Page last updated at 14:35 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2008 15:35 UK

Tests scrapped for 14-year-olds

There will be no Sats tests for 14-year-olds next year, announces Ed Balls

National tests for 14-year-old school pupils in England are to be scrapped, following this summer's Sats marking "shambles".

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said an expert group would develop a system of assessment by teachers.

But the tests taken by 11-year-olds, and used for the primary school "league tables", will remain.

A new system of report cards showing schools' academic attainment and pupil well-being is also to be introduced.

Mr Balls said that the decision to stop Sats tests for 14-year-olds was "not a u-turn" - and that the wider principle of the need for testing and accountability remained.

"But if you ask 'are we abolishing half of the national tests?', the answer is 'yes'," said Mr Balls.

Report cards

Mr Balls said that tests for 11-year-olds would provide accountability for primary schools - and that GCSEs and A-levels would be sufficient to show the performance of secondary schools, without the need for tests at the age of 14.

TESTS IN ENGLAND
Age 5: teacher assessment of children's all-round development
Age 7: national tests in English and maths marked in school by teachers
Age 11: national tests in English, maths and science marked externally and school's results published nationally
Age 14: there will cease to be national tests in English, maths and science, marked externally

A White Paper to be published next year will set out plans for schools to have a report card, allowing parents to have a simple run-down of a school's performance.

A template for this identified by ministers is the system used in New York where schools are awarded a grade from A to F which attributes 85% of marks to educational attainment and progress and 15% to other factors.

The timing of the decision to scrap the tests for 14-year-olds - known as Key Stage 3 tests - was shaped by the problems with delivering this year's Sats, accepted Mr Balls.

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When the private company ETS had its contract terminated, and the search for a replacement began, he said it was recognised as an "important moment which will set the direction for the coming years".

Ministers decided that externally-marked tests for 14-year-olds were no longer justified - and a panel of experts will be asked to come up with an alternative system of teacher assessment, with a report due by February 2009.

'Sigh of relief'

Mr Balls also promised more frequent reporting to parents of children in the first three years of secondary school, with a stronger focus on one-to-one tuition and catch up support for struggling pupils.

Sats boxes
There were widespread problems over the return of Sats papers

A possible alternative to the Sats for 14-year-olds has already been ruled out - with pilots of single-level tests (where pupils take tests when teachers think they are ready) proving "disappointing" in secondary school and being discontinued.

Those tests have however been identified by Mr Balls as a likely replacement for the current Sats in primary schools.

The news that secondary school Sats were being scrapped was welcomed by teachers' unions, who have been longstanding critics.

Acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, said the announcement was an admission that the testing system had failed.

"For too long English, mathematics and science teachers in secondary schools have found themselves skewing everything to enable their pupils to jump through a series of unnecessary hoops," she said.

"The sound of a deep collective sigh of relief will emanate from secondary schools across the country," said Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT.

Head teachers' leader Mick Brookes welcomed the removal of tests at 14, but said that not stopping tests at 11 was "an opportunity missed to extract some dignity from the tests and marking debacle seen earlier this year".

Students give their views on the scrapping of Sats tests for 14-year-olds

The delays in the marking of Sats tests, affecting tests for both 11 and 14-year-olds, put the government under pressure through the summer, with hundreds of thousands of families seeing their results postponed.

Opposition parties seized upon the decision as a sign of the government accepting that it was time to change direction.

Liberal Democrat children's spokesman David Laws welcomed the government's "complete U-turn".

"The Sats tests taken by 14-year-olds are not only a waste of time but have been highly unreliable over the last few years."

Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove welcomed Mr Ball's announcement to reduce the amount of testing.

"We've argued for fewer national tests and more rigour and we want to work constructively to improve the assessment and qualifications regime."

The inquiry into what went wrong with the delivery of this year's Sats tests, carried out by Lord Sutherland, has still to report this autumn.




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