Should we scrap tests at age seven?

Does key stage 1 testing put children under too much pressure or will their development suffer if we do not challenge them?

"IF it is done differently in Wales it is because it is better for Wales" - that is a quote which I may have repeated many times, but that is because it is true. In a White Paper last year, The Learning Country, I set out the first definitive comprehensive education and lifelong learning programme (to 2010) for Wales. It sets out my vision for Wales as a learning country - a place which puts learners' interests first; offers opportunities for all; aspires to excellence across the board; and which will not settle for second best in making lifelong learning a reality.

You will see from these key principles that I am focused on outcomes rather than inputs. I am not prepared to take changes forward without collaboration and consultation and without a firm evidence base.

My decision to discontinue the testing of seven-year-olds at the end of key stage 1 was taken with overwhelming support from teachers, parents and representative bodies. It was based on the hard evidence that teachers'

assessments did not vary from the test results. The decision was also made because of the very high degree to which pupils met what was expected of them and the possibility that the resources involved could be used differently to assist teachers in raising standards.

Teachers will continue to carry out their own assessment of each pupil and report the results to parents. Schools will include their own results in prospectuses and governors' annual reports and the Assembly will continue to publish local education authority and Wales results.

Taking away this task has reduced the administrative burden on primary teachers and released more time for other classroom activities. Teachers are very comfortable with the assessment of seven-year-olds and so I am convinced that high standards will be maintained.

This also links with the wider debate about creating the right learning opportunities for children in early years and KS1, to enable all our young children to have a flying start. With that in mind, I was keen to ensure that a foundation stage was introduced in the new Education Act 2002. After much consultation with early-years specialists, I want to focus on a much wider idea of a foundation curriculum that is less formal and more child-centred and which would apply for three to seven-year-olds in Wales.

In most European countries, children begin school and are introduced to a formal curriculum at a later age than in Wales and the rest of the UK, most commonly when they are six or seven. They make rapid progress when they are introduced to the more formal skills of reading, writing and numeracy and catch up with their peers who started school earlier. When comparing children's reading skills in 32 countries, it is interesting to note that in the 10 highest-scoring countries for achievement in reading, the children do not begin school till the age of six.

In Wales we are looking at the introduction of a specially-tailored early-years curriculum - for children to have stepped progress between the ages of three to seven with the right outcomes at each point in that progress. A formal education test at the age of seven would not, therefore, be appropriate.

Following devolution, there are some real opportunities for us to be looking again at how we deliver education to our children. We want to engage them in learning. I want to look at schemes that work - anywhere in the world - and learn from them. I want to look at how we can operate an education system, which is right for Wales. It is about building a Wales where all our young people get the best start in life. Ending the formal testing of seven-year-olds will help to make that possible.

Jane Davidson is Wales's Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning

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