Thursday, 23 June 2011

Passing the test

Lord Bew's review of Key Stage 2 testing seems to have some sensible proposals today. Capturing a school's achievement over three years was used for Labour's school achievement awards, and is probably a fairer way to measure a primary school's performance: indeed it could allow all primary schools to have their results published, including smaller village schools. Schools can suffer with a poor intake one year, and the smaller the cohort, the greater the danger.

His suggestion that composition tests should be marked by teachers is clearly intended to appease the anti-tests lobby. And if any aspect of the tests were to be passed to teachers to mark, this should be it. With other elements of English still externally tested, including reading, speaking, listening, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, internal assessment of creative writing is not unreasonable. However, there should be strong external moderation if the results are to count in a school's league table score.

What Lord Bew seems not to have done, for which we should be grateful, is to suggest the abandonment of testing at the end of primary school. This is his most important finding: testing has opened the secret garden where parents were kept in the dark about how schools are doing, it is significantly improved standards in the 3Rs and it has helped to guard against low expectations, with improvements greatest in many inner city areas like Tower Hamlets. He also seems to have dropped an idea floated by Michael Gove before the election that testing take place at the start of secondary school, rather than the end of primary. While many secondary schools do re-test pupils at the start of Year 7,  it would have been unfair to judge primary schools on the basis of such tests, particularly as secondary schools have an incentive in value added measures to lower the starting point of their intakes.

The teaching unions may not change their opposition to primary school testing. But Lord Bew - whose expertise has previously been as one of the most incisive historians in Northern Ireland - has produced judicious proposals that the Government ought to accept. Testing is rightly here to stay.

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