Teachers to decide when pupils should sit tests

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The Independent Online

Bright children will sit more than twice as many national curriculum tests during their time at school under a radical government plan.

Children could face as many as eight tests between the ages of five and 14 as a result of the shake-up. At present, all pupils sit tests in maths, English and science at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 - the end of the first three key stages of the national curriculum. However, a consultation document published by Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, yesterday suggests pupils should sit tests when their teachers judge they are ready.

According to the document, it would mean the average pupil "would take in total several shorter, more focused and more appropriate tests". Their teachers would be told to enter them for a test whenever they thought they had gone up a level in maths and English. In time these tests could replace national tests for 11 and 14-year-olds.

Mr Johnson said the proposals would introduce "a more personalised and flexible system". He insisted, however, that while a pilot study was being carried out the existing tests would remain and he pledged to keep school performance tables based on test results. The scheme is to be piloted in 10 local authorities from September with a view to being introduced nationwide in about three years.

Mr Johnson is also planning to give extra cash rewards to those schools which make most effort to improve their pupils' performance. The money will go to those schools which achieve most progress in improving the performance of struggling pupils - and which encourage high-flyers to go on the highest level (level eight) rather than allow them to coast at the expected level of an average pupil.

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrats' education spokeswoman, described the plan as "an amazing U-turn". "This is an admission that the cornerstone of Labour's education policy hasn't worked," she said. "The Government is finally accepting that the rigid structure of targets and national testing doesn't help pupils." But she warned: "It is essential that the Government doesn't replace one set of bureaucratic exams with another."

The plan was cautiously welcomed by teachers' leaders. Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, described the announcement as a "welcome development" but she added: "It will be deeply disappointing if the Secretary of State rules out at this early stage the changes to the test heralding the removal of performance league tables."

The consultation, which also trailed free one-to-one tuition for struggling pupils, follows the publication last week of an inquiry headed by the chief schools inspector, Christine Gilbert, which recommended that pupils should sit tests "when ready".