HC Deb 04 April 1989 vol 150 cc7-8
6. Mr. Nicholas Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the progress being made towards implementing assessment tests for school pupils at seven, 11 and 14 years of age.

Mrs. Rumbold

The first step towards implementing the Education Reform Act 1988 is to establish programmes of study——

Mr. Skinner

Mr. Speaker, have you read The Observer——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That matter has nothing to do with Education Questions.

Mrs. Rumbold

The first step towards implementing the Education Reform Act 1988 is to establish programmes of study for each of the core and foundation subjects. That process is well under way and programmes of study will be introduced for mathematics and science for seven and 11-year-olds this autumn. Children will be assessed in these subjects on a trial basis in 1991, and from 1992 on a reported basis. Assessment arrangements in other subjects and for those and other key ages will be phased in over succeeding years.

Mr. Bennett

In view of the fact that teachers have always tested children, does my hon. Friend share my astonishment, and that of parents, that some teachers and some teachers' unions oppose those tests? Does she agree that assessment tests will provide a national standard benchmark by which schools and teachers can be judged, which will also help parents to judge the progress of their children and how they can best be helped?

Mrs. Rumbold

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The importance of introducing assessment together with the national curriculum is that it will enable teachers, parents and children to monitor the children's programmes of study within the national curriculum. It is absolutely essential that assessment is introduced. I am surprised to learn that some teachers do not agree with this particular policy since I understand that for many years it has been the practice of the majority of teachers to assess the children in their classes on a monthly basis.

Mr. Grocott

Given the Minister's enthusiasm for this endless formalised testing, despite all evidence to the contrary, will she tell us at what point she will have an assessment of the effectiveness of these tests? Will she give a commitment that if they are discovered to be valueless she will scrap the system?

Mrs. Rumbold

I think it very unlikely that assessment will prove valueless since it is a part of the process of teaching which has been going on in schools throughout the country, as we have been assured endlessly by teachers. So the assessment process that we are introducing, following the introduction of the programmes of study with the national curriculum, will be useful not only to the teachers but to the parents. It seems very unlikely that there will be any occasion for parents to wish that assessment be discontinued.

Mr. Favell

At the moment it is virtually impossible to dismiss an incompetent teacher. What is to be done about teachers whose pupils consistently fail their assessment tests?

Mrs. Rumbold

It is hoped very much that we shall ask for teachers themselves to go through a form of assessment. The introduction of teacher appraisal will help those who have difficulty to reassess themselves and to undertake in-service training to improve their performance with pupils. It is crucial that our children are given the best possible teaching and that the teachers themselves produce the results, through assessment and testing, to which pupils and parents are entitled.

Ms. Armstong

Will the Minister take the opportunity to tell the House if age-related testing is to be used as part of the process of ensuring that all children reach their full potential or if, as many now fear, it is to be used as a totally inadequate way of pitting school against school and child against child? Will she further make it clear that crude test scores will not be published for seven-year-old children because such scores would be both misleading and potentially damaging to children's progress?

Mrs. Rumbold

I find it very sad that the hon. Lady should repeat that kind of misinformation to the general public. The whole purpose of testing and assessment of children is to ensure that all children, throughout their school years, can achieve their potential. This is what the whole of the national curriculum is designed to do. We are putting the programmes of study first and the assessment of those programmes afterwards to discover what children have in the way of understanding and knowledge.