and ridicule, asserting that Asian children are stressed with no time to play and that UK children are happy. Except that we score badly there, too. A Unicef report on child well-being in rich countries found that our children are very unhappy. Somehow the sense of entitlement engendered by our society, even with all its consumerist trappings, doesn’t make us happy.

Comparisons, as they say, are odious, particularly when you don’t compare apples with apples. So why compare the UK with SE Asia? Or Poland? Or anywhere else, for that matter? Why spend so much time agonising over something that is no more than a global league table? The answer, of course, lies in my opening paragraph – politics and measurement, or in the case of Pisa, the politics of measurement.

Add to this the warning from Tony Little, headmaster of Eton College, that teachers risk being turned into functionaries in a service industry. ‘Traditional notions of teaching as a vocation,’ he warns, have been, ‘replaced with ones that prioritise assessment targets, behaviour management and curriculum objectives.’

These issues are only a problem, of course, if you accept the premise of Pisa and the politics of measurement in the first place. So let me pose an alternative educational philosophy, one in which every child is valued not as a global economic unit to boost our GDP but as a human, made in the image of God. In The Gospel and Educational Values, John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford and former Chair of the Church of England Board of Education writes that ‘In Christian terms, education is intended to draw out the full human potential of each child of God’. He goes on to define a distinctively Christian approach to education as being ‘focused in the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth’. And once we look at education from that mindset, the value of the current culture of measurement is assigned a more realistic place in the scheme of things.

This is nowhere better exemplified than in What If Learning, a distinctively Christian approach to teaching and learning which is rooted in Christian faith, hope and love. It’s a powerful resource, because it contains concrete examples of how to design your teaching to encompass Christian values, regardless of the subject or age range you teach. It isn’t about indoctrination – it isn’t even about presenting Christianity. It’s about building an education on the principles of faith, hope and love. What if students learnt about serving through studying transport? What if music helped children to show respect? Or what if maths created a community in which all could achieve?

If you want to put the politics of measurement in a proper perspective; if you want to create a classroom where learning is inspirational and where faith, love and hope underpin all that you teach, if you believe that a Christian understanding of life makes a difference to what happens in your classroom, visit Start to think about how your faith can make a difference. What if we could change not only what is measured, but how we prepare pupils to be measured? What if?




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