New tables add to the pressure

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The Independent Online

The Government is right to be worried by the lack of progress of many pupils in their first three years at secondary school. But it is wrong to conclude that the way to put this right is to produce separate league tables from the GCSE and A-level lists detailing schools' results in National Curriculum tests for 14-year-olds.

The Government is right to be worried by the lack of progress of many pupils in their first three years at secondary school. But it is wrong to conclude that the way to put this right is to produce separate league tables from the GCSE and A-level lists detailing schools' results in National Curriculum tests for 14-year-olds.

The Government may be right that 14 has become an important age for young people to make decisions about their lives, but there is no demand from parents for this information to be published separately. Mothers and fathers are - quite rightly - more concerned with their sons' and daughters' performance in GCSEs and A-levels because of the importance of these two exams for their future after they have left school. It looks as though they will have to wait for the separate performance tables on these two exams to be published in the new year. Meanwhile, the league table for the tests for 14-year-olds is being published in December.

The decision to go ahead with this new table is a sign that ministers have not been listening to the arguments of many in the profession - and of parents, too - that there is too much concentration on the "three Ts" of testing, tables and targets.

From this year's 14-year-old test results it looks as though the Government is unlikely to meet the targets it set for 2004. When it fails to meet those targets, what will happen? Teachers will be demoralised, particularly those in many of the country's more deprived schools.

The Government has introduced some imaginative proposals for improving standards in the first three years of secondary school, including extending the literacy and numeracy hours for those pupils who need help with the basics. With hindsight, it was the introduction of these two initiatives in the primary sector - and the training for teachers that went along with them - that was most responsible for the initial increase in reading and maths standards in tests for 11-year-olds. But the Government has still not reached the target it set for 2002 in these tests. Performance tables showing all primary schools' results had little effect. The seeds for the improvements had already been sown before Labour decided to publish the league tables. Ministers would therefore be better advised to stick with their plans for improving teaching standards among 11- to 14-year-olds through in-service training, rather than saddling the nation with yet another league table that is unlikely to make gripping reading.

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