Justine Greening has promised to listen to teachers on Sats, as she prepares to launch a major consultation into the future of primary assessment.
In an exclusive interview with TES, the education secretary said that she wanted to get primary assessment right “in the round” and avoid more “piecemeal” change.
Ms Greening announced that primaries will be spared any new tests for the next two years. She told TES that new "times-table checks" for Key Stage 2 Sats would not be introduced until 2018-19, and even then the first year will be a “voluntary large scale roll-out”.
She also pledged to look at the issues surrounding both the reading and spelling, punctuation and grammar elements of this year’s Sats.
But the secretary of state made it clear that, whatever the outcome of the primary assessment review beginning in the new year, she did not want a reduction in the amount of testing.
Asked whether primary pupils were tested too much in this country, she said: “I think we do the right amount of testing to measure their progress. I am interested in consulting on how and when that testing takes place, the form it takes."
However, Ms Greening is determined that whatever does emerge will work for schools.
“I am genuinely asking myself, 'What can we do to make sure the policy approach that we have can work effectively on the ground?'” she said.
Her approach, she added, was designed to give the sector some “more stability and genuine space” to look at how assessment should function in the future.
“We have worked with the profession on this, and what we have announced today is all the better for having done that,” Ms Greening said.
'A sensible approach on primary assessment'
“The second part is, 'Where do we go now? What does a sustainable, sensible approach on primary assessment look like?'”
The secretary of state pointed to today’s announcement that she will abandon proposals for Year 7 Sats resits as evidence that she is listening to teachers over their concerns about testing.
“I have listened to what teachers and headteachers have been saying over the last three months," she said.
"But also, my sense was that when a child gets an outcome at key stage 2 and then has a summer holiday and then comes back [to school], it wasn’t clear to me we were going to get our objectives achieved by the resit.
“I felt it was much more important to focus on the underlying problem of why children were not getting to the expected standard.”
Ms Greening insisted that her consultation would do more than merely pay lip service to listening to the profession.
“I’m genuinely approaching this in an open-minded fashion,” she said. “I am looking at primary assessment in the round rather than looking piecemeal at how we should evolve key stage 1, or piecemeal what we do on key stage 2 and resits, or piecemeal about baselining. I don’t think that’s a sensible approach.”
The consultation will mean that the early year foundation stage profile will remain in place as the Department for Education gathers views as to what stage of primary school a pupil's progress should be measured.
The previous attempt to introduce a baseline test was abandoned by ministers after they decided that the results of different tests could not be reliably compared.
"We need to get this right because the work that had been done had not resolved this," Ms Greening said. "It’s now time to have an open consultation about what is the right way to measure progress and what is the right starting point for that.
The politician was speaking to TES in Manchester in the middle of a tour of schools to gather views from the profession. “I genuinely think this consultation will give us a chance to reach more of a consensus of what good looks like than we have in the past,” she said.