HL Deb 11 June 1992 vol 537 cc1362-4

3.25 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they plan to change the current system of testing for 7 year-old children in schools.

The Minister of State, Department of Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, the Government do not intend to change the current tests which are working well and are already making an appreciable contribution to higher standards in schools.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am rather disappointed with that Answer. Is the Minister aware that in increasing numbers teachers at the sharp end of this problem who teach that age group and the associations to which they belong are now expressing the opinion that the time spent on testing the children would be far better used to continue teaching them and so help them further along the road to a better education?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the only teachers' association which has commented along the lines mentioned by the noble Lord is the National Union of Teachers. It is hardly an impartial observer. It does not approve of testing children at all. The impact of testing on children is having a positive effect on the quality of both learning and teaching. HMI has already reported that many children are surpassing the expectations of their teachers.

Baroness Young

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are many who are entirely in favour of testing children at the age of seven because it will help to raise standards? Is she satisfied that the tests are simple and straightforward enough to make their application readily understood by teachers, parents and, not least, the children themselves?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend makes two very important points. The tests are indeed a very positive way to measure learning. Testing helps to address children's weaknesses and build on their strengths. We are constantly listening to teachers—I am in and out of schools all the time—and any way that we can find to make the tests simpler without losing their rigour we shall implement.

Baroness David

My Lords, is the Minister aware of an HMI report on the implementation of the national curriculum, Assessment, Recording and Reporting? It says that, most LEAs have an adviser or inspector with responsibility for assessment and their work in establishing a structure of support has largely been successful". In view of Her Majesty's Government's plans to privatise the school inspectorate, what guidance is being given to LEAs as to their future responsibility in supporting school assessment work?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Baroness is a little precipitate with the question. The new HMCI has been appointed. Professor Sutherland is in place. I am not sure that the word "privatised" is the one that I would use. They will he independent inspectorates. They will be properly registered by the chief inspector who will be in charge of quality and standards. If LEA inspectors wish to bid for qualified inspector status, they will do so. There will be guidance from both the inspectorate and the department.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, would the Minister care to reconsider her statement that the National Union of Teachers is not in favour of testing? Does she mean that it is not in favour of the Government's system of testing? So far as I am aware most of the teaching profession is against the Government's proposals partly for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Dean. I do not think—in fact I know—that she is not correct in saying that the National Union of Teachers is against testing.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. It is not in favour of the system of testing. The system requires that tests shall be carried out only four times in the life of the school child—at seven, 11, 14 and 16 —by a common format across the country. I believe that that will be a valuable tool for teachers and for our children in schools.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is not only teachers who are anxious about existing testing procedures? It is also the Government's own advisers, Her Majesty's inspectors. They have stated categorically that they are worried about the management of standard assessment tests at schools. What do the Government intend to do to improve the management of those tests?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. Certainly, we responded quickly on the management of tests from last year to this year. We shall continue to listen. However, the inspectors stated that the administration of about 80 per cent. of the tests in schools was satisfactory or better; and of about 20 per cent. that it was unsatisfactory. As I said to my noble friend Lady Young, we shall continue to listen and reform without losing the rigour of the testing.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many intelligent 7 year-olds who are about to be tested have already arrived at the not entirely illogical conclusion that it is their elders and betters who need testing?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, all the 7 year-olds have been tested. There are many able 7 year-olds who will be even more able as a result of the findings of some of those tests.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, if the Government intend to continue with the tests, will they give further consideration to the publication of the results in the form of league tables? Is the Minister aware that publication has caused a great deal of concern, not only among the schools at the bottom of the table but also among some of those at the top?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the answer is no. Parents have a right to know how their children are performing in schools. They have a right to know the context in which that information is given. They need to know how a class or school is performing. In the wider world parents are making choices about schools. They also need to know how those schools are performing. We cannot stand back and wring our hands about the situation being better in Germany, Japan or anywhere else if we do not know and cannot quantify how well children perform in our schools.