Balls scraps Sats for 14-year-olds

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The Independent Online

National school tests for 14-year-olds were abolished today to the delight of parents and teachers' leaders.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls announced the Key Stage 3 tests would be replaced with school-based assessments by teachers in the early years of secondary education.

Key Stage 2 tests for 11-year-old primary school-leavers will remain and be used to target catch-up tuition more effectively in years 7, 8 and 9.

The shake-up follows chaos this year in the marking of Sats which led to the termination of a Government contract with ETS Europe.

That development brought forward the opportunity for ministers to make a decision about the long-term future of the national tests.

But Mr Balls denied the Government had performed a U-turn, insisting the issue had been on the agenda for at least a year.

While Key Stage 2 tests were the main measure of primary school achievements, he said, GCSEs played that role at secondary level.

"Parents will be receiving or should receive much more regular information from schools than simply the Key Stage 3 test," he said.

"Also, the best headteachers have repeatedly said, as they establish best practice in one-to-one teaching and pupil tracking and progression in Key Stage 3, increasingly the national test is less and less relevant."

About 600,000 pupils in England take the Key Stage 3 test, which was introduced in 1993, every year.

After today's announcement, pupils in their first three years of secondary school will get ongoing teacher assessments, with regular reports sent to parents.

There will also be new US-style report cards to provide parents with a simpler and more comprehensive snapshot of a school's performance.

Based on practice in New York, where schools are awarded a "progress report grade", they will be introduced in addition to existing assessments and Ofsted reports.

An expert group of headteachers and education specialists will be charged with working out the details of the reforms.

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the announcement on Key Stage 3 tests was an "admission that the current testing system has failed".

She said: "For too long, English, mathematics and science teachers in secondary schools have found themselves skewing everything to enable their pupils to jump through a series of unnecessary hoops."

Ms Blower went on to demand "fundamental change" of the entire school testing system.

"I call on Ed Balls to suspend all primary school tests and commission a comprehensive and independent review of testing and assessment, and to include fully all school communities in that review," she said.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), "warmly welcomed" the end of Key Stage 3 tests.

Margaret Morrissey, of parents group Parents Outloud, described the move as the "first sensible thing" Mr Balls had done.

She said: "He should now scrap the whole lot.

"We are teaching the children to take these tests and supposing that all children are the same.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ACSL) said it had been calling for the move for a decade.

It also backed the report card proposals which will be detailed in a White Paper next year.

ASCL general secretary Dr John Dunford said: "The proposals will make the testing regime more manageable and help to avoid a repetition of the chaos in summer 2008."

He said losing Key Stage 3 tests meant focusing on results at ages 16 and 18, which directly impact on students' future prospects.

He said: "By concentrating on what is most important, the accountability system will be strengthened and more widely respected."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "We are delighted the Government has had the sense to scrap Key Stage 3 tests in their current form and move towards greater use of teacher assessment.

"ATL has led the debate on testing, and has long called for a system that recognises teachers' expertise.

"The challenge now will be to get teacher assessments right so they allow teachers to teach a wide curriculum, rather than merely become test administrators."

But she said the Government should also scrap tests for 11 year olds.

"We continue to hope the Government will eventually recognise the damaging impact of Key Stage 2 tests and consign them to the education bin alongside Key Stage 3 tests."

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws accused the Government of a "complete U-turn".

"The Sats tests taken by 14 year olds are not only a waste of time but have been highly unreliable over the last few years, he said.

"This U-turn needs to be just the first move in restoring confidence in standards in English education and putting the needs of young people first instead of the current system of factory farming our children."