Balls hints at scrapping of SATs tests

Softened stance not enough for teaching unions to call off boycott threat

Ed Balls held out the prospect of scrapping controversial national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds for the first time yesterday.

The Schools Secretary paved the way for the test to be replaced by internal teacher classroom assessments – thus softening his previous stance on SATs which are taken by 600,000 children in English, maths and science every year.

His move comes as ministers face the threat of a boycott of them by both heads and teachers next May.

In an announcement yesterday coinciding with a shake-up of the primary school curriculum, Mr Balls announced that – from next year – primary school league tables would carry both the test results and teachers' own assessments of their pupils' performance.

The following year there would be "light touch checks" on the accuracy of the teachers' assessment after they had received more training in how to deliver them.

Mr Balls gave a strong hint that they could eventually replace the tests if they were considered robust and accurate enough. "I'm not closing the door and I'm not going to compromise our commitment to parents that they will have objective and reliable information about their child's progress in school," he said.

A government review of testing carried out last year recommended the tests should continue, arguing that "at the moment" teacher assessment was not robust enough to take over from the tests.

Mr Balls indicated the new strategy had been drawn up after discussions with Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) – one of the unions involved in the threatened boycott.

However, neither the NAHT nor the National Union of Teachers (NUT) – which is also sounding out its members about a boycott – felt yesterday's move was enough to lead to them calling it off.

The NAHT welcomed yesterday's move but Mr Brookes added: "The concerns of my colleagues and parents are for children in year six [11-year-olds] now. We still have a way to go before we reach the situation wherein children will have the best possible education in year six, uncluttered by the need to rehearse SAT tests."

The union believes its case was vindicated last week by a report from Ofqual, the exams watchdog, which showed one in six of the marks awarded for science tests were wrong.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said that Mr Balls' comments that testing and assessment were "not set in stone" were welcome.

However, she added: "His enthusiasm to tell us that he wants what 'works best for pupils and schools' is not borne out by his decision to both maintain the SATs next year and publish the results."

The unions' main concerns are that the publication of league tables based on the test results leads to too much teaching to the tests in the last year of primary school.

Most secondary schools re-test children on entry because they do not believe the test results are an accurate reflection of pupils' abilities as a result of the amount of coaching that goes on.

Meanwhile, white working class boys did worst in this year's tests in maths and English, according to figures released yesterday.

Only 48 per cent reached the required standard in the two subjects – compared with 71.8 per cent overall.

The overall figure was down from 72.7 peer cent last year.

Will it be enough to head off a boycott by teachers?

Q. Why is there so much controversy over the national curriculum tests?

A. Teachers and heads believe that because SATs are used to judge schools in league tables it leads to too much teaching to the test in the final year at primary school. Also, many children are awarded the wrong grades.

Q. Will Ed Balls' intervention be enough to head off a boycott of them next year?

A. At present, it doesn't look as though it would be, with both the NUT and NAHT rebuffing him. However, there would still have to be a ballot of heads and teachers next year – leaving time for further negotiation.

Q. What will happen if the Conservatives win the next election and Michael Gove becomes Schools Secretary? Will he press ahead with the tests?

A. He has floated the idea of transferring the tests to the first term of secondary schooling. Secondary schools already retest pupils on arrival because they don't trust the SATs results and the results could be traced back to feeder primary schools to produce league tables.

Q. Should my child be revising for the tests next spring then?

A. No, they are supposed to be a snapshot of what a child can do. Among other things they are supposed to show whether pupils need help with the basics. Coaching and revising for the tests means you get a distorted picture of what a child can do. The results are never going to count for a job interview on leaving school.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: We are currently looking for a Geog...

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee