Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education warns Michael Gove that ending final year test in primary schools removes accountability.
Ever since the 1945 Education Act, 11-year-old children have been tested at the end of their final year in primary school. There was a gap in some parts of the country during the 70s and 80s – the 'secret garden' years. But a sensible and popular Conservative Reform Act in 1988 brought back proper accountability to all state primary schools for obvious reasons.
Yet on Sunday, Michael Gove announced that if the Conservatives are elected, simple tests in English and maths will no longer take place in primary schools. Instead they will be delayed until the first year of secondary school, just after the long summer holidays when children (and adults) tend to have forgotten things!
Are these political masters of the universe, who hope to run the country, tacitly admitting they aren't capable of managing the production and administration of simple, reliable tests to measure the performance of 11-year-old children and their primary schools?
A couple of weeks ago, a Times Educational Supplement poll found that more than 70% of parents welcome the publication of test and exam results from which they can judge school performance. But it wasn't sensible parents who welcomed Michael Gove's proposals. It was the NUT and the NAHT, for whom any form of accountability is anathema. If the Cameroons think that's a bonus, heaven help us!
Surely, all that is needed are simple tests for 'reading ages' at seven to which I believe the Conservatives are already committed. When children are 11, there's a need for reliable tests in English and maths, plus, if politicians have any sense, a short test of general knowledge that could cover a bit of geography, history, RE, art music and so forth?
All the tests for 11-year-olds could be administered in primary schools by secondary teachers in the morning and marked by them in the afternoon. Job done – much as it has been done for entry to grammar schools, over-subscribed comprehensives and independent schools since year dot.
Why reinvent the wheel? The reason given is that secondary schools need to re-test their new entrants because the primary schools results are unreliable. The simple answer to that is to improve the primary
Too much teaching to the test? So when did it become wrong to reinforce the ability to read, write, spell, punctuate and do sums? Dear, oh dear, oh dear!
If these proposals go ahead, how are primary schools to be accountable if their former pupils (their product) will not be tested until they are dispersed among numerous secondary schools? In whose interest would that be?
If it is intended that primary schools will remain accountable, how many bureaucrats and computers will it take to trace each pupil back to his or her primary school? How will that be done quickly and reliably? Unless, of course, it's intended to retain elements of the hated DCSF ContactPoint database, which the Conservatives are already committed to abolishing?
Any competent manager knows that simple solutions to problems work. The more complicated the solution, the more likely it is to fail.
Are the teachers' unions taking us back to the days of the secret garden? Many parents think so.