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Online tests for all pupils by 2003

Drive to raise standards leads to 'evolutionary, not revolutionary' plan. Sarah Cassidy reports

NATIONAL tests could soon be taken online, as part of a major review of the assessment system.

From 2003, children's scripts could also be scanned onto the Internet and sent electronically around the country to markers, under plans being considered by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

National testing is definitely here to stay, Education Secretary David Blunkett has told the QCA, and will continue in English, maths and science beyond 2002 - the deadline for the Government's ambitious national targets.

The new focus on raising standards at key stage 3 has made the review even more pertinent, according to the QCA.

Mr Blunkett has asked the assessment authority to review the testing system for 2003 and beyond.

The tests will remain unchanged until 2002, to ensure the reliability of the results on which Mr Blunkett has staked his job.

Mr Blunkett has asked the QCA to see how the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the testing system could be improved, particularly by using new technology. Officials plan to look at the test development process, administration and marking and collection of results.

Tim Cornford, head of the QCA's assessment division who is conducting the review, said: "This will be about evolution rather than revoluion.

"We will be looking to build on the strengths of the current statutory tests without increasing the overall assessment burden.

"I think teachers will immediately notice the difference.

"From 2003 we hope to improve on the administration of the tests using technology to get the results to teachers more quickly. In the longer term,

we are looking to deliver the tests electronically."

The QCA is holding consultation meetings with unions, subject associations, local authority organisations and OFSTED to discuss the future of the tests until the end of July.

It must give David Blunkett a set of recommendations by the end of September.

A review of the testing system was recommended last year in the report of the Rose inquiry - the investigation which was sparked by claims that the QCA had rigged the tests.

The inquiry gave the system a clean bill of health but concluded that, while the tests should remain unchanged until 2002, they should be reviewed for 2003 and beyond.

In his instructions to the QCA, Mr Blunkett made it clear that any future developments must build on the strengths of present testing arrangements. The tests will continue to measure the attainment of individual pupils; monitor national performance; contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning; and help evaluate the effectiveness of schools.

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