Brilliant Steve Bell cartoon on the new UK tests.

UK schools minister Nick Gibb was unable to answer a question from the new tests for 10-11 year olds, when called on to justify them on the BBC yesterday. He brushed off his failure with 'it's not about me' and the usual guff about improving the life chances of children. If it wasn't so cruel and cynical it would be funny. Gibb after all managed to rise to high office without apparently knowing the difference between a preposition and a subordinating conjunction.

Not only are the tests which are being imposed on young children verging on the sadistic*. Not only do they go against every tenet of enlightened pedagogy. They are also turning what is the birthright of all children – their own language – into a code which for most will be either impossible or too deeply boring to decipher. And they are giving children the message that if they cannot master the code, they will never be able to aspire to the good things of the world which their parents and teachers and Mr Gibb himself desire for them.

British education 'reformers' like Gibb are fond of telling us that children should know about Shakespeare. I couldn't agree more. Firstly all of Shakespeare's plays would be full of fails – after all he invented 1700 words. But more importantly he is wise about the nature of power. To paraphrase the great man: 'These children think too much, such kids are dangerous.' If there is one thing that the elites fear it is a populace that is capable of thinking critically.

Teaching has always been an ambivalent profession. On the one hand we socialise children to take their place in a capitalist society. On the other we have the possibility to help children to be creative and to think about the world in which they live and its injustices. It is that the reformers want to prevent (and it helps that in the process they can diminish public education and trouser some of the trillions of dollars that are spent annually on education globally). And they will go to any lengths to do it, including cruelty to young children, while alienating them from their own language.

* Just one instance: the instructions for the 6- 7 year old tests include words like 'punctuation' and 'tense' which the children have to decipher before they can begin to answer the question – and these are standardised, so children of all abilities have to sit them.