Tougher standards being considered for seven-year-olds

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Primary school pupils could face formal testing at the age of seven as part of a package of Government measures aimed at tackling underachievement.


The education secretary Nicky Morgan on a visit to Watermore Primary School in South Gloucestershire

In her first major speech since the election, education secretary Nicky Morgan will announce today (3 November) that the Government is considering re-introducing national tests for Year Two pupils to ensure every child masters the basics of literacy and numeracy at primary school and can start secondary school ‘ready to succeed’.

Under the proposals, children who fail primary school tests will be made to re-sit them at secondary school.

Ms Morgan says the changes will help ensure ‘every child gets the best start in life’.

According to the education secretary, there are thousands of young people at risk of falling behind in the 3RS – reading, writing and arithmetic, which research shows makes them much less likely to secure good GCSEs.

However, teaching unions have criticised the move to bring back standardised tests for seven year-olds, a decade after SATs at Key Stage One were abolished and following the introduction of baseline assessments.

Next year, schools will have the option of taking part in the baseline check to assess children during the first few weeks of starting reception.

The majority of schools have signed up to the baseline check offered by Early Excellence.

A consultation will be launched in the coming months, with the aim of creating a clearer measure for how pupils are progressing through primary school.

National Teaching Service

As part of the reforms, the Government is also creating a National Teaching Service (NTS) to drive up standards in underperforming schools.

Under the NTS, outstanding teachers and leaders will be deployed to schools with weak results for a period of up to two years.

The aim is to recruit 1,500 outstanding teachers and leaders by 2020.

A pilot of the NTS has been launched today (Tuesday) in the North West to enlist up to 100 teachers and leaders to start work in primary and secondary schools in 2016.

Speaking at the Resolution Foundation today, Ms Morgan is expected to say, ‘Over the past five years we’ve extended opportunity to thousands of young people, through raised standards, heightened expectations and a rigour revolution.

‘But for all we’ve achieved, too many people aren’t being given a fair shot to succeed because of where they live. That’s why today I’m announcing the creation of a National Teaching Service – sending some of our best teachers to schools in struggling areas.

‘At the same time, we’re taking further steps to ensure that every pupil masters the three Rs in primary school and studies the core academic subjects in secondary school – ensuring that every young person gets the best start in life.’

Sector reaction

The sector has reacted angrily to the education secretary’s proposal to introduce standardised tests for seven-year-olds, which they say is not the answer to improving children’s outcomes.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said, ‘It is quite staggering the degree to which the Government is unable to understand how their approach to the measurement of the performance of schools, and the system as a whole, is turning schools into exam factories.

‘The UK already has the most excessively tested children in the whole of Europe. Children and young people urgently need the formal assessment burden on them reduced. More tests at age seven, involving the labelling and grading of young children, is simply the very last thing that is needed to help improve outcomes or learning.

‘Standardised testing is shown, from research around the world, to be educationally harmful, unreliable, costly and damaging to children.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'Given that both the early years sector and teaching unions have voiced such strong opposition to reception baseline tests, and the majority of those that responded to the original consultation on primary assessments were against the proposals, it’s disappointing that the Government has chosen not to take this opportunity to review these much-maligned plans, which will subject children to needless tests during the crucial settling-in period.

'The Government’s continued obsession with rigid testing, as exemplified by today’s proposals to introduce formal tests for seven-year-olds, is deeply misguided. Such a narrow view of attainment does a disservice to young children, and reduces opportunities for genuine learning to little more than a tick-box approach to education. As such, we urge Government to reconsider taking such a regressive step.'

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said, ‘We support the Government’s commitments to help schools enable more children to achieve expected standards of English and maths at primary school.  But continual testing is not the answer, and nor is changing the goalposts every time a minister speaks.  Primary schools are already under immense pressure from having to introduce an untried baseline assessment scheme this year alongside a new primary curriculum, and new tests at the end of Key Stage 2.  Yet more changes to testing will not improve children’s English or maths.’

Voice the union criticised the measures on testing and standards as 'sticking plaster politics'.

General Secretary Deborah Lawson said, 'I am deeply concerned that these measures are sticking plaster politics that will neither raise standards nor address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

'The last thing schools need is more tests, especially of such young children, and even re-sits.

'Teachers know their pupils and therefore are in the best position to make their own assessments of children at the appropriate time. Teachers and schools do not need any further accountability measures when there are so many already in place and rigorous Ofsted inspections.  This will only serve to drive more teachers, already sick of Government interference, from teaching.

'While we welcome the trial of the National Teaching Service, the scheme presents a number of practical difficulties, especially at a time when schools are facing a recruitment and retention crisis.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Lucy Powell accused the Government of causing a ‘chronic shortage’ of teachers rather than raising standards.

She said, ‘For all their talk of standards, the Tories' record on education is poor. Nothing is more important in education than having excellent teachers in all our schools, but this Government has created chronic shortages, with the highest number now quitting the profession since records began and missed recruitment targets year on year.

‘Rather than drive up standards, they have created a schools policy that has allowed the attainment gap between poorer children and their peers to widen and created teacher shortages. Soaring class sizes also threaten standards.’

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