Leading article: A welcome change of heart on SATs

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The Independent Online

It's no surprise that teaching unions have welcomed the Shadow education minister's announcement that the Tories plan to scrap SATs for 11-year-olds, replacing tests in the last year of primaries for assessments in the first year of secondaries. Unions have long campaigned against "teaching to the test", maintaining that the drive to get children past these exams distorts the curriculum and makes it hard to provide an all-round education.

Michael Gove has taken those complaints on board, if only up to a point, as he plans to retain the league tables to which unions equally object. But his change of heart, however partial, is still welcome. Because many secondaries have little or no confidence in the real use of SATs results, suspecting children have been coached to make the right answers, they feel obliged to test their first-year intake all over again. By opting for tests in the first year of secondary education, Mr Gove is sensibly trying to cut down on this pointless and unnecessary duplication.

One likely cavil about the Gove plan is that it doesn't go far enough. Many will wonder what the point is of retaining primary league tables when the exams on which those tables are based have been scrapped. Mr Gove seems to believe there is a way round this, and that the results of assessments in secondaries can be "traced back" to primaries, enabling the Government to continue to rate primaries in order of achievement.

However, tracing back results from one school to a whole lot of other schools could turn out to be an administrative nightmare, given that the new intake of children at any one secondary tends to come from a range of local primaries.

Coaching is another worry. If tests taken at secondaries continue to affect the public ranking of primaries, won't teachers in those primaries continue to feel pressure to teach final-year pupils "to the test" as before? If so, the value of these proposed reforms will be diminished.

Clearly, anomalies remain in what has otherwise been rightly described as an imaginative policy proposal need thinking through. The Government, meanwhile, would do well to reconsider its continued faith in a system of testing that has fewer and fewer supporters.