WELSH primary schools are improving at record rates, but could do even better if key stage 2 teachers did not focus on preparing pupils for tests, the Welsh chief inspector has said.
Teaching improved more in the past year than in any of the previous four, said Susan Lewis, head of Estyn, the Welsh education and training inspectorate. Her annual report, published last week, rates teaching as good or better in 60 per cent of lessons.
Primary pupils now achieve good or very good standards in 60 per cent of classes, exceeding the Welsh Assembly target of 50 per cent. Ms Lewis said abolition of KS1 tests in Wales last summer had influenced the results.
"Getting rid of tests for pupils at seven means teachers do not need to prepare them for tests in English and mathematics and can spend more time teaching the programmes of study for all subjects," she said.
But she added: "Some teachers in Year 6 continue to concentrate too much on activities in English, mathematics and science that focus too narrowly on questions similar to those in the national tests. This often leaves too little time for other subjects and for practical and problem-solving activities."
Ms Lewis said her comments were not a demand for the abolition of KS2 testing but a call for greater creativity in the classroom.
Geraint Davies, Welsh secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "There is evidence that too much time in Year 6 is wasted on teaching to the test, so we are seeing pupil disaffection set in at an early age. Testing affects truancy and pupil misbehaviour."
Truancy is a particular problem in Wales. Estyn's report says that 17,000 pupils are absent from Welsh secondary schools every day. More than 40 per cent of schools regularly have more than one in 10 pupils absent.
Ms Lewis called for more options for disaffected pupils, including partnerships with employers and colleges.
Estyn's 2001-2 report is available at www.estyn.gov.ukannual_report.asp
* Standards in primary schools have improved more in the past year than in any of the previous four years.
* Teaching is good or better in 60 per cent of primary lessons and 69 per cent of secondary lessons.
* Only 3 per cent of lessons are unsatisfactory in both primary and secondary sectors.
* There is more unsatisfactory work in Welsh as a second language than in any other subject, particularly at key stage 3.
* The percentage of pupils gaining GCSE grades A*-C in core subjects (maths, science and English or Welsh) remains at 37 per cent - lower than the target set by the Welsh Assembly.
* The number of schools where fewer than a quarter of pupils gain five GCSE grades A*-C rose from seven last year to 11 this year. The Assembly had intended to have no schools in this category by 2002.