Fear andgut instinct;Leading Article;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

10th December 1999 at 00:00
SINCE THE debacle over P4 and P7 national tests almost a decade ago, the Government has avoided dragooning primary teachers. Even the national targets for primary schools are set by the schools themselves, and outwith language and mathematics there has been little pressure for a flow of reliable assessment information from the sector.

If ministers are about to become more demanding, they are at least also seeking the views of the profession and parents - the two groups that defeated the old-style national tests. A series of options are published this week (page four). Commentators are unlikely to restrict themselves to areas within the inspectorate's immediate remit. Integrating assessment within the teaching and learning process is at the heart of the HMI review, as is the need for reliable and consistent information from which to observe national trends and progress. But respondents to the consultation are bound to point out (as primary teachers always have) that assessment is already built into teaching, that more formal tests will mean teaching to the tests and that problems such as the primary-secondary divide and the lack of progress in S1 and S2 are not failings of assessment but are founded in the underlying structure of schools.

Teachers prefer to trust their professional, or gut instinct. The Government is no longer content with that, and demands solid data. In so much as that involves laying down assessment criteria, as happens with Standard grade, teachers may be helped to help their pupils, and performance levels will rise (again S grade is the example). But old barriers are still there - fear that more assessment means a greater workload and that it has more to do with judging schools and teachers than helping pupils.

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