Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Parents back tests - ministers need to do so more clearly too

One of the arguments made by the two teaching unions threatening to boycott national tests next year is that they have the backing of parents.

Well, they may have on the sort of self-selecting surveys that teaching unions seem to specialise in. David Aaronovitch did a good job exposing the latest ATL survey proclaiming the death of school discipline to the sort of basic scrutiny that seems to have eluded most newspapers.

And when the DCSF conducted a proper opinion poll - using Ipsos MORI and based on a scientific sample - it found a rather different picture when it comes to what parents think of tests.
  • 75% of parents think information on the performance of primary schools should be available to the general public;
  • 70% of parents place value on the tests in providing information about how their child’s school is performing;
  • 78% of parents with children who have done the tests think they are an accurate reflection of how their child is doing;
  • 69% of parents think test results are useful for teachers when their child progresses to secondary school

Even when given the chance to say whether the tests should stay as they were or be replaced, 44% of parents said tests should stay as they are, with 36% of parents wanting them replaced, with most of the latter group wanting testing to stay. As the DCSF press notice pointed out, this means that 55% of parents expressing a preference think tests should stay at they are.

Despite last year's fiasco, tests still retain majority parental support. So Ed Balls should be wary of sending mixed messages to the teaching unions at their annual whingefests. The main headline on the DCSF press release showing A MAJORITY OF PARENTS BACK TESTS was not that; instead it was KEY STAGE 2 TESTS NOT SET IN STONE, ED BALLS TELLS TEACHERS' UNION CONFERENCE with the survey results given second billing.

The truth is that the Government is looking at a more complex alternative to the current tests, which would see most pupils taking more than one test in each subject in their last two years of primary school, and wants to publish the results on a new report card. Which is fine if they can find a straightforward way to present the results, whilst getting the marking right, crediting high achievers and avoiding the low expectations which CVA value added tables have fostered.

Balls was right yesterday to make clear that some form of national testing would remain and to condemn the threatened boycott. But we need to hear much stronger and clearer support for national testing and published results from ministers, more often. The parents they polled have shown them the way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a question. If test results are a precise and accurate way of measuring the effectiveness of a school, then if a parent expresses a preference for a school that has the lowest results in their area, is that parent being irresponsible or neglectful? Is the parent short-changing his or her child?