Children (Assessment Tests)

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th February 1988.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax 12:00 am, 16th February 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether it is the Government's intention to publish the results of assessment tests for children aged seven years; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Baker:

The task group on assessment and testing has recommended that schools should not be required to publish aggregated national assessment results for seven-year-old pupils, but should be allowed to do so if they wish. I shall be considering this in the consultations that will be taking place on the task group's report.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

I am glad that the Minister is considering further the testing of seven-year-olds, but could he also consider further the testing of 11 and 14-year-olds? Does he not realise how divisive this is, and that for seven-year-olds particularly it will lead to cramming and competition in schools, quite unnecessarily?

Mr. Baker:

I shall send the hon. Lady a copy of the report, because it simply does not bear out what she says about assessment and testing at the ages between 11 and 14 being divisive. It recommends a system of assessment and testing at ages seven, 11, 14 and 16 and that at 11, 14 and 16 the results should be published so that parents and the whole of the local community may know how the schools are doing. I do not believe that that is divisive. I think that it will improve standards.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the protests against assessment and testing are rather bogus, as teachers have been doing this at every age ever since teaching started, and that it is vitally necessary if we are to have a correct diagnosis of children's problems?

Mr. Baker:

My hon. Friend, who I believe was a teacher, is absolutely right. There is a great deal of testing and assessment going on in schools, because one has to assess and test the ability of children at certain ages to know what should be their next course of studies. This has been well established and practised. We intend in the future to regularise it and make it a much more open process.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Does the Minister not realise that the mentality of "Friday morning is test morning" has long since disappeared, because it was useless, and that in our primary schools, especially with young children, a continuous assessment programme goes on all the time? The children are thoroughly assessed, and this is a crude intrusion coming from the most backward of the Right wing of the Tory Government.

Mr. Baker:

The hon. Gentleman could not have been in a school recently. If he had, he would know that already about 75 per cent. of primary schoolchildren are tested in English. There are five or six well-established tests. In mathematics, there are about nine established tests. The hon. Gentleman really ought to find out what is happening in the schools.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

Does my right hon. Friend understand that there is considerable anxiety in the schools as to how rigid this process is going to be? Can he say that there will be a distinction between the assessment that will be required in the core subjects of English, mathematics and science and what I hope will be the broader approach to the rest of the national curriculum?

Mr. Baker:

I cannot quite give that undertaking to my hon. Friend, because the whole purpose of the national curriculum is to establish attainment targets for the whole range of academic subjects, beyond English, mathematics and science—foreign languages, history, geography and technology. Technology is particularly important. One of the important changes that we are making is that in future every boy and girl will have to take science and technology up to the age of 16. That must be right.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil

The right hon. Gentleman has said that the public have a right to know how the schools are doing. I agree with him. In order to achieve that, his junior Minister promised in Committee that the Government would consider the proposal that when tests were published social and economic factors would be taken into account. Will he now give an undertaking that the Government, in putting forward their proposals for publishing tests, will require social and economic factors to be taken into account?

Mr. Baker:

The task group recommended that the assessments and tests should be published as they appear, undoctored, but that at the same time there should be for each school a statement about its socio-economic background so that those who studied the results could take into account the social mix of the children. It did not recommend that the assessments and results should be doctored in some way. Various universities try to do that, but it does not work at all well.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stortford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the tests at age seven are diagnostic they will be widely welcomed by parents, particularly if he undertakes to provide the additional resources to make certain that the results of the diagnosis are applied to the children in their subsequent education, so that those with disabilities get more attention and those with great gifts get the right attention?

Mr. Baker:

I would say yes to my hon. Friend. One of the purposes of assessments and tests is to diagnose how a child is doing, to determine whether a child of seven can decipher a page of writing. If a child of seven cannot decipher a page of writing, he will be in some trouble. By determining that, one can determine the next course of study. As I have already said, we are making substantial resources available in the education system to ensure that this can take place. The increase in expenditure this year is 8·2 per cent.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd , Cynon Valley

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the view of Professor Black and other authorities is that publishing results of seven-year-olds' assessments is highly undesirable? Why does he refuse to support that view? Does he agree with the punitive approach recommended by his right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) that failures, even at the age of seven, should spend their summer holidays at school?

Mr. Baker:

It is no purpose of the system of assessment and testing to stigmatise failure at an early age—none whatsoever. I can assure the hon. Lady of what I have said. We shall consider the recommendation very carefully. Professor Black said, "Do not publish, but schools can be allowed to publish." That might be a suitable way of dealing with it.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay , Berkshire East

Does my right hon. Friend recall that during the Second Reading of the Education Reform Bill, in response to an intervention by our hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), he made it clear that schools would not be forced to publish the results of assessments of seven-year-olds? In the light of that, does my right hon. Friend think that the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) should read Hansard before putting questions on the Order Paper?

Mr. Baker:

I hope that all hon. Members avidly read Hansard all the time. I think that it is an excellent thing to do. It is very clear that we find some favour in Professor Black's proposal. Perhaps I should emphasise that we have been talking about the publication of results, which does not involve the individual results of children. In no way will it be possible to find out how a particular child is doing. That information will be restricted to the teacher, the parents and the child.