Tests at 11 and 14 ‘should be scrapped’

National school tests at age 11 and 14 should be scrapped in favour of teacher-led assessments and more focus on reading, writing and maths skills, a new report has urged.

A study from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a think tank close to New Labour, says the current exam system leads to pupils being ‘taught the test’ rather than wider skills and knowledge.

It calls for a ‘3Rs guarantee’ that would require schools to identify pupils at risk of failing to achieve the necessary level in reading, writing and maths at the end of primary school.

These children should be entitled to a programme of structured support, such as an intensive one-to-one reading scheme, it says. Similar help should also be available to those pupils below the target levels of attainment in their first year of primary school.

The IPPR notes that the number of children reaching the required levels of the 3Rs has risen significantly in the past ten years. But it warns primary level improvements are slowing, and says action is needed to address this.

This year, 40 per cent of boys finished primary school below the target levels in writing skills, and just seven per cent of those who failed to reach these requirements at a young age got five good GCSEs last year.

“Every pupil needs a solid foundation of reading, writing and mathematics at the end of primary school so that they can make a success of their secondary schooling,” said IPPR associate director Richard Brooks.

“But for that to happen, there needs to be accurate assessment and a special focus on identifying pupils at risk of low attainment.

“Many pupils currently get stuck at the beginning of secondary school, even in some cases after they made good progress at primary school.”

He added: “An end to national key stage testing should make space for better teaching and learning, but it would also mean new assessment responsibilities for teachers.”

Today’s report is published as the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) launches a new drive to help the 14.9 million adults in England without the maths skills expected of an 11-year-old in doing their sums during the January sales.

Teams will be visiting some of the country’s top shopping districts to offer free help on working out basic deals such as ’20 per cent off’ or ‘buy one, get the second half-price’.

Skills minister Phil Hope said: “We all use numbers every day, but millions struggle to do the kind of basic sums which are so essential to our lives at work and at home.

“After trying to work out that ’60 per cent off’ discount or multi-purchase deals, people may well be thinking about improving their skills in the new year, and that’s why the ‘Get On’ campaign is out on the streets today.”