500,000 pupils to sit new tests as heads scorn SATs

Secondary school teachers turn their backs on official pupil assessments and say they will administer their own
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The Independent Online

More than half a million 11-year-olds will have to sit new tests in maths and English when they start secondary school next term.

Secondary school headteachers are becoming increasingly unwilling to trust national curriculum test results. That mistrust has been heightened by this year's fiasco over marking, which has already delayed some results by more than a week. Their decision to re-test pupils represents a massive "no-confidence" vote in the national curriculum tests.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) – which represents secondary school heads, said that the tests in maths, English and science were no longer a reliable indication of youngsters' ability.

Too many schools now coach pupils for the tests – with the result that they do not retain the knowledge after they complete their tests and slipback in the first year of secondary school, he said.

"One of the purposes of the key stage two SATs [national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds] was for them to act as a baseline for pupils' entry into secondary education," Dr Dunford said. "Therefore the accuracy of them is important to us.

"We are looking for information on pupils' potential – not information on pupils' achievement – and we are finding that the key stage two tests no longer do that for us."

He argued that secondary schools were better served by administering their own tests within the first few weeks of the autumn term – which pupils would sit without any preparation. That, he said, would help schools to determine which set to put them in for different subjects.

A growing number of secondary schools have been introducing their own tests for 11-year-olds in the past few years. Dr Dunford said their use was "widespread" at present but was bound to increase as a result of what happened this year.

He estimated that almost every school would use some form of test this autumn.

Worries about the accuracy of marking this summer and an expected avalanche of appeals against results by primary schools would increase that trend, Dr Dunford said.

Schools will choose from a range of tests that examine pupils' ability in reading and numeracy. In addition, some may use cognitive and intelligence tests – devised by organisations such as the National Foundation for Educational Research.

Brian Lightman, president of ASCL, added: "If there is any doubt about the marking of the SATs tests, that is worrying.

"They're being used as the baseline from which our value-added score [how much individual schools improve upon their pupils' performance] is calculated for the league tables."

Both the ASCL and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) are also concerned that this year's results could be used by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, to determine whether schools pass or fail their inspections. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, has written to Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector of schools, to caution against relying on the results to form an opinion about a school's effectiveness.

Concerns over the national curriculum tests were first revealed by The Independent on Sunday last month, when scores of teachers complained they had not received marking scripts. In the past, scripts had been sent straight from schools to markers, but under the new £165m contract agreed with ETS Europe – the US-based firm handed the contract for marking and delivering the results of tests for 11- and 14-year-olds – the scripts were first sent to a central depot and then on to markers.

At the end of last week, ETS Europe estimated that 29 per cent of the English tests for 14-year-olds had still not been marked. As a result, some youngsters might have to wait until September to find out how they have fared.

The Secretary of State for Schools, Ed Balls, has ordered an inquiry into the fiasco – to be headed by Lord Sutherland, a former chief schools inspector. He has been told to report his findings to Ofqual, the new exams regulatory body, by October.

Jane Lees: 'High-focus tests cause pressure'

Headteacher of Hindley Community High School, Wigan. She is also vice-president of the Association of School and College Leaders

"From the school's point of view we are very worried because our targets are based on key stage 2 results. If the data of the children coming through from primary schools is not an accurate reflection of what they can achieve, then their improvement can't be accurately judged.

"Perhaps SATs have been useful, but the tests are expensive and give minimal data. The Government could try sampling a few children at a time, rather than using these high-focus tests which cause constant pressure and diminish the joy and love of learning."

Jamie Sutcliffe, 11: 'I'm keen to go into a class where everyone has a similar ability'

Jamie will start at Chaucer Technology College, Kent, next term

"My exams went pretty well but because the results have been delayed I've been nervous.

"I'm keen to go into a class [at Chaucer] where everyone has a similar ability. I want the class to be at the right speed for me. SATs could be giving the wrong idea about students because tests are being marked differently. People who should be getting a level four might be getting a level five, and that will affect the speed of the class.

"If I had to have more exams when I start secondary school I would probably spend the summer worrying. I wouldn't have time to prepare and might not do as well as I could.

"I think it is a disadvantage if these exams are just English and maths, because some people are better at things like art and science. It would give a fairer range of grades if the exams were in more subjects."

Mark Jewsbury

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