11-year-olds must take English, maths and science tests

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The Independent Online
TESTS for 11-year-olds in English, maths and science will be compulsory from next spring, it was announced yesterday. The very brightest seven-year-olds will take the tests alongside older children.

The decision to go ahead with the tests led to protests that the 11- plus exam was being reintroduced by the back door and that secondary schools would use the results to select the brightest pupils.

Labour's education spokeswoman, Ann Taylor, said the Conservative Party was split on the issue of selection. Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, has played it down but some Tory right-wingers would like to put it higher on the political agenda.

Mrs Shephard said that yesterday's announcement completed the jigsaw of the National Curriculum, with children taking tests in the same three subjects at seven, 11 and 14. She spoke to the leaders of all the teachers' unions yesterday before publishing the plans, in a move designed to improve the relationships which became very hostile under her predecessor, John Patten.

Up to pounds 30m has been earmarked to pay for external marking of the tests for 11 and 14-year-olds and for temporary staff to cover for teachers who are conducting tests for seven-year-olds. It is hoped that this sum, some of which will have to be found by local authorities, will end the teachers' boycott which hampered the testing process over the past two years.

This year, less than one third of secondary schools returned their results, and last year only 2 per cent did so.

Mrs Shephard said: 'My approach has been to construct a sensible and practical package which will maintain the Government's key objectives of rigorous tests and public accountability while responding to what I know have been very genuine concerns on the teachers' part.'

Schools could use the results to diagnose the needs of their pupils rather than to select the brightest, she added.

Mrs Taylor described the move as a climbdown, saying that league tables had now been either abandoned or postponed at three 'Key Stages' - seven, 11 and 14. 'The government retreat on Key Stage test league tables is now complete until the next election. Furthermore, a Labour government will not publish them,' she said.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, which continues to boycott the tests, said it would survey its members' opinions. But he added that money for testing would have to be diverted from other, more pressing, areas of educational need.

Children aged seven whose head teachers think they have reached the level of the average 11-year-old will be able to take the tests alongside the older pupils. However, the number allowed to do so will be minute - fewer than 1 per cent reached that level in 1992.