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Schools may have chance to opt out of new progress tests

'We don't want to push them down people's throats,' says DfES adviser

SCHOOLS COULD be allowed to opt out of a controversial new national testing system, a senior Government official revealed this week.

Sue Hackman, chief adviser on school standards at the Department for Education and Skills, who is believed to be the architect of the new "when ready" tests for 11 and 14-year-olds, said they would work better if schools actively chose to take part.

The reform, which would see key stages 2 and 3 pupils given up to two opportunities a year to take progress tests in English and maths, will be piloted in 10 local authorities from September.

When the department launched the idea in January, it said the progress tests could eventually replace current national versions. But Ms Hackman's comments at a seminar in London suggested the position might have changed.

"I don't think we should push anything down anybody's throats," she said.

"I think people should beg for it really.

"I think we could do an opt-in system, so that if schools want to go down that route they can opt in rather than there being national roll-outs.

"If schools opt in, they will be more willing and it will go better," she said.

After the seminar, she agreed that this could mean two types of national tests operating at the same time - even though a dual system would make it difficult to compile league tables as some schools would have given their pupils more opportunities to reach particular standards than others.

The revelation came as assessment experts and teachers' unions united to voice their concerns about the "when ready" plan, which they fear could make schools even more test-driven.

The plan includes bonus payments for schools whose pupils progress two national curriculum levels in a key stage.

Unions supported the concept of testing pupils "when ready", but said that linking the results to league tables and targets would make them useless for learning assessment.

Writing in today's TES, Dr Gordon Stobart, of the Institute of Education in London, warned the tests would increase teaching to the test and would provide unreliable information on pupils' progress.

The Institute of Educational Assessors, a government-founded organisation that has 3,500 members, said England was not performing as well as less test-focused countries such as Finland and Japan. It wanted teacher assessment, rather than external tests, to be given greater priority.

Assessment 'sampling' will damage learners' health, page 26

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