Leading Article: Testing headache for the minister

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The Independent Online

The fragile partnership between Britain's biggest head teachers' organisation, the National Association of Head Teachers, and the Government was exposed at the weekend when Children's Minister Beverley Hughes' attempts to justify its policy on testing was greeted by cries of "rubbish" from the floor.

Her attempts to account for exam league tables were similarly dismissed. To a certain extent, she was on a losing wicket because the head teachers were upset at what they saw as a snub by Ms Hughes' boss, Schools secretary Ed Balls, who failed to attend the conference. (He sent a message by video link).

There are, though, real differences between ministers and the NAHT (and most other educational organisations) over testing and league tables. These are unlikely to be covered or dealt with by Sir Jim Rose's review of the primary curriculum because of the restrictive remit given to the former head of school inspections at Ofsted, the education standards watchdog. Both sides would do well to compromise.

League tables are going to be harder and harder to justify as students in the future will be attending more than one institution for their studies – especially if they opt to go down the diploma route. Which institution is responsible for their performance?

Ms Hughes blamed the media for publishing the performance data in league table form but, if the Government does not want that to happen, it should follow in the footsteps of Wales and just give parents the right to information about any school's performance upon request through their local authority rather than publishing a table. Similarly, on testing, while there is merit in the Key Stage 2 test for 11-year-olds, the Key Stage 3 tests for 14-year-olds could be reduced to performance checks on pupils – without the need for league table.

It does us no good if the debate over these two crucial issues continues along the lines of one side saying "shan't" when asked to abolish them and the other just shouting "rubbish". More flexibility in the curriculum has been the mantra adopted for both primary and secondary schools in the past few years, with the support of ministers. More flexibility over testing and league tables is also needed.

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