Directors deplore 12-plus test plan

21st June 1996 at 01:00
Government ministers have been accused of opening the door to streaming in secondary schools, introducing a "12-plus" exam and scuppering the 5-14 programme.

The claim by Bob McKay, president of the Association of Directors of Education, follows a statement from the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department to The TES Scotland which confirms an intention to test pupils at the beginning of S1.

The national committee on implementing 5-14 meets today and is almost certain to express its grave reservations over what one senior figure behind the programme described as a "disastrous" move by the Government to make testing compulsory in the first two secondary years. It would thwart attempts to end the "fresh start" approach for pupils entering secondary and sour good relations between primary and secondary, he added.

Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, had indicated in a letter to George Robertson, his Labour opposite number, that systematic introduction of testing in S1 and S2 "will test and confirm the assessments made of pupils in the last stages of primary school, and it will set a baseline against which their subsequent progress at secondary school can be monitored".

The move also fits in with consistent ministerial and HMI concern about the performance of pupils in the first two secondary years, most recently in the inspectorate report on "Standards and Quality" (TESS last week) and in the report on the attainments of pupils in maths from P4-S2.

Asked for clarification this week, the SOEID told The TESS: "Certainly the test in S1 should be early in the first term. This will ensure that teachers have access to the most current and useful information about the level reached by the pupils in their care which will enable them to plan appropriately. External marking will ensure that this does not create difficulties for teachers. "

The Scottish Secretary had already revealed, in his letter to Mr Robertson, that the new tests would depart from the approach in primary schools where pupils are tested when their teachers believe they are ready to move on to the next of the five 5-14 levels. There would therefore be consultation on the timing and frequency of the tests, whether they should be made certificatable, and the external administration and marking required.

But Mr McKay, who is director of education in Perth and Kinross Council, denounced what he believed many would see as a modern version of the 11-plus. Mr Forsyth himself has drawn a fine line between external testing of children "once they have reached secondary school, not before they reach secondary school".

Mr McKay commented: "The testing of pupils at the beginning of S1 would raise major concerns about the whole rationale and continuum of 5-14, on which all authorities and the Scottish Office have worked extremely hard.

"It will be perceived as testing primary teachers' assessment and therefore using national tests to test teachers. And there will be an additional concern that this represents a hidden agenda to promote streaming."

The inspectorate has already got down to work on the request from Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, to investigate the relative merits of mixed ability teaching, setting and streaming in S1 and S2.

This is being presented as a follow-up to the 1993 HMI report on the education of able pupils from P6-S2. But Mr Robertson slipped into a description last week of this as an investigation into "selection in schools".

Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector, told last week's press conference on the "Standards and Quality" survey that he expected the report to be ready by late summer. This would probably be followed by a circular which would flesh out the post 5-14 structure.

Mr Osler revived the prospect of a new level F attainment target for the ablest pupils, which he described as "the unfinished business of 5-14." It was originally part of the 'Higher Still' proposals but placed on the back burner by the previous Education Minister following teacher protests that it represented a "fast track" which would destroy the common course in S1 and S2. Mr Forsyth's latest pronouncements will revive these fears.

The SOEID statement to The TESS said there would be wide-ranging consultation on the secondary tests, including the steps the Government intends to take to develop level F. He hoped to issue the consultation document early in the new school session.

The Department also confirmed, in response to TESS enquiries, that, assuming the Government do not lose the next election, tests for S1 and S2 could be introduced once the new Scottish Qualifications Authority is established in 1997, not a year later as originally assumed.

This could involve the SQA in processing some 244,000 examination papers in English and maths along with all the external paraphernalia of Standard grade and Higher exams. The Education Minister, in an article in Tuesday's Aberdeen Press and Journal, said the Government was willing to commit resources to this end. The question of whether S12 pupils would receive a certificate from the SQA would be a matter for the consultation.

The decision to press ahead with such formal testing in early secondary is bound to renew speculation over the future of an external exam at 16 (see above). An uncertain future for Standard grade also sheds new light on the initially mysterious decision, subsequently abandoned, to retain Foundation, General and Credit as descriptions of the post-16 Higher Still levels - terms already used for Standard grade.

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