National tests for 14-year-olds are scrapped after marking chaos

But 11-year-old children at schools in England still face Sats next summer

National curriculum tests due to be taken by 600,000 14-year-olds at schools in England next summer have been scrapped in the wake of this year's marking fiasco.

The Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, said yesterday that an expert group would develop a system of assessment by teachers instead. The decision, described as a U-turn by his political opponents, was welcomed by teachers' leaders, parents and MPs as reducing the exams burden on children.

Mr Balls made clear that externally marked Standard Assessment Tests (Sats) for 11-year-olds, taken at the end of primary school and used to compile league tables, would remain. However, he said pupils might in future be allowed to sit them when they were ready, rather than sit all their exams on the same day at the end of term. Seven-year-olds will continue to be tested by teachers.

Mr Balls said tests for 11-year-olds would provide accountability for primary schools, and that GCSEs and A-levels would be sufficient to show the performance of secondary schools, without the need for tests at age 14.

In addition, the Government unveiled plans for a school report card – giving every state school an A to F grade depending on its exam performance, truancy rate and how well it improved pupils' attainment – as a simpler guide to performance to run alongside league tables and inspectors' reports.

Mr Balls had come under immense pressure from teaching unions and MPs to slim down the exhaustive testing regime. The strain on children was exacerbated by the chaos surrounding this summer's Sats results. ETS Europe, an American company contracted to mark tests for 11- and 14-year-olds, failed to meet its July deadline. The firm was sacked – and some Sats papers have still not been marked.

The decision to abolish Sats for older children will make it easier to find a contractor to mark next year's tests for 11-year-olds because the workload will be much more manageable.

Margaret Morrissey, of the pressure group Parents Outloud, said the move was "the first sensible decision Ed Balls has made", while Christine Blower, the leader of the National Union of Teachers, said it was "an admission that the current testing system has failed".

"For too long English, maths and science teachers in secondary schools have found themselves skewing everything to enable their pupils to jump through hoops," Ms Blower added. "The marking disaster of this year's tests has clearly been the last straw." However, Mick Brookes, the general-secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, described the change as "an opportunity missed", saying: "We are dismayed at the decision to keep the current test arrangements for key stage two [11-year-olds]. This will mean England's 10- and 11-year-olds will be the only children in the UK to be put under this pressure."

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, welcomed what he called "the Government's complete U-turn". "Sats tests taken by 14-year-olds are not only a waste of time but have been highly unreliable in the last few years," he added.

A White Paper to be published next year will set out plans for all schools in England to have a report card, giving parents a simple run-down of a school's performance. A template for this is used in New York, where schools are awarded a grade from A to F: 85 per cent of the marks are attributed to educational attainment and 15 per cent to other measures such as wellbeing.

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