Education & Family

Bring back formal tests at seven and 14, says Ofsted

Image caption Sats for 14-year-olds were taken for the last time in 2008

National curriculum tests for 14-year-olds in England's school should be reintroduced, says the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Sir Michael said it had been a mistake to drop the tests (known as Sats) at the end of Key Stage 3 in 2008.

He also said Sats taken at age seven should be externally moderated - at present teachers conduct assessments.

Giving his annual report, said he was "strongly urging" ministers to re-introduce external tests for both ages.

He said it was vital that youngsters' progress in English and maths was regularly checked.

Formal tests

Last week, international rankings showed the UK was falling behind global rivals in international tests taken by 15-year-olds, failing to make the top 20 in maths, reading and science. Shanghai in China came top in the OECD's Pisa tests.

Speaking as he published his report, Sir Michael said it was important to know how pupils were doing at certain stages of their education if England was 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 head teacher 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."

The Ofsted chief said the watchdog had evidence that some in-school assessment at the end of Key Stage 1 (age seven) was unreliable.

He said sometimes schools were depressing results at this age so that progress by the end of Key Stage 2 (age 11) looked better.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "The department launched a consultation on the primary accountability system and will be responding in due course.

"We expect teachers to take professional responsibility for the accurate assessment of pupils."

Contract terminated

Sir Michael said the decision to abolish national curriculum tests for children in England at the end of Key Stage 3 (Year 9) had been a mistake.

The tests were dropped in October 2008 by the then Labour Education Secretary, Ed Balls, following a debacle over the marking these external assessments.

ETS Europe, the company charged with administering the tests, had its contract terminated in the summer of 2008 following delayed results and concerns about quality.

But Sir Michael said: "Our inspectors say there is a hiatus between Key Stage 2 and 4, a drop-off in the pace of learning, progress slows, pupils mark time.

"The reintroduction of Key Stage 3 tests will speed things up, develop more pace in lessons."

Asked if he feared that more testing would encourage teachers to "teach to the test", he said he had never worried about tests as a teacher and a head.

"What I worried about was the quality of teaching in the classroom. If heads are doing that then you know the test results are going to be okay."

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