Editorial - Devolution did us a favour by seeing off Sats

1st May 2009 at 01:00
We may have a funding gap compared with England, but at least our teachers are free

Abolishing national testing for 7, 11 and 14-year-olds was one of the greatest post-devolution policy moves of the Assembly government (page 1). As Ed Balls, England's Schools Secretary, braces himself for a summer of discontent and possible strike action over Sats for 11-year-olds, officials and teachers in Wales can breathe a sigh of relief that there will be no ballot box battle here.

But has teacher assessment been a successful alternative? Professor Richard Daugherty, formerly of Aberystwyth University, the academic behind Wales's shunning of Sats, thinks so. He welcomes Estyn's pending evaluation of teacher assessment, which he believes will prove beyond doubt he was right to recommend the abolition of Sats. He hopes the results will silence any critics.

Just one teachers' union - the NASUWT - opposes the scrapping of Sats for 11-year-olds in England as its Welsh arm complains there is too much work involved in teacher assessment. But wouldn't the union's English members rather be freed from teaching to the test on a production line of stress and stifled ambition?

The Assembly government got it right when they abolished Sats. Experts have found that teachers in Wales - particularly in primary school science - are much more adventurous and, importantly, it has taken the stress away from children.

Admittedly, Wales's bold move in scrapping national testing has yet to boost GCSE results - Wales was 8 per cent behind England last year. Even in the most recent Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, Wales's 15-year-olds were outperformed in reading, writing and science by all other home nations. But these are early days.

If ever there was an argument for devolved government, it rests with the Sats story. Even before devolution, the education ethos between the two nations differed so dramatically there simply was no comparison. This is seen most markedly in the Welsh loathing of league tables.

Professor Daugherty may be infuriated by England's reluctance to follow the Welsh way, but it has to be said that Mr Balls and his colleagues are in an unenviable position as public opinion in England is pro-testing.

TES Cymru has been accused of being overly negative at times, particularly about school funding - or lack of it compared with England. Nonetheless, education policy is still better led from Cardiff than Westminster.

As Welsh headteacher Chris Howard, president elect of the heads' union NAHT, will tell English colleagues this weekend: "We had a minister (Jane Davidson) who had the courage to review what was going on and call for expert opinion to review what was happening. That (opinion) said we could do things differently by getting rid of the tests and the tables. It had the backing of the profession and it didn't have criticisms from parents, and it went ahead. What they (England) need to do is get a minister with the courage of conviction to say we are going to do things differently and listen to expert opinion about what really works with children."

Nicola Porter, Editor, TES Cymru. E: nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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