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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 19:17 GMT
Change on way in tests and tables
pupil writing
The report seeks a new focus on each child's learning style
England's school tests and exam league tables are to be changed radically as part of a drive to put more focus on individual pupils' progress.

Ministers accept the recommendation of an expert review that children should be tested when they are ready rather than at fixed ages.

The Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, is expected to announce changes to the national tests early next week.

The government wants radical change in classrooms to "personalise" learning.

Schools Minister Jim Knight told a conference in Preston he wanted a system in which no child was stuck in a rut or fell behind.

He was speaking after the publication of a government-commissioned report on the issue, which also recommended a "learning guide" for every child.

The Gilbert Review said there should be an urgent review of the national curriculum and of exams, to report by next September.

It said the government should use its 2007 comprehensive spending review to introduce a national and school-level "aspirational target" for there to be no "stuck" pupils.

The focus should be on raising the rate of progress between the different stages of education.

Progress measure

Mr Johnson himself signalled a change in a speech to new head teachers in November.

He said existing school targets - which relate to the proportion of children reaching certain levels - had produced massive improvements and would stay, but did not tell the whole story.

They failed to take account of children's potential or progress, he said.

Last month the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which has influenced Labour policy in the past, proposed that all pupils should be expected to make at least one level of progress between the end of Key Stages 2 and 3 - roughly ages 11 and 14.

The IPPR's director was part of the personalised learning review team, which was led by Christine Gilbert, head of the education inspectorate Ofsted.

Put simply, personalised learning and teaching means taking a highly structured and responsive approach to each child's and young person's learning, in order that all are able to progress achieve and participate
Gilbert Review

Ms Gilbert said personalised teaching and learning is "what every parent wants, what every child deserves and what the country needs" to meet the 21st century's global challenges.

It was "a matter of moral purpose and social justice", the report said, as "pupils from the most disadvantaged groups are the least likely to achieve well".

Its other recommendations include:

  • all schools should set out how they are making personalised learning a reality
  • feedback from pupils should be used to design lessons
  • parents should get more information, such as lesson plans on the internet
  • teacher training should be revised, outstanding teachers might have sabbaticals to enhance their skills
  • a group should be set up to distinguish effective innovation in teaching from "fads and fashions"
  • pupils not progressing as expected should be entitled to extra support, such as one-to-one tuition, in or out of school

Mr Knight said personalisation had for months been "a distant dream - offering the promise of a warm, fuzzy, comfortable future".

Now was the time to put the ideas to the test - which in practice meant a change in the way education was considered and delivered.

"It has implications for the curriculum, for assessment, for the ways that we judge success."

Progress review

The leader of the National Union of Teachers, Steve Sinnott, said: "If at long last the government is going to evaluate the detrimental impact of high stakes testing on pupils and schools, this is a big shift in thinking."

Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said the review should have gone further.

"It misses a golden opportunity by remaining too firmly entrenched in the same narrowly defined standards and accountability agenda to be really visionary," she said.

"We definitely don't see any need to set an extra target for pupil progression."

General Secretary of teaching union the NASUWT Chris Keates said good teaching had always been about personalised learning.


She said teachers would look to the report for a clear definition of personalised learning but that it was not "sufficiently specific".

"There is a real danger that the report could have unintended consequences that spawn overly bureaucratic processes and workload intensive responses from some schools."

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb called for more schools to use setting to teach pupils in ability groups.

"Tailoring the curriculum to each child's ability must surely lead to higher levels of attainment across all ability levels," he said.

The Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, Sarah Teather, said: "More of the same with some new buzzwords thrown in is not going to bring about the change we need."

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