National tests hark back to tradition

National curriculum tests for 11-year-olds have pushed junior schools into more traditional teaching methods, according to a new report from the Economic and Social Research Council.

The arrival of the tests in 1993 has seen increases in regular formal testing, setting and whole-class teaching and a greater focus on reading and spelling. Mixed-ability teaching and topic work have been downplayed. The ESRC report analysed changes in 32 schools from four local education authorities across England. It found that the tests are having a major impact on the way classes are taught.

Schools, for example, now spend time specifically practising for tests with timed writing, comprehension, and maths exercises, with less time for individual teaching, practical work or hearing children read.

"Schools which had been involved in key stage 2 tests since 1993 reported that as an outcome they had changed their forms of organisation," says the report. "Fourteen have changed from mixed ability to . . . setting; eight have moved away from cross-curricular work towards more subject-based teaching. Four have moved to more whole-class teaching. Fourteen heads have introduced regular formal testing throughout KS2."

The introduction of tests also appeared to have brought benefits. "By 1995 many Year 2 teachers had moved . . . towards more systematic, evidence-based approaches," say the authors, from King's College and the Institute of Education, London.

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