In this introductory essay, we first outline the contexts of the rise of testing regimes globally and nationally for schooling and attempt to theorise their emergence and effects. We show quite clearly that these effects are of multiple kinds and function at multiple levels. These are the contexts to the papers included in this special issue of the Journal of Education Policy. We also document the reductive impact of topdown, test-based accountability associated with current testing regimes and suggest the need for alternative, more educative and socially just forms. After contextualising and attempting to theorise this changed situation in education policy, we move to consider the significance today of testing as a major policy steering schooling systems and its global manifestations. Specifically, we comment on the implications of considering testing as policy and its interactions with the other elements of what Bernstein (1971) called the ‘message systems’ of schooling, namely, curriculum and pedagogy. We then briefly outline the foci and arguments of the papers included in

, Wayne Martinob and Goli Rezai-Rashtib

this special issue, showing the centrality of education policy to contemporary politics, before moving to a concluding statement about testing regimes, accountabilities and education policy.