Labour will scrap Reception baseline and SATs

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The baseline test at age four and primary school testing would be axed under a Labour Government, Jeremy Corbyn has told teachers.

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Jeremy Corbyn

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Education Union (NEU) in Liverpool, the Labour leader also pledged to end SATs for seven- and 11-year-olds, which he described as ‘an unnecessary pressure’.

Mr Corbyn said that Labour would abolish the Government’s planned new baseline assessments for Reception children ‘because they can’t give accurate comparisons between schools when pupils have such different backgrounds. Instead we will raise standards by freeing up teachers to teach.’

Labour would consult with teaching unions, parents and experts and bring forward proposals for a new system that separates the assessment of schools from the assessment of children, he said.

‘It will be based on clear principles. First to understand the learning needs of each child because every child is unique. And second to encourage a broad curriculum aimed at a rounded education.

‘When children have a rich and varied curriculum when they are encouraged to be creative to develop their imagination then there’s evidence that they do better at the core elements of literacy and numeracy too.’

Six- and seven-year-olds sit the standardised national tests in English and maths at the end of Key Stage 1 and at the end of Key Stage 2 when they are 11, in their final year of primary school.

Announcing plans to scrap the controversial SATs he said, ‘At primary school in particular children need the space and freedom to let their imaginations roam.

‘SATs and the regime of extreme pressure testing are giving young children nightmares and leaving them in floods of tears.

‘Teachers are reporting instances of sleeplessness, anxiety and depression in primary school children during exam periods.

‘And it’s even worse for children with special educational needs and disabilities. One teacher said the exams “reinforce everything they can't do instead of what they’re good at.” Why are we doing this to our children?

'These excessive exams are not driving up standards but they are driving up stress  both for children and for teachers.’

Mr Corbyn told the conference, ‘When the system forces teachers to “teach to the test” narrowing down the range of learning to core parts of core subjects to get through exams that’s not actually helping pupils. We need to prepare children for life not just for exams. These tests are bad for children, bad for parents and bad for teachers.’

The speech was warmly welcomed by delegates, who cheered Mr Corbyn when he announced the scrapping of SATs. NEU members voted on Monday in favour of a ballot to boycott SATs next year.

Commenting, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said, ‘It is good to hear a politician who understands the depth of the educational crisis, and the urgency of finding solutions to it.

‘Jeremy Corbyn paints a picture that will be instantly recognisable by teachers and parents: the impact of poverty and austerity; the harm done by our current system of testing.

‘But he also speaks to the hopes and possibilities of a new educational system. Like him, the union looks forward to a future in which the energies of teachers are spent not on useless data collection but on productive classroom work. We welcome Labour’s commitment to work with the profession in order to develop its ground-breaking policies further.’

The schools minister, Nick Gibb, condemned Labour’s plan to end SATs. ‘These tests have been part of school life since the 90s,’ he said.

‘They have been pivotal in raising standards in our primary schools. That’s why Labour governments led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown supported them.

‘Abolishing these tests would be a terrible, retrograde step. It would enormously damage our education system, and undo decades of improvement in children’s reading and maths. Under Labour, the Government would simply give up on ensuring all our children can read and write by the age of 11.’

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