Some aspects of transfer procedure, such as induction programmes and support for children with special educational needs, are working successfully. But there is still a widespread failure to make the best possible use of the performance data that now accompany each September's new arrivals.
In the past, some secondary schools conducted entry tests for pupils at the beginning of Year 7. These should no longer be necessary as all this information can now be provided by the key stage 2 test results. This is also true for those local authorities which use such tests as a measure of special educational needs.
As well as providing the basic framework of levels (a simple score of "level 4", for example), the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has now extended the information which can be derived from the tests to include: age standardised scores for the key stage 2 tests in reading, spelling, mathematics and mental arithmetic; and separate level thresholds for reading and writing. A leaflet with this additional information will be sent to key stage 2 schools towards the end of June. Key stage 3 schools will also receive it, together with a copy of this year's key stage 2 tests.
In addition, SCAA has recently produced a booklet, Making Effective Use of Key Stage 2 Assessments, which explains about the extra information available in 1997, and gives details of software developed for the electronic transfer of data between schools, and diagnostic analysis of children's responses in the tests. It also gives examples of schools which use assessment information to develop their curriculum, as the basis for measuring pupils' progress, and of the sort of statistical help the local authority can offer.
There are still some who prefer to ignore records of children's previous performance. They might feel that the workload of looking at pupils' records is too demanding, or that it is preferable to start with a clean sheet.
Two rather more substantial concerns are also raised: confidence in the accuracy of results, and the speed (or lack of it) with which the information becomes available.
Key stage 2 tests have been in place for three years. SCAA's programme of test development includes extensive pre-testing and consultation and there are, we believe, strong grounds for confidence in their accuracy and consistency from key stage to key stage, and year to year.
Neither should the time scale be a problem. Recent research confirms that nearly all teachers believe their teacher assessment judgments are not influenced by the formal test outcomes, so primary schools are comfortable with sending their provisional teacher assessment levels to secondary schools by the end of May. Increasingly, schools are coming to local agreements about this; deciding on, for example, a two-stage process, whereby provisional judgments are provided at the end of May and final levels and age standardised scores in early July.
Many schools make significant efforts to support pupils as they transfer between schools. The purpose of providing the additional information this year is to maximise the effectiveness of these efforts.
Tim Coulson is professional officer for assessment and reporting at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.