Tory peer quits exams council: Ministers' test review 'lacks independence'

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LORD SKIDELSKY, a leading government adviser on testing and a Conservative peer, resigned yesterday, saying that ministers' review of the national curriculum and testing was ramshackle.

He said he was leaving the Schools Examination and Assessment Council because he feared the review announced last month by John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, would be independent neither of ministers nor their civil servants.

Lord Skidelsky, professor of political economy at Warwick University, accused civil servants at the Department for Education of a 'bunker mentality' which prevented discussion of the problems of testing.

The review is being chaired by Sir Ron Dearing, head of the Government's new School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. Lord Skidelsky, who saw Sir Ron last week, said that he was not questioning his (Sir Ron's) suitability to head the inquiry: 'The danger is that, because he does not have much background in education, he will be vulnerable to pressure from ministers and civil servants.'

Sir Ron had been given a personal remit, he said. 'The main lines of inquiry have been decided by Sir Ron and a few civil servants without any prior consultation with his colleagues . . .

'The astonishingly cavalier approach to the constitution of the review suggests that the Department for Education is still hoping to stage-manage the crisis out of existence through the appearance of extensive consultation. This will not work. There are no rabbits in the hat.'

What was needed was a high- powered, independent review committee more like a Royal Commission. He had declined to sit on the task force advising Sir Ron because he refused 'to be implicated in a procedure so inept and so ill-calculated to produce a reputable outcome'.

The Government's original plan had been to have first results of the review by the end of May 'to get them off the hook on testing'. Lord Skidelsky said that the Government should go back to the drawing board on the tests, which were too bureaucratic and designed to serve too many purposes.

Mr Patten said that he regretted the resignation of Lord Skidelsky, who was appointed to the exams council last August.