Primary school tests to be reviewed

Michael Gove today paved the way for a major shake-up of controversial tests for 11-year-olds, as he announced details of a review into primary school assessment.

The Education Secretary had previously agreed to re-examine so-called Sats exams in a bid to avert a repeat of action this year which saw a quarter of primaries boycott the tests.

A panel of headteachers and other education experts, led by Lord Bew, will look at testing, assessment and accountability in England's primary schools, publishing a final report next June, it was announced today.

Critics say the current system forces teachers to "drill" pupils to ensure higher rankings in league tables, humiliating "failing" youngsters rather than focusing on their strengths.

Announcing the external review in September, Mr Gove told the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) that was "clearly undesirable" and pledged to see whether the concerns could be addressed.

Mr Gove insisted today that parents support "rigorous" testing at the end of primary school, and should know how schools are performing.

He added: "It is not our intention that the accountability system should be punitive or unfair to schools working in difficult circumstances but it must be able to identify and tackle cases of sustained under-performance.

"Equally I recognise concerns from heads and teachers about the current system. That is why I have ordered a review - to see whether there is a better way to give parents the information they want and hold schools to account, while overcoming the concerns."

The review will look at four main areas:

:: How to ensure parents have good quality information on their child and the school;

:: How to "avoid, as far as possible, the risk of perverse incentives, over-rehearsal and reduced focus on productive learning";

:: How to ensure information gained from results is used properly by other organisations;

:: How to ensure schools are properly accountable to pupils, parents and the taxpayer for the achievement and progress of every child.

Today's review was agreed after the NAHT - which joined the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in this year's boycott - gave a commitment not to repeat the action next spring, and to await the outcome of the inquiry.

The Government has said that the 2011 tests will come too soon to be affected by any changes.

Sats tests in English and maths are taken by 11-year-olds at the end of their final year in primary school.

It emerged yesterday that schools made almost 23,500 appeals against this year's English and maths Sats results for 11-year-olds - with nearly one in 10 (9.8%) resulting in a change to the level achieved.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said the review was a "key part" of what the union had been campaigning for.

"The strong and diverse headteacher participation (including some who boycotted Sats) encourages us that the experience and values of the profession will play a significant role in shaping the outcomes," he said.

Mr Hobby added: "Headteachers are not against accountability, nor opposed to assessment. We are opposed to the way certain types of assessment are used to hold us accountable.

"It is wrong that a narrow snapshot of attainment can be used to judge the performance of a school. It is wrong that schools who do outstanding work in challenging circumstances are demeaned in league tables. And it is wrong that the education of children in primary schools is narrowed and distorted."

The outcome of the review will be seen as the "key measure of trust" in headteachers, Mr Hobby said.

"We have a moderate and principled position. There is no attempt to hide or blur the accountability of school leaders.

"There is a clear recognition that the nation has a legitimate interest in what is taught and how well it is taught. We just want to spend more time teaching and less time testing. We want every child to matter. And we want to be judged on how well we lead our schools, not where they happen to be located or the chance outcomes of a single day."

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