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

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a TES/ TESS subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order today