Test and test again
teachers face a massive increase in high-stakes tests under a plan unveiled this week, but assessment experts are already warning it will not provide the information ministers need. The new personalised approach to assessment being piloted from September will include tougher targets and financial rewards for those schools that achieve them. It could mean a seven-fold rise in the number of times national English and maths tests are sat in some schools.
The reform, likely to end existing tests for 11 and 14 year-olds, builds on recommendations in last week's Gilbert review produced by Christine Gilbert, now Chief Inspector of Ofsted, designed to set the education agenda until 2020. But a think tank with close ties to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister in waiting, argues that further reform will be needed.
The plan announced this week will allow detailed monitoring of individual pupil's progress, with new shorter externally marked tests for each level.
Teachers can enter pupils for the exams, twice yearly, when they are ready.
Cambridge Assessment, which runs the OCR exam board, says the tests will be too narrow to judge whether pupils are being taught the full national curriculum. League tables will remain. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, has said they are "non-negotiable". "Our targets, tables and tests enable parents to see how many pupils at a general level are reaching above a certain grade," he said. "This transparency has brought about massive improvements and is here to stay."
Louise Bamfield, from the Fabian Society, now chaired by Ed Balls, Treasury minister and leading Brownite lieutenant, writing on The TES website, said:
"It remains hard to see how schools can find the space to enrich the curriculum and create the kind of stimulating classroom experience that can inspire pupils, while the league tables and the national testing system, which place such a heavy burden on pupils and teachers, are left in place."
The new package includes extra one-to-one tutoring for pupils who have fallen behind.
Because targets and rewards will be judged according to the percentage of pupils progressing two curriculum levels, it will place extra demands on key stage 3 teachers whose pupils are currently only expected to move up one level. Mr Johnson said: "This is not about increasing pressure on schools and teachers."
But John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warned that the measures would, "turn into just another steamroller that will crush schools' enthusiasm for personalised learning".
The plan comes as new figures seen by The TES magazine reveal that poor white boys are falling even further behind their black and Asian counterparts.
Full reports, pages 4, 5 6
Louise Bamfield, www.tes.co.uk