Changing the way children are assessed and schools are judged.


Madeleine Holt, Co-founder at More Than a Score.



The pioneer

Madeleine Holt is involved in a number of education projects, many of which are parent-led. She helped set up the alliance for alternatives to SATS, More than a Score, for whom she makes films.

She is also a co-founder of Rescue Our Schools, a parent- led campaign group for properly funded, imaginative and locally accountable state education, and a founding member of the Slow Education movement. Madeleine was a BBC reporter for 20 years, most recently as culture correspondent on Newsnight.

“My particular bugbear is endless education initiatives which involve people preaching to the converted, but don’t move things forward. We know what we need to do but there’s still a massive gap in engaging parents. For me that is where the real power lies. I’ve no doubt about that.”

The Big Change

More Than a Score is a national campaign formed by a broad coalition of 18 organisations bringing together parents, teachers and experts in early years, primary education and child mental health to persuade decision makers to listen to those who know and care about the impact of high stakes testing on children and schools.Louisiana Believes is a comprehensive state plan to promote student opportunities across five different dimensions of the school system.

The campaign mobilises parents, teachers and headteachers to think differently about the current test-driven primary curriculum that dominates the life of schools in England. Drawing from international experience and research findings, More Than a Score has produced an alternative approach that shows how assessment can support learning, and underpin a high quality system of primary education, without the negative effects of present arrangements.“Louisiana Believes is built on the premise that Louisiana students are just as capable as any students in America, and that those closest to children – parents and teachers – are best positioned to help students achieve those expectations.”

The ambition for changes

The big vision for More Than a Score is: to change the way children are assessed and schools are judged.The big vision for Louisiana Believes is: to ensure every child is on track to college or a professional career.

This is being achieved through mobilising parents and schools to make their voices heard, as well as supporting those who want to take a different approach and refocus their efforts on stimulating young minds, expanding pupils’ knowledge and enabling creative problem-solving skills, not ‘teaching to the test’.

A shift in direction

Responding to an unnecessary burden placed on children, parents and schools and creating a uniting coalition for change.

More Than A Score recognise that children in England are among the most tested in the world. The campaign aims to disrupt a system obsessed with league tables, turning children into data points and denying them a broad, stimulating education. The growing coalition use storytelling and campaigning to call for change in the government’s over-testing regime.

Making change happen

1: The start point

Calling all headteachers

“My key moment of enlightenment was when I understood that unless headteachers feel that they can be honest about what they think is wrong with the education system, it’s very hard to initiate change. I think they find themselves morally in a very difficult position because they have to come clean with parents about the problems with the current system and have then felt incapable of consistently pursuing what they want to do due to forces higher up the chain.”

More Than a Score has produced a set of toolkits containing ideas and resources to support headteachers and ensure their collective voices are heard. By using these, headteachers are encouraged to share their stories and experiences of SATs and other standardised assessments to be a catalyst for change, and reassure other headteachers that they are not alone in their discontent.

2: Taking off

Eye-catching activities at grassroots to bring about mainstream change

More Than a Score work with a creative agency to develop ideas that capture the attention of parent and teacher groups. Initiatives such as the ‘Big SATs Sit-in’ where parents and celebrities will take a SATs paper to spread the word about what’s wrong with the current system, and a ‘Four-year-olds March’ for baseline testing four year olds are activating parents and spreading the message.

3: Keeping going

Simply engage: be realistic about what you’re asking of people

“We’ve only just started to really engage parents. The way to do that is to come up with really easy, attention grabbing ideas that do not take up a huge amount of time. Things like the ‘Floss4Funding’ was a classic example as all it involved was a couple of minutes of video. It has to be stuff that doesn’t take up a huge amount of time because parents are too busy.”

Make it newsworthy  

More Than a Score recognise the importance of spreading the word by reaching out to local and national news outlets to amplify their message and engage some hard to reach parent and teacher groups.

“You have to be sure of getting stuff in the papers or on BBC online, otherwise parents won’t get engaged. One of my main lessons is that content has to be really short and really visual because people’s attention spans are becoming shorter.”

Work with the right levers for change

A big issue preventing the change More Than a Score want to see happen is a lack of knowledge on the part of school governors about alternative models of assessment. Beyond the Exam Factory is a book bringing together experience and expertise from England and internationally. More Than a Score are using it as a tool to open up a debate among parents, teachers, heads, school governors and politicians. Madeleine also encourages people to think about how they can push the boundaries of themselves and others around what is known.

“Something I think could be useful in governing bodies which we’re going to set up is a book group to discuss books and ideas on education. This will happen fortnightly or monthly with teachers and governors.”

“The most meaningful impact of my work has been through making films. Our culture is becoming more and more filmic with social media. I’ve met teachers who’ve seen some of my films on alternative, innovative models of school and they’re inspired to take initiatives they wouldn’t have otherwise. Making films is the most powerful thing that I can do in terms of reaching out to as many people as possible.”

Taking change wider

Media attention – read all about it

“A big issue is getting the right wing media to cover this stuff. You can start a conference, invite all of the usual suspects, but it won’t make a blind bit of difference unless you engage the right-wing media and parents. Those two groups are absolutely vital to widespread change.”

Sharing global exemplars to unlock possibility

The driving message behind More Than A Score is to show that England is an international outlier. They want to expose the truth that most countries don’t test in this way. The campaign celebrates the approach of other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, who offer a wide range of assessment methods which have not been eclipsed or forgotten due to the pressures of accountability.

“It is easy to think that all countries put young children through high-stakes testing: they don’t. Nor do the most successful education systems link scores with judging schools. Parents need to know that England stands out for its punitive testing regime.”

“We have to create a cacophony of voices saying it doesn’t have to be this way. The pressure heads are under is absolutely monumental to get the results up. It’s a very slow road getting schools to innovate unless there’s a much more united, stronger voice in the public realm. We don’t have that now, it’s too disparate. I think most have absolutely no idea, they think all countries have the same testing. There’s a level of ignorance, it’s so enormous. That is the real challenge, I think.”

The impact of change

System impact

  • More than 60,000 signatures for More Than A Score petition against baseline testing.
  • Regularly speak at education events at Westminster and beyond on national media.
  • Mainstream media coverage of More than A Score events – for example the Big SATS Sit In in December 2018, when adults all over England took (and often failed) SATS papers.
  • 324,362 people engaging on Facebook and 110,000 people engaging in Twitter.

60,000+ signatures for more than a score petition against baseline testing

Tools and resources

For more on More Than a Score’s ‘Beyond the exam factory: alternatives to high-stakes testing’