Education Bill to introduce new reading tests

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The Independent Online

The Government is planning to introduce new reading tests for all six-year-olds to be taken at the end of their first year of compulsory schooling.

The move, included in a second education Bill to be published this autumn, is aimed at identifying young people who are struggling to keep up in class and ensuring they get the help they need as soon as possible.

It is one of the measures Education Secretary Michael Gove will focus on when he puts the flesh on the bones of his education reforms as he publishes details of his planned legislation today.

The tests will be an addition to the national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds, which were boycotted by members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) earlier this month. These will also be opposed by teachers' leaders.

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT, said: "There are already any number of very good, well-accredited reading tests for children. Teachers use them to determine the support they need for pupils. It doesn't need a new standardised test to be taken by every six-year-old on the same day to provide this support."

The tests are one of a range of measures included in a second Bill this autumn, following yesterday's announcement of legislation to allow up to 2,300 schools to become academies from this September.

This will allow all schools – secondary, primary and special – classified as "outstanding" by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, to become academies. Primary schools will be given this right for the first time.

Teachers' leaders said yesterday they expected many secondary schools to take advantage of the new legislation to avoid an uncertain financial future with local authorities, which have already been told to make cuts of £1.1bn. But they doubted whether many primary school heads would have enough financial expertise to do the same.

Mr Gove will publish the Bill this morning and outline his plans for wider reforms of schools. These will include the introduction of Swedish-style independent "free" schools run by parents', teachers' or faith groups.

Officials in his department are working behind the scenes to find out whether some of these schools could be given the green light without recourse to legislation.

This could be the case in Kirklees, where parents have been battling for a new secondary school in West Yorkshire on the site of an existing middle school facing closure.

The second Bill will also put a duty on headteachers to take action to reduce the gap between the performance of rich and poor pupils for the first time. John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Schools can't solve all the problems of society and headteachers have to play the hand that's been dealt them through the admissions process.

"Whilst every head wants to improve the life chances of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is sometimes an extremely difficult task – only achievable when other government policies such as housing and tackling poverty are in place."

The second Bill will also introduce measures for coping with discipline – including removing the right of appeal for pupils excluded from school.

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