Leading Article: Testing should be more flexible

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The Independent Online

If Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, was in any doubt about the amount of opposition to the testing and exams regime in English schools, Monday's visit to the Commons select committee would have put him right. The nature of the questioning – particularly from Labour MPs, indicated widespread concern over the impact of testing on children's education.

The fears they raised – teaching to the test, disaffection in secondary school by youngsters who have "failed" their national curriculum tests, in other words, failed to reach the required standard in English and maths – may be old hat to those who have followed the debate on testing.

The minister must have come away with the impression that – when the MPs finally produce their report on testing – it will not make the most comfortable bedside reading. On some points, the MPs' concerns are justified. It does seem ludicrous to compile league tables on Key Stage Three results for 14-year-olds. Surely the GCSE and A-level league tables as well as Ofsted reports on individual schools provide enough accountability in the system. A government that trusted the teaching profession could allow the Key Stage Three tests to be internally assessed by staff.

The results could still be fed into the Department for Children, Schools and Families – with spot checks by external markers to keep teachers honest. But the Key Stage Two tests are essential – both in terms of monitoring the performance of primary schools and ensuring pupils are prepared for the secondary school. Whether there needs to be a national performance table is debatable. Parents do need information about local schools but this could be accommodated by giving them the right to access information on any school in their area through their local authority.

With the Key Stage One tests for seven-year-olds, the Government is on the right track in allowing teachers to choose when their pupils are ready to take them rather than insisting all children sit them on the same day. Ministers have signalled their intention of extending this policy to other key stage tests and such a change cannot come too soon. If the Government adopted a more flexible approach to testing, it would counter the worries about teaching to the test and possibly cut down on disaffection among pupils as well.

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