Inquiry into school tests

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT launched an independent inquiry yesterday into the standard of national tests for 11-year-olds. David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, said it was essential to remove doubts over the reliability of the tests after it emerged last week that exam regulators had lowered the pass mark for English to compensate for making the test questions more difficult.

The three-strong panel, chaired by Jim Rose, director of inspection at the Office for Standards in Education, will report next month. They will look at the way the tests are set, marked and adjusted to maintain standards.

The Key Stage Two tests are crucial for the Government, and form the basis of its targets for primary school English and Maths. Mr Blunkett has promised to resign if 80 per cent of pupils do not reach expected standards in English and 75 per cent in maths by 2002. Mr Blunkett insisted that the panel enjoyed all-party support.

But David Willetts, shadow Education Secretary, said: "Anything that increases the integrity of the tests is to be welcomed. But this suggests that he does not really have confidence."

Mr Blunkett said: "The current procedures have been in place since 1995 and are entirely independent of ministers and the department. However, it is vital that the 600,000 pupils who have worked extremely hard for the tests, their parents, and the teachers who have put in a great deal of effort to help their pupils succeed have full confidence in the process."

Sir Bill Stubbs, chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which runs the tests, said: "We will be pleased to co-operate with this panel. Setting the mark thresholds is an open process; independent experts and the teachers' unions already observe the level confirmation exercise and the mark thresholds are given to schools when pupils' scripts are returned to them in summer each year."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It's absolutely the right decision. We need an independent inquiry to get this sorted out. We really can't have allegations made which cast doubt on the credibility of the tests."