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Peacock makes it personal on tests

The end of 5-14 testing was finally signalled this week with backing from ministers for the key options in the consultation on a revamped 3-14 assessment regime.

The tests will be replaced by a more extensive national assessment bank from which schools will eventually be able to download items, a move supported by 82 per cent of those who took part in the consultation. And the 5-14 survey, widely criticised for its unreliability, will be ditched in favour of a new Scottish Survey of Achievement, which was backed by 68 per cent of respondents.

Curiously, there was no ministerial statement hailing these developments, unlike the fanfare for the "ambitious schools" and curriculum plans (pages 4-5). The assessment details were left to be found on the Scottish Executive's website.

The most contentious aspect of the policy, however, will be the determination of Peter Peacock, Education Minister, to press ahead with personal learning planning and new forms of annual progress reports to parents - despite continuing reservations from the main teaching union that this will add an extra burden to teacher workload.

"There is a long way to go before most teachers believe that Government ambitions in this area can properly be met," Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said this week.

Teachers "will need to be convinced" that personal learning planning can be achieved without additional workload, Mr Smith added.

Mr Peacock believes, however, that this is the "big idea" in education, although his response to the consultation makes it clear he is alert to "concerns about manageability and workload" and the need to support schools in implementing his reforms.

The minister's view is that personal learning planning will improve pupil involvement and motivation and lead to a higher quality of report to parents. "We want these to be a natural part of classroom life, and to focus on the process, not the paperwork," the Executive's response states.

"There will therefore be no prescriptive national format for reports or for plans - schools and education authorities should have flexibility in the way that reports are used to record pupil progress and needs."

Guidance will be issued to schools on annual reporting as personal learning planning becomes more established.

The plans for a new national assessment bank will be based on the same principles as the national tests, with items drawn down to confirm teacher judgments. The hope is that more reliable standards can be established through the use of moderation to check on the consistency of teacher assessments. Support for local moderation projects will become a priority of the "assessment is for learning" programme next year.

The new regime will be based on formative assessment, which aims to make testing a natural part of teaching and which has been welcomed by teachers who have been piloting it in the assessment programme. But the EIS warns that the funding support for this positive work in the pilot phase must continue when formative assessment is extended to all schools.

The final piece of the jigsaw will be the new Scottish Survey of Achievement (SSA), built on the Assessment of Achievement Programme (AAP), which will replace the annual 5-14 survey from May next year. This will begin by sampling how pupils are performing in English, to be followed during 2006-08 by surveys of maths, science and social subjects.

The Executive will have to allay fears expressed during the consultation, especially by teachers, that the survey of achievement "would be expensive in human and financial resources or that data might be put to inappropriate uses".

Its response states: "We are firmly of the view that we need a more robust and reliable system for assessing levels of attainment at local authority and national levels than the current 5-14 survey."

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