Sunday, 14 June 2009

Why are the Tories abandoning primary school accountability?

The Conservatives' plan to drop externally marked national tests for 11 year-olds from the end of primary school in favour of teacher assessment at the start of secondary school may reduce duplication given that many secondaries use CAT tests, but it could seriously reduce the accountability for primary schools that is so important in improving standards in the basics of English and Maths.

With their policy of greater autonomy for primary schools, through more independent state-funded primaries, it is more important than ever that there should be independent and reliable external scrutiny and accountability.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove says that they would aggregate the results of the tests to publish data on primary school performance. In that case, given the importance of the results to analysis of primary school success and parental choices, it is hard to see how external validation and appeals could be avoided.

After all, there is a real incentive for secondary schools to mark the results down so that they can claim to be making more improvement than they have actually made. It will be primary schools that will be putting on the pressure for such validation.

More to the point, the claim that this measure would 'free up' primary schools in their final year seems misplaced. Good schools already strike a sensible balance, but see the tests as an opportunity for valuable pre-secondary school revision in the basics. This would probably not change.

But those schools that over-prepare for the tests are hardly likely to reduce this just because tests that inform league tables are to take place in September rather than May or June. More likely, they will extend the preparation period up to mid-July and organise summer schools to support catch-up. And if the more pushy parents realise the tests are to be used for setting and streaming, those who can do so will step up their use of tutors. The transition period between primary and secondary - already a stressful time for pupils - could become a lot more so.

So I wonder whether Michael Gove has really thought through the consequences of his proposal. It would be shameful if he had reduced effective primary school accountability in favour of a cheap headline and the transient praise of the teaching unions.

This posting has been picked up by the Bickerstaffe Record blog.

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