Primary Sats to stay but league tables could go

8th May 2009 at 01:00
Long-awaited expert group report will disappoint test abolitionists

Primary pupils will continue to take Sats following strong backing from the Government's expert group on assessment. But the advisers have called for league tables to be replaced by school report cards.

The long-awaited report does recommend the abolition of national key stage 2 science tests and moving Sats from the second week in May to the middle of June.

But the group concluded that removing all externally marked tests for 11- year-olds in favour of teacher assessment would "represent a step backwards, both for pupils' learning and for school accountability".

Some teachers' leaders, lobbying for test abolition, had placed great faith in the report. Its conservative conclusion will disappoint many.

Ministers were expected to accept the findings as The TES went to press, putting them on a collision course with the NUT and the National Association of Head Teachers.

The unions question how league tables can be abolished if tests remain and say the measures will do nothing to dissuade them from balloting for a Sats boycott next year.

The experts recommend the introduction of a new test in the first year of secondary school to check if pupils who leave primaries below national expectations have caught up. They want the primarysecondary transition to be improved with every pupil starting an extended project in primary school to be finished at secondary; all final year primary pupils to spend a short period at the end of the summer term in the secondary they will attend in September; and the introduction of primary graduation certificates.

The group recommends a national sample testing system at the end of Year 9 to monitor national standards following the abolition of key stage 3 Sats.

Teacher assessment is not yet robust and consistent enough to replace externally marked tests and should be strengthened through more coverage in teacher training, the group says.

Its recommendation to move KS2 tests from May to June is designed to prevent primary teachers reducing their emphasis on maths and English at the end of the summer term, which the experts argue can leave pupils under-prepared for secondary school.

But such a move will disappoint many teachers who see the post-test weeks as a golden period when they can get back to "real teaching".

Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, described the idea that teachers neglected numeracy and literacy post-Sats as a "nonsense" and said the group's stance on testing was "disappointing".

"It is whistling in the wind to say league tables will be replaced if we are still going to test every single child at the end of key stage 2," she said. "How would you prevent the media from creating them?"

The group, which includes Sir Jim Rose, who led the primary curriculum review, and Sir Tim Brighouse, former London schools commissioner, calls on ministers to "actively promote" the school report card and to use it to replace league tables "as soon as is practically possible".

But the experts have angered teachers' leaders by backing the idea of a single overall rating on the report cards.

Mick Brookes, NAHT general secretary, said a single grade would lead heads to a "total rejection" of the cards, designed to give parents a wider view of school performance.

Ofsted `in the dark'

Ofsted has admitted it has "no idea" who will grade schools once school report cards come into effect.

Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert told a Children, Schools and Families select committee hearing on Wednesday that the agency has met with the Department on "one or two occasions" but does not know how the report cards will be administered.

Committee chair Barry Sheerman said Ofsted is being "kept in the dark" over the introduction of report cards. The consultation period over the cards ended in March.

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