No more 'SATs' under Tories

Unions welcome Tory plans to scrap curriculum tests in primary schools
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The Independent Online

Controversial national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds will be scrapped if the Conservatives win the next general election.

The tests, dubbed "SATs" and taken by 600,000 children in the final year of primary school in maths, English and science, will instead be sat by students as soon as they start secondary school.

The pledge was immediately welcomed by both the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers who have threatened to boycott the tests next summer on the grounds they narrow the curriculum on offer. This is as a result of teachers spending too much time coaching for the tests so their schools do well in government primary school league tables, the unions say.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker described the Conservatives' plan as "half baked" and said it would remove all accountability from primary schools.

Announcing the move on BBC 1's Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Michael Gove, the Conservatives' schools spokesman, said the move would "free the final year of primary school for teaching in the broadest sense".

Most secondary schools already test students on arrival because they mistrust SATs results, believing 11-year-olds have been coached to pass and often lack understanding of subjects.

Mr Gove insisted the Conservatives would still publish the primary league tables, "The results can be traced back to the primary school of origin."

But he said the Tories model would give a "more rigorous assessment" of what primary schools had achieved than the current tests, which turned to chaos last summer when thousands of results were delayed. Mr Gove said the system had "descended into meltdown on Ed Balls' (the Schools Secretary's) watch". He argued that even now the results were published too late for parents to use the previous year's tables to determine which school to select for their children.

Mr Gove said the tests would be internally marked by secondary school teachers and there would be random checks by outside markers. The new system would save money, he added, "although this is not the prime motive".

Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed the move, "It would free up Year Six (the final year of primary school) for teaching which is the zenith of our opposition to the SATs". He would welcome further discussions with the Conservatives, he said, as there would be a "perverse incentive for the secondary schools to depress the results so they looked better on adding value to pupils' education at GCSE".

If the election is delayed until next June, the Conservatives would not be able to introduce their changes in time for next year's tests but Mr Brookes indicated it might be possible to come to "some kind of transitional arrangement" to avoid a boycott. Both the NUT and NAHT are due to ballot on a boycott by the autumn.

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said: "I think this is a genuinely interesting move. It does show flexibility and we welcome that. At least the Conservatives are addressing the problem of the tests." He thought the pledge had been agreed "out of a desire by the Conservatives not to start off a new administration with a dispute with the teachers' unions".

However, he said it would be "almost virtually impossible" to track the test results to the primary schools where pupils had come from. The union argues that the league tables should be abolished and Mr Bangs said primary schools would still feel under pressure to coach for the tests if league tables were still to be published.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the proposal was merely "shifting the deckchairs of the Titanic" and that pupils would still be under the same pressures. Mr Coaker said it was "a huge step backwards for school accountability". Parents, he argued, wanted and had a right to information about primary school performance.

The former Schools Minister Lord Adonis said he was "amazed" by the proposal, "What they are effectively doing is removing all public accountability from primary schools."