Leading article: Reading tests must be fit for purpose

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The Independent Online

Sir Cyril Taylor, the chief executive of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, will this morning put his finger on an obvious problem with the Government's drive to improve literacy standards. In a keynote speech, he will argue that all secondary schools should make their pupils sit a reading test upon arrival, because the results of key stage two national curriculum tests cannot be trusted.

He also argues for half an hour's silent reading every day in secondary schools, and for school libraries to be better stocked. The second and third parts of his argument are incontrovertible, and would help foster a love of reading among youngsters. It is the first part that is controversial. Sir Cyril argues, however, that even some of those pupils who reach the required reading standard in the tests for 11-year-olds lack ability because they have spent too much time being coached for the test. They lack comprehension and also a thirst for reading, because it is seen as a chore to many in primary schools.

Many secondary schools do already test their pupils. However, the answer would seem to lie in a revision of the national testing regime to make it more fit for purpose, rather than saddling our over-examined youngsters with yet another test. In Wales, the system of national curriculum testing has been abolished, and youngsters undertake a less formal test at the end of their penultimate year in primary school, so schools have an idea of how much work has to be done with each pupil to prepare them for entry into secondary school. Such a test would not give ministers the overview on individual primary-school performance that they want.

However, some sort of inquiry into the effectiveness of the national curriculum testing system needs to be conducted if so many people do not trust the results of the present tests. This would be a key area for the new Commons Select Committee, which is being set up to monitor the work of the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Let us hope it seizes the opportunity to come up with some clear recommendations aimed at restoring confidence in the system.