Page last updated at 10:36 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 11:36 UK

Lib Dems would replace some tests

Nick Clegg
Mr Clegg wants a new organisation to oversee good practice

The Liberal Democrats would replace national tests at seven and 14 in England's schools with more individual support from the age of five.

Tests at 11 would stay. But the national curriculum should be slimmed down, party leader Nick Clegg argues.

Ministers should be banned from sending "directives and diktats" to England's schools with an Education Freedom Act, he is saying in a speech in London.

Mr Clegg also pledges to take the politics out of school management.

My intention is to use testing to target support - not merely to target criticism
Nick Clegg

The Lib Dem leader argues that England's education system, with its large national curriculum, mandatory testing and school performance tables, is one of the most "centralised and prescriptive" in the world.

"As a result there is no capacity to innovate and no chance to learn from testing different forms of education against each other," he says.

Under the Lib Dems, the Department for Children, Schools and Families would be halved in size and ministers would be banned from sending their "regular diet of directives and diktats to schools".

Instead, an Educational Standards Authority would oversee exam standards, schools inspections and the commissioning of research on good educational practices.

A baseline assessment of five-year-old children's abilities, identifying strengths and weaknesses to be nurtured and addressed, would replace the present tests at the end of Key Stage 1 (age seven), he will say.

"My intention is to use testing to target support - not merely to target criticism," he says.

"One to one tuition for five, six and seven-year-olds has been shown to have huge benefits.

"But far too many children who need these skilled interventions receive no proper support."


The testing system needs to be changed so that schools are encouraged to improve the education of every single child not just borderline pupils, Mr Clegg argues.

He also wants England's curriculum to be "radically slimmed down".

Mr Clegg compares England's 635-page curriculum with Sweden's 21-page version, and says all schools should enjoy the freedoms from the national curriculum that Academies have.

The Lib Dems would also open up the education system so that new providers of state education could establish themselves as "free schools", rather than have to follow one of the accepted school models.

These "free schools" would be run by new providers but come under the strategic guidance of local authorities and have to follow current fair admission arrangements.

"These measures are the right way to introduce real diversity into the schools system.

"Then we can learn from what works, rather than pursuing a national strategy drawn up in the dark and followed robotically in every school in the land," Mr Clegg says.

Scandinavian comparisons

Schools Minister Jim Knight said Mr Clegg was rehashing old arguments for cheap headlines.

"We have a national curriculum because it's right that there are certain things that young people must learn about.

"The classics, key parts of British history such as the World Wars, the basics of maths and English and a good understanding of how the world works are just a few examples.

"Comparisons to Scandinavian countries are interesting but their systems are not necessarily right for us."

Both the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said tests at age 11 should be scrapped too.

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said they were of little use in helping pupilsí transition to secondary school.

Acting general secretary of the NUT, Christine Blower, echoed this, adding that there was no virtue in having a "free for all" in different types of schools locally.

Mr Clegg's speech dealt only with England because of the way responsibility for education is devolved in the UK.

There are extensive curriculums in the other home nations - less prescriptive in Scotland - but only England retains the system of "high stakes" mandatory testing.

Tests are taken at the ages of 8 and 11 in Northern Ireland but are marked within schools and results are not published in "league tables".

Lib Dems warn of education cuts
05 Jun 08 |  Education
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28 Apr 08 |  UK Politics
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10 Nov 04 |  Education

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