Lib Dems on course for primary Sats collision

21st September 2012 at 01:00
'Contentious' demands will be made at their annual conference

The Liberal Democrats are putting themselves on a collision course with their coalition partners by calling for externally assessed Sats tests at the end of primary school to be scrapped.

Demands for the axing of key stage 2 tests will be heard at the Lib Dem annual conference tomorrow, with the party already bolstered by its success in influencing reforms of GCSEs and with David Laws newly restored to government as schools minister.

The policy to overhaul Sats, moved by Dan Rogerson, co-chair of the Lib Dems' parliamentary party committee on education, calls for children leaving primary school to be assessed in school by their own teachers. Results should then be sent to pupils' parents, the secondary school to which they will transfer, Ofsted and the Department for Education, the policy says.

The motion comes at a time when tensions are already high following the publication of a draft of the new primary curriculum back in June.

Fears were raised by expert advisers that the proposed changes were too prescriptive. But headteachers see the introduction of the new curriculum as an opportunity to force a re-examination of assessment at key stage 2.

Michael Gove has already pushed through reforms to Sats tests following a review of the exams last year by Lord Bew. The changes, brought in this year, introduced a writing composition test assessed by teachers, but maths, reading and a new so-called spag (spelling, punctuation and grammar) test are still assessed by external examiners.

Despite the obvious conflict, Mr Rogerson believes the motion is still in line with current government policy. "I think it is about holding schools to account, while making sure that parents and Ofsted have the information they need," Mr Rogerson said. "It is in line with the main thrust of coalition policy to give schools more freedom, and to have less interference from central government."

Speaking to Parliament in June, former schools minister Nick Gibb reiterated the government's commitment to external testing. "The evidence from around the world shows that the education jurisdictions that perform best have three things in common: autonomy for teachers, trusting the professionals and regular external assessment in their schools," Mr Gibb said.

But heads' union the NAHT views Sats as a "negative force" in the system. The union would welcome more teacher assessment, but said a move by the Lib Dems towards this would be "contentious".

"There is no doubt that headteachers want a much greater role for teacher judgement," said NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby. "With the new primary curriculum, (the government) will have no choice but to address key stage 2 assessments. They will need a new set of assessments, which is potentially a big problem for them as it is a flashpoint in the profession."

Mr Hobby added that high-stakes accountability was corrupting exams, and he pointed to the current GCSE fiasco as an example. "Currently assessment is serving too many purposes and it is serving each of them badly," he said.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the Lib Dem motion would not only replace one form of high-stakes testing with another, but also increase teachers' workloads.

There is no doubt that heads want a much greater role for teacher judgement.

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