HC Deb 21 March 1996 vol 274 cc484-5
6. Mr. Jamieson

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on progress in operating standard assessment tests in schools in Northern Ireland. [20412]

Mr. Ancram

Assessment in Northern Ireland will become statutory from September 1996. Externally set and marked tests will be used in key stage 3 alongside teacher assessment. In key stages 1 and 2, it will take the form of teacher assessment, informed by the use of externally set assessment units.

Mr. Jamieson

I congratulate the Minister on the way in which he has implemented standard assessment tests in Northern Ireland—by talking to teachers and by ensuring that there is proper teacher assessment and that the tests are workable and manageable. Will he give a firm undertaking today that he will pass on his Northern Ireland experiences to his hon. Friends who are responsible for implementing education policies in England, because they have botched virtually every education reform that they have introduced?

Mr. Ancram

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his new-found enthusiasm for assessment. The Government welcome that attitude in view of the problems that Opposition Members have caused in that area previously. As the hon. Gentleman knows from attending Northern Ireland questions, Northern Ireland is different. If he wants me to pass to my English colleagues some of the aspects of Northern Ireland education that have led to setting such assessments, particularly key stage 2, I remind him that we have selective education in Northern Ireland and a transfer test.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend accept the great value of standard assessment tests in schools? Does he accept also the importance of close liaison with the teaching profession in setting and marking those tests? Has he noted that the Labour party has consistently opposed those tests in England and has done its utmost to disrupt them, to its great disgrace?

Mr. Ancram

I agree with my hon. Friend. I commented earlier on Labour Members' attitudes to assessment and testing. I have received co-operation from teachers in Northern Ireland. It is important that assessments are viewed not only as a means of telling parents how their children are doing, but as a means of informing teachers also. I am sure that they appreciate it.

Mr. Beggs

The Minister has already answered my question in his later answers. I am confident that he agrees that parents and pupils will benefit when test results become available. What action will his Department take when results identify schools in which children are repeatedly under-achieving? Will additional funding be made available to employ more teachers to raise pupils' achievement in those schools?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that, in addition to their benefit for parents and teachers, tests enable us to assess how schools are doing. We certainly want to learn the lessons from those assessments. As he knows, we already have an initiative to raise standards in low-achieving schools. The type of qualifications gained in those schools play an important part in deciding who takes part in the initiative.

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