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Scrapping Sats tests 'a mistake'

Scrapping national curriculum tests for seven and 14-year-olds was a "mistake", Sir Michael Wilshaw said today as he called for them to be reinstated.

The Ofsted chief inspector said he was "strongly urging" the Government to re-introduce external testing for both age groups as it is vital that youngsters' progress in English and maths is regularly checked.

In his second annual report, Sir Michael also announced that, for the first time, schools with behaviour problems will face unannounced inspections to crack down on disruption in the classroom.

England's schools are suffering from a culture of "casual acceptance" of misbehaviour and lessons should not be undermined by "background chatter, inattention and horseplay", he suggested.

The report concludes that the education system is gradually improving, with almost eight out of 10 schools now rated as good or better.

But nearly a quarter of a million pupils are still languishing in failing schools, and a further 1.5 million are being taught in schools that require improvement.

There are three factors hindering progress, Ofsted suggested: too much mediocre teaching and weak leadership, regional differences in the quality of education, and the underachievement of poor children, especially white youngsters.

Speaking as he published his report, Sir Michael said it is important to know how pupils are doing at certain stages of their education if England is to keep up with the rest of the world.

" I am calling on the Government to re-introduce more formal external testing at the end of Key Stage 1.

"Indeed, I would strongly urge the Government to re-introduce external testing at Key Stage 3 as well.

"Talk to any good headteacher and they will tell you it was a mistake to abolish those tests. That's because good teachers use those tests to make sure every child learns well.

"In getting rid of the tests, we conceded too much ground to vested interests.

"Our education system should be run for the benefit of children, and no one else.

"With the proposed abandonment of national curriculum levels, it is vital that children's progress and outcomes are benchmarked at regular intervals in their school career.

"If we are serious about raising standards and catching up with the best in the world, we need to know how pupils are doing at seven, 11, 14 and 16."

He said that one of the " salutary lessons" of international education rankings published last week was that one of the best European performers was Poland, which Sir Michael said has introduced more national testing of pupils.

Under the current system, pupils' performance in English and maths at the age of seven (the end of Key Stage 1) is assessed by their teachers.

Currently, pupils sit national curriculum tests - known as Sats - in reading and maths at age 11, as well as one on spelling, punctuation and grammar. Writing skills are assessed by teachers. A reading check has also been brought in for six-year-olds.

Pupils previously sat externally-marked tests at the age of seven, but it is understood that this system was phased out from 2004.

Sats tests for 14-year-olds (the end of Key Stage 3) were axed by Labour in 2008. At the time, then-schools secretary Ed Balls said that tests were becoming "less and less relevant".

Sir Michael's call for more testing is likely to spark concerns among some sections of the education community who have previously suggested that children are tested too much.

Asked about opposition from the teaching unions to testing at seven years old, and whether the Government had the will to fight the battle again, Sir Michael said: "It is whether they can win the battle that is the issue.

"I think good headteachers - a lot of good headteachers - felt it was a mistake to withdraw those tests.

"I have given my reasons why I think those tests should be reintroduced, it is really up to Government whether they are willing to have that battle. But I think it is a battle worth fighting."

The oldest pupils in primary school are most likely to see good teaching, according to figures in the Ofsted report.

In Year 6 - the year of Key Stage Two Sats tests - in 80% of lesson observations teaching was judged as good or outstanding compared to 63% in Year 3.

"It is quite obvious to me, I am sure it is obvious to you, why better teachers or more skilled teachers are teaching in Year 6. It is because the testing takes place in Year 6," Sir Michael said.

He said if tests were reintroduced for seven-year-olds at Key Stage 1, this would result in a "better distribution" of staff.

"We think that the in-school assessment, internal assessment, is unreliable and on occasions, there is a depression of results at Key Stage 1 to ensure that Key Stage 2 looks a lot better," he said.

"We have got to make sure that does not happen.

"We also see inconsistent, sometimes poor moderation of those assessments by local authorities."

He said the "vital" stage of a child's education from pre-school to Key Stage 1 had to be good.

"All the research shows that if children don't do well at Key Stage 1, if they cannot read and struggle with basic skills, they do badly thereafter," he said.

"That is why I am looking forward to its reintroduction and I hope the Government acts on our recommendation."


From Belfast Telegraph