Testing of pupils at 11 has 'serious negative effect'

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's leading experts on school testing and assessment delivers a scathing attack on national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds today.

Professor Peter Tymms warns that they are having "a serious negative impact on the education system" and should be scrapped. They mislead parents as to the performance of their children's schools, he said.

Professor Tymms's intervention comes as the National Union of Teachers prepares to vote on balloting its members to boycott tests in English, maths and science to pressure ministers to drop the tests entirely. The vote will take place at the union's annual conference in Cardiff tomorrow.

"The main problem with key stage two [11-year-olds] tests is their publication in league tables. This is having a serious negative impact on the education system," said Professor Tymms, who is the director of the Curriculum and Evaluation Management Centre at Durham University.

"Parents can judge schools based on the league tables which do not portray an accurate picture of the quality of the teaching or pupils' progress over time. Neither do they give a rounded picture of a school's success."

Secondary school heads have also argued that so much coaching goes on for the tests that the results do not give an accurate reflection of children's ability. Most schools re-test the pupils when they start secondary school.

Professor Tymms, who has written several books on assessment, suggests that a random sample of pupils should be tested every year to give an accurate guide to the Department for Children, Schools and Families as to how national standards are progressing.

The system used to be in operation two decades ago and the pilot always mirrored the make-up of the population in the country. Over time, with a different selection of pupils, it also gave individual schools an idea of how they were achieving.

Professor Tymms said: "We do need assessment at a high level to monitor standards across the land and the best way to achieve that is by using a sampling approach.

"Schools should monitor pupils' success with objective measures which do not have to be statutory tests."

Tomorrow's NUT vote will be followed by a similar vote for a boycott at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference in May – which would be the first time the heads have had a ballot on industrial action. The other two big teachers' unions, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, have cautioned against a boycott – arguing there should be continued dialogue with ministers over changes to the present system.

Speaking at the ATL conference in Liverpool yesterday, Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary, said: "It is not good enough to just say that the current system sucks. Some form of accountable testing which allows useful comparisons between schools to be drawn is necessary."

An expert group set up by the Government to look at testing and assessment in the wake of last summer's marking fiasco, when thousands of results were delivered late, is expected to report next month.

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