Pressure to reform tests

21st September 2007 at 01:00
Mass protest to Parliament calls for 'fairer, more humane' assessment system.

PRESSURE IS mounting on the Government from across the teaching profession for radical reform to its regime of testing, targets and school league tables.

Evidence presented to the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee, just published, shows opposition from a phalanx of heavyweight organisations.

Of 52 submissions to the committee only one the former Department for Education and Skills paints the testing regime in a favourable light.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the evidence marked a turning point in the debate because the concerns were so profound. He said: "Everyone except the Government recognises that the current system is unsustainable. With the new Prime Minister, we have the best chance of change that we have ever had."

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "The benefits of a national system of assessment have been immense. The aspirations of pupils and their teachers have been raised. The public has a right to demand such transparency."

But ranged against it are:

* Scientific and mathematical organisations, including the Wellcome Trust, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the Association of Science Education, the Royal Society and the Mathematical Association.

* England's biggest networks of testing experts, the Institute of Educational Assessors and Cambridge Assessment.

* All five teachers' unions who submitted evidence.

* The General Teaching Council.

* The Government's favourite think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research.

* A major exam board, OCR, which attacked "unnecessary and inappropriate mass testing" of under-15s, adding that qualifications were being devalued by their use in league tables.

* A large local authority, Hampshire, which called for a "fairer and more humane assessment system".

* A group of heads who said special needs pupils were being "marginalised and devalued" by test targets they could never achieve.

This week, the Liberal Democrats said that excessive testing was "squeezing the joy out of education" and pledged to review the exams regime.

The Wellcome Trust said teachers felt the national tests had "a negative effect on children's enjoyment of science." The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said 90 per cent of primaries and 79 per cent of secondaries reported that testing led to pupils being offered a narrower curriculum.

Some submissions said testing contributed to pupil disaffection. Ofsted warned this week that dull lessons were to blame for increased truancy in secondary schools.

The select committee's inquiry into assessment was suspended in July following a reorganisation of Government departments. Parliamentary sources said there is a good chance it will restart under a new committee in November.

Ministers point to trials of new tests which pupils will take up to twice a year after teachers decides they are ready, as evidence that the are prepared to reform the system.

Increased truancy, page 3

Leading article, page 32

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