Lib Dems planning to scrap tests and tables

Warwick Mansell reports on radical policies which include annual inspections

THE Liberal Democrats this week proposed radical reforms of the education system, including the abolition of league tables and national tests, and scrapping formal schooling for the under-sevens.

The party would also give all pupils the chance to learn a language from seven and would give all good teachers the chance to qualify for a doctorate. But schools would be inspected every year.

The proposals, to be unveiled formally at the party's annual conference in Brighton next week, point the way to the policies the party will run on in the next general election. They are the result of a year-long inquiry led by Professor John Howson, a TES columnist and visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University.

The proposals, loosely modelled on the education systems of countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden, are outlined in a 38-page pamphlet called No Child Left Behind and support a wider Lib Dem move to decentralise health and education services.

The party would replace the first two phases of education, currently nursery and infants, with a "formative" stage to age seven, where the emphasis would be on learning through play.

The curriculum for seven to 14-year-olds would remain largely unchanged, but the party would bring in thousands of graduate students from Europe to offer all pupils the chance to learn a language until at least the age of 14.

At 14, pupils would be given mentors to help them plot their future from a menu of school, college or work-based learning. Conventional GCSE and A-level exams would be replaced by a "scaffold of qualifications", in which pupils took courses when they were ready.

In place of national tests at seven, 11, and 14, parents would be given much more detailed end-of-year reports giving information on a school's performance based partly on annual visits by local authority inspectors.

School-level league tables would give way to testing a representative sample of pupils to check whether standards were improving. And, the party would also allow a headteacher to ignore a Government directive if it could be proved not to benefit pupils in their school.

The party proposes to give local government greater control over funding through a local income tax. But it is accused by Labour of failing to say how it would fund the programme, having abandoned plans to put one penny on income tax for education at the next election.

Phil Willis, the party's education spokesman, said the programme could be afforded within Labour spending plans, which he conceded as "generous".

He said: "My worry is that the Government just will not give up its centralising levers of control.

"We want to put the needs of the pupil first, and trust teachers a little more, while ensuring that parents have a guarantee of quality."

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