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Fear of plunge in test results

Attempts to foil schools that cram for key stage 2 tests may backfire on the Government. Helen Ward reports

NATIONAL test results for 11-year-olds could be worse next year because of new questions designed to measure problem-solving, say teachers.

The changes to the tests aim to stop schools coaching pupils or "teaching to the test".

However, they are being introduced as the Government battles to improve scores which have stalled for two years. Although teachers approve of the motive for the changes, they say forcing children to interpret facts, rather than simply regurgitate them will inevitably lead to a drop in results.

John Gawthorpe, chairman of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, said: "I hope the Government has braced itself for results to dip. Changing the tests so that children have to think more creatively and teachers teach more creatively is all well and good - but I'm enough of a cynic to think that if scores plummet as a result we will all be hauled out and shot."

The changes include: more questions to test scientific inquiry, maths questions to assess children's ability to apply knowledge and no choice of writing tasks in English .

In 2002, 75 per cent of children reached the expected standard in English and 73 per cent in maths. Ministers want a "significant improvement" in 2003.

The Government is putting pound;11 million into teacher training and booster classes this term, as it strives to meet targets of 85 per cent of children reaching level 4 in maths and English by 2004.

Jim Purvis, head at Simonside primary, Jarrow, said: "The changes will be good for the education of children, but I think it will lead to a dip in results. It is quite easy to teach children to regurgitate facts but teaching them to interpret and use data is much more difficult."

Sarah Barningham, deputy head of Parkhead primary school, Blaydon-on-Tyne, said: "The changes are a good thing ... they make the tests more relevant to everyday life. But now, there is a lot of reading and understanding to do in the maths test, which can be quite difficult.

"They are pushing and pushing children. The people who set the tests don't realise what it is like in a classroom. You can't do percentages, for example, in three days. Children need time to consolidate. Instead all the time they are throwing new stuff at them."

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