All eyes on Welsh revolution

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
In pursuing its open-minded inquiry into testing, Wales is seeking an assessment system for children, rather than ministers (page 6). Professor Richard Daugherty and his committee, whose interim report on key stage 2 and 3 assessment is published this week, have thought hard about the purpose of tests and the role teachers' judgments should play. They have focused on transitions, from primary to secondary, and to 14 to 19 study.

They have also put learning at the heart of their proposals and sought ways to avoid the distortions to the curriculum in Years 6 and 9 which result from high-stakes testing.

Simply telling teachers not to teach to the test (the approach still taken in England) is just plain confusing.

The Daugherty group concludes that KS3 Sats are not worth the money spent on them, and that well-moderated teacher assessment completed early in Year 9 would help pupils and parents choose the best options for the next school phase. They also call for an end to KS2 tests.

But they don't, as many expected and unions hoped, advise an end to testing. Rather, they propose a radical new type of test in Year 5, to judge learning skills - literacy, numeracy and "enquiry" - across the curriculum. The results would be reported as a profile, and would aim to help teachers in Years 6 and 7 support children's transition to secondary school.

Anything that could help maintain children's motivation in KS3 is worth considering. And learning skills are becoming an international obsession; they are central to England's primary strategy. But are statutory tests the best way to promote these skills?

Also, is it politically feasible, whatever their merit, to introduce completely new tests at this time? Laudably, the Daugherty group aims to test what's important, rather than what's testable. But if Welsh education minister Jane Davidson decides to go down this road, she will have to be certain it is absolutely necessary. Any new tests will have to be carefully constructed and trialled. The rest of Britain will be looking westward.

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