Power to the Welsh pioneers

16th July 2004 at 01:00
Welsh Education Minister Jane Davidson is to be commended for tackling questions that dare not be even posed in Westminster. What is assessment of children aged seven to 14 for? How can it make learning better? Some argue that league tables should be abolished to counteract the narrowing of the curriculum caused by "teaching to the test". Wales does not have league tables, and yet both Richard Daugherty's independent assessment review group and ACCAC, the Welsh curriculum authority, advised that current tests were "having a negative effect on teaching and learning" for exactly those reasons.

So Wales is taking a bold step - scrapping the Sats and phasing in a system of moderated teacher assessment at 11 and 14. There will be skills tests in Year 5 mapped against national curriculum subjects that aim to help teachers pinpoint children's learning needs and improve transition to secondary school.

The intentions are good, but what sort of road they pave remains to be seen. Any new system is bound to bring some confusion and anxiety, and national curriculum skills tests are an unknown quantity. Officials and politicians in England now have the luxury of peering over the border and studying what happens here before considering anything similar.

But will they? English policy-makers can only discuss heretical views on testing behind closed doors. Many of them genuinely want more creative learning in schools, with assessment that helps children to move forward, but are not allowed to think about alternatives to high-stakes tests at 11 and 14. At least, they are not allowed this freedom at present. The assessment revolution under way in Wales may eventually cause some longstanding barriers to be knocked down in England too.

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