Right of Reply: Dr Nicholas Tate

The chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority replies to recent criticisms of the National Curriculum tests
IN THE early 1990s there were valid criticisms of the national tests. They focused on the reliability of the tests, the information they provided, and the possibility of cheating. However, problems in all these areas have been successfully tackled and criticisms along these lines are now outdated.

Each question in the tests is now rigorously pre-tested to pitch it at the correct level. So, too, are the papers, which are anchored to the previous year's standard. Radical changes to the tests are avoided, and any necessary changes are carefully piloted before introduction. The tests are now among the most carefully developed school exams in the world.

The tests provide far more detailed information than simply a test mark. All papers are sent back to the schools after marking, so that teachers can see exactly where mistakes were made. The QCA analyses the completed papers, and publishes a report setting out strengths and weaknesses of performance.

As for cheating, schools are not allowed to open test paper packs until an hour before the test starts. During the test, random schools received an unscheduled visit to check administration arrangements; in only a few cases was there evidence of malpractice.

The tests are making a major contribution to improving the quality of education. They may not measure everything that is worth learning, but they are a measure of progress in the core curriculum elements. They provide diagnostic information; they hold schools accountable; they enable us to set targets. One of the main levers in the crusade to raise levels of achievement, they are here to stay.