Cynics unfair to the literacy tests

13th April 2001 at 01:00
YOU gave prominence in last week's issue to a report claiming that the remarkable improvements in key stage 2 English over recent years are a result of the tests getting easier.

There are at least three reasons to reject absolutely such a conclusion: 1 In the summer of 1999, the Government established an independent inquiry with cross-party representation to examine a similar claim.

The inquiry, under Jim Rose, then of the Office for Standards in Education, found no evidence whatsoever that the standards set by the tests had been altered. It expressed the view that parents could have confidence in the tests and added that the tests compared favourably with those used in other countries.

2 Over the past three years, the Government has invested in the largest and highest quality research-based, professional development programme ever devised for primary teachers, provided excellent materials, run a National Year of Reading to make literacy a priority for people, provided extra help to children who need it most, and provided funding for more than 23 million books.

One would expect a programme of this substance and quality to benefit children, as indeed it has. To suggest it has not is to ignore both the research and common sense.

3 Leaving aside the technical ebate about the tests, it is important to focus on the central purpose of the National Literacy Strategy.

This aims to ensure that children are literate in the fullest sense of the word. In short, the strategy is about what children know, understand and can do, on a daily basis.

In this profound sense, the power of the strategy can be seen daily in thousands of primary classrooms across the country.

In addition, many teachers in secondary school have noticed the difference in this year's Year 7 intake, and those secondary teachers who visit primary schools - as thousands have this year - are often amazed by the standards being achieved in Years 4, 5 and 6 by children who haven't yet taken the tests.

For these reasons, and others, my reaction to the test results is to offer unqualified congratulations to primary teachers. In places such as Blackburn, Nottingham and Tower Hamlets they have shown that, with good teaching, children from all backgrounds can achieve high standards.

It is disappointing that there are still cynics about who believe that teachers haven't and don't make a difference.

Professor Michael Barber

Head of the Government's standards and effectiveness unit

Sanctuary Buildings

Great Smith Street

London SW1P


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