HC Deb 14 November 1989 vol 160 cc174-5
9. Mr. Jack Thompson

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he will announce plans for testing at seven years; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

The first statutory assessments of pupils at the end of key stage 1 will be in summer 1991—in English, mathematics and science. The arrangements will be set out in orders under section 4(2)(c) of the Education Reform Act 1988. Drafts of those orders will be published next spring.

Mr. Thompson

Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to read correspondence from headteachers of first schools in Northumberland that has been sent to him in the past two weeks complaining about the fact that they are understaffed, under-resourced, underpaid and cannot cope with the introduction of the national curriculum and local management of schools and now, superimposed on that, a testing system? Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be better to drop the whole idea?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of the correspondence, and my hon. Friends and I will respond to it. I am sympathetic with the point about the heavy amount of work caused by the introduction of the national curriculum. I am keen to ensure, so far as I possibly can, that its phasing in is compatible with schools coping with it. The national curriculum reforms have been widely welcomed, and we do not want to lose the momentum of that progress. I therefore do not accept that we should delay the programme for the standard assessment tasks, which is a crucial part of the curriculum.

Mr. Hind

Will my right hon. Friend make the assessments for seven-year-olds available to local authorities as soon as possible? He will no doubt be aware that in local authorities such as those in Lancashire, statements of educational needs are being supplied desperately slowly to parents because of inadequate resources from psychologists and because of lack of information from schools. In ensuring that assessments for seven-year-olds are readily available, will he speed up that process?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already made it clear that the draft orders for seven-year-olds' assessments will be published next spring. I am aware that teachers are keen to know more about what the standard assessment tasks will consist of. That is not the point that my hon. Friend made, but it is the point about which most teachers are concerned. The Schools Examination and Assessment Council will publish training packs to help primary teachers early in the new year. It is important, however, that teachers should recognise that the first trial of the standard assessment tasks in 1991 will not be reported. The first reported year will therefore be 1992. Clearly, there is time to get this right, and I am anxious to get on with it.

Ms. Armstrong

Is the Minister aware that teachers are concerned about their ability to teach the curriculum without knowing how it will be tested? Receiving test information nine months after the curriculum has started is not good enough. Will he assure hon. Members that the seven-year-olds' tasks will be assessments and not standard written tests, for which the Prime Minister has been asking?

Mr. MacGregor

Everyone was keen to get on with the national curriculum, but that inevitably means that everything must be done in an ordered programme. The standard assessment tasks will not take effect until the 1991 trial. I fully recognise teachers' desire to know what those tasks will be, which is why I am keen to get the training packs out early in the new year. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I appeal to hon. Members to desist from having private conversations.