Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Testing must stay

Lord Sutherland's report on this summer's testing fiasco is a tale of incompetence and wishful thinking. It clearly catalogues the role of both the curriculum authority and the contractor, ETS Europe, in causing entirely preventable problems with the tests. But their failures must not become an excuse - as the teaching unions clearly hope - for the wholesale abandonment of tests.

Ed Balls has already scrapped the tests at 14. I think he should have reformed the tests rather than abandoning them. But what's done is done. However, at least we have in GCSE results a degree of external accountability for the achievements of secondary schools. Without external tests at Key Stage 2, we would have no such measure in primary schools.

At a time when the Government is experimenting with controversial curriculum changes, it is more important than ever that we know whether or not individual primary schools are doing their primary task - teaching youngsters to read, write and add up. This doesn't mean there is no case for reform of the Key Stage 2 tests; it does mean that we need externally set and marked tests that every older primary pupil is required to sit.

Those who think this is a terrible burden clearly have short memories. The reason the national tests were introduced was because we used to have no idea whether or not primary schools were doing their job. When the first national test results were published in 1995, and over half of all youngsters failed to reach the expected standard (it is now 20%), the country was shocked. When individual school results were published despite the objections of the teaching unions, we learnt how apparently similar schools were achieving radically different results.

In short, those same forces who are now demanding an end to testing had conspired to hide the truth from parents and taxpayers. The problems with this year's tests must not become an excuse to return to those days. And Schools Secretary Ed Balls must speak up loudly and clearly in favour of school standards - after all, they matter most to the least advantaged children who lack the parental support to get on without decent schooling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You mention 'forces ' and 'teaching unions'
Do teachers come into this resisting proper education - judged by results that is not ideology.