The Scotland Street School Museum (Glasgow). Image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr.
The Scotland Street School Museum (Glasgow). Image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr.

UK: MPs call halt to high-stakes primary testing

published 12 May 2017 updated 12 May 2017

Teacher unionists have welcomed a new report by the UK Commons Education Select Committee on Primary Assessment, highlighting the need to reform high-stakes tests in primary school.

High-stakes tests at an early age put pupils and teachers under “unnecessary stress”, the report says, adding that education in England is being skewed by the use of such test results to construct school league tables.

Primary pupils need a broad, balanced and fulfilling curriculum

In 2016, new, tougher tests for 11-year-olds saw pass rates drop sharply. The report maintains that parents have a right to expect testing in schools to show whether their children are gaining the right skills in math and literacy, but, the Committee says the close link between the tests at 11 and school accountability can “lead to a narrowing of the curriculum and ‘teaching to the test’, as well as affecting teacher and pupil well-being.”

Accordingly, the current system should be discontinued, with three-year rolling averages for schools published instead of the results of individual year groups. The report also calls for greater emphasis in Ofsted inspections on a broad and balanced curriculum, reminding that poor implementation of the new system last year, with “guidance delayed and test papers leaked online”, caused significant disruption in schools.

The MPs want ministers to reconsider the new writing assessment which highlights “technical aspects like grammar and spelling, over creativity and composition.” They also want spelling, punctuation and grammar tests for 11-year-olds to become non-statutory.

Unions: report “lays the basis for a serious conversation about primary assessment”

Education unions in the UK have welcomed the report. For example, National Union of Teachers (NUT) General Secretary Kevin Courtney highlighted that “it lays the basis for a serious conversation about primary assessment, going well beyond the narrow limits of the Department for Education’s current consultation.”

“The report’s publication shows that the deep unhappiness of parents and teachers about primary assessment is now reaching the higher levels of politics,” he added, noting that “the case for the current system has been demolished: it is riddled with problems and cannot continue.”