Testing (Schools)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 11th May 1993.

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Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor Shadow Secretary of State 3:31 pm, 11th May 1993

Does the Secretary of State realise that his statement illustrates the utter confusion and chaos in Government circles on this year's tests? Only yesterday, the Secretary of State was saying that there would be no further statement. No. 10 said that there would be; then it said that there would not he—little knowing, apparently, that the Lord Privy Seal and the Prime Minister had decided that the crisis of confidence in the Secretary of State was so great that he would be forced to make this statement today. Clearly, however, the reason for the statement remains puzzling, as the Secretary of State has said that there are to be no changes in the testing arrangements for this year.

The Secretary of State's statement that the tests must go ahead this year proves that he has learnt nothing and that he is still not willing to listen. Does he realise that no previous holder of his office so clearly united the independent schools with the NUT, or the Professional Association of Teachers with the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, all of which. with parents and governors of all political persuasions, are totally opposed to the Government's imposed tests?

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that no one is opposed to the testing and assessment of children but that the tests that he wants to impose are high on administration and low on educational value, and that no one has confidence in them?

If so many changes are to be made next year and in subsequent years, why does the Secretary of State persist in trying to make guinea pigs of our children this year? The logic of his own position must be to withdraw the compulsion to have tests this year. Why cannot he make the tests voluntary? Does he consider himself to be tied by his own legislation?

With regard to testing arrangements for future years, does not the Secretary of State realise that he cannot get the arrangements right if he does not admit that he has been wrong so far and if he does not understand his own mistakes? Will he now admit that he has been wrong? Will he admit his mistakes and consult widely, and not in haste, about the arrangements for the future?

We welcome the 11 specific points on which the Secretary of State has climbed down in respect of testing arrangements for future years. Thus, it is all the more incredible that he is forcing tests on children this year.

Looking to the future, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to understand that appointments to and the terms of reference and time scale of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority are critical, that the membership of SCAA must not be determined by the Secretary of State alone, that a majority of its members must be people responsible for educating children, and that the review must be genuinely independent of the Government.

To that end, will the Secretary of State agree that the Select Committee on Education should ratify membership of the review body? Will he acknowledge that the review must not be a hasty exercise? Will he accept that, unless parents, teachers and governors have full confidence in the independence and in the appropriateness of the timing of the review, we shall not be provided with a long-term solution to this problem?

The real issue is whether the Secretary of State has demonstrated a capacity to listen and to understand the problems that he has created. He still fails that test. His obstinate and arrogant refusal to change this year's tests is incredible. He does not enjoy the confidence of parents, teachers or governors—even of his own advisers. He should resign.