Will progress tests end Sats?

18th May 2007 at 01:00
Heads believe pilots in September for shorter, more flexible exams signal the demise of a 'discredited system'

AS 650,000 11-year-olds put down their pens and close their papers after a week of tests, the debate continues over the purpose of Sats in Year 6.

In September, progress tests will be tried in 10 authorities. These will be shorter than the existing tests but will still be externally marked. There will be separate papers for each level from 3 to 8, unlike key stage 2 tests, where one paper covers levels 3 to 5. Teachers can enter pupils for the exams when they feel they are ready: the tests will be held twice yearly to facilitate this. The aim is to improve progress within a key stage, particularly for pupils falling behind.

Some think the progress tests herald the end of the current system of national testing. John Coe, of the National Association for Primary Education, said: "I think we are seeing the dying embers of a discredited system. I accept the alternative is likely to lead to more tests, but it is also likely to break the grip of the idea that one test a year is how we measure what we are doing."

David Fann, chair of the National Association of Head Teachers' primary committee and head of Sherwood primary in Preston, said he tested his pupils before Easter and then split them into three ability groups for a six-week revision blitz of maths, English and science.

"Jim Knight, the schools minister, has given the impression that the tests are not going to go away," he said. "But I think we need to reduce the amount of tests, get rid of KS1 tests altogether and reduce testing in Years 3, 4 and 5, which is now done as a matter of course."

Ending the KS2 tests will not reduce pressure on schools, says Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT. "You only have to look to Wales to see the problems with abolition of the tests," she said. "For the NASUWT, it has never been the tests that are the problem. It is the way they are used. The real problem is league tables. They cause the tests to be such high stakes and put pressure on teachers and pupils."

In Wales, where tests for 7- and 11-year-olds were abolished in 2005, there have been complaints about workload as teachers have to assess, mark and moderate the tests themselves. But Kerry Waters, head of Ringland junior school in Newport, Gwent, said the tests in his school had become part of the teachers' day-to-day work.

"I've always been quite unfashionable and liked formal assessment, but now we have moved to teacher assessment," he said. "We use the National Foundation for Educational Research standardised tests twice a year, so we do have a form of formal testing. However, we are able to administer these tests when we like within a certain time period, which takes pressure off the children. It has to be said, I'm coming round to the idea.

"I spent most of my teaching career in England. In Sats week, I had parents saying their children had not slept because of the tests. Perhaps 11-year-olds should not be put under so much pressure."

TESTING, TESTING BUT NOT A SAT TO BE SEEN

There were no tests at Eagle House prep school this week. Instead, pupils at the pound;12,000-a-year school in Sandhurst, Berkshire, carried on with their usual studies and activities, such as music, orienteering, bushcraft and heraldry, writes Helen Ward.

The Independent Association of Preparatory Schools revealed earlier this year that national tests for 11-year-olds are now used by only 37 per cent of its 500 members.

But although the key stage 2 tests were dropped by Eagle House five years ago, testing is still very much part of school life. Next week, all pupils from Year 1 to Year 7 will be tested. Years 1 to 4 will do NFER age-standardised tests in English and maths. Years 5 to 7 will have the school's own internal tests in science, history, geography, RE and Latin.

Years 4 and 6 will also take cognitive ability tests; and the Year 7 pupils will also do the school's own tests in English and maths.

The Year 8s will not take any tests because they are either preparing for the common entrance exam in the first week of June or have done school scholarship exams.

The school is owned by Wellington College, where most pupils will go.

Douglas Buchanan, the deputy head (academic), said: "We are preparing pupils for senior private school. We are hoping they will be all-round achievers. The KS2 tests were deviating us from our studies and not providing the data we really wanted, so we dropped them. We also thought the banding was a bit wide."

Photograph: Edmond Terakopian

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