Testing grinds primaries down

19th December 2003 at 00:00
This year saw growing dissent in primary schools over testing.

It began with education minister Stephen Twigg writing to heads in a letter that they must do better.

He demanded "significant improvements", after government targets of 80 per cent of children reaching level 4 in English and 75 per cent in maths, failed to materialise.

The TES's postbag heaved with indignant replies.

Lesley Blackham, head at Leesland junior school, Gosport, wrote: "Why doesn't Mr Twigg urge me to ensure that my school has a curriculum that inspires, motivates and challenges children? ... Surely it isn't rocket science to understand that this is the way to further raise standards?"

Furious teachers were joined by authors who launched a campaign against national tests, saying the Sats put children off reading books for pleasure.

In April, a study of 35 countries backed this up. It found primary pupils in England were the third best at reading, but children did not find reading pleasurable.

Further surveys by The TES found that more than a third of seven-year-olds suffered stress over national tests and that more than half of heads had been put under pressure to set unrealistic targets for 11-year-olds.

By Easter, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers were threatening industrial action over the tests.

The Government's Excellence and Enjoyment: a strategy for primary schools, published in May, included some important concessions.

The targets for 2004 - 85 per cent of 11-year-olds were expected to achieve level 4 in English and maths - were put back until 2006.

Targets will no longer be forced on schools from above. Instead goals for individual schools will be set first and local authority targets will follow. A new testing system for seven-year-olds will also be trialled.

The strategy acknowledged the need to smooth the growing disparity in approach between reception and Year 1.

The introduction of the foundation-stage profile in the summer term, asked reception teachers to tick 3,510 boxes per class.

Early indications suggested that one in three pupils was working beyond the level expected in their reception year, forcing teachers to try to adopt more formal Year 1 work.

The continuing uncertainty over funding and its knock-on impact on the workload agreement mean primary school teachers still feel over-burdened.

Delaval primary, Newcastle, had something to celebrate when it topped the first tables designed to show children's progress. The tables were not revolutionary, but they highlighted inspiring work being done by schools that may never hit national targets.

The year ended as it had begun, with primary staff being told to do better, although this time it was the Office for Standards in Education delivering the ticking off.

Ofsted's report on the literacy, numeracy and primary strategies found one in eight English and maths lessons in primary schools was unsatisfactory with weak subject knowledge the most common cause of unsatisfactory teaching.

And, as schools celebrated the season of goodwill, NUT members turned away from confrontation. The union had balloted teachers on a boycott of tests for seven and 11-year-olds. But with two-thirds not voting, the union did not get the required backing of more than half of primary members. Among those who did vote, 86 per cent backed a boycott.

FE review of the year 32

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