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Primary Education News
News Primary school tests: Nick Clegg denies schools will be 'exam sausage factories'
Deputy prime minister defends proposal for 'baseline' tests for five-year-olds and tougher exams for 11-year-olds
Nick Clegg has denied that the government is seeking to turn schools into "exam sausage factories" after he announced plans to toughen tests for primary school pupils.
As the leader of the National Union of Teachers warned that the changes would doom many pupils to failure, the deputy prime minister said the government wanted to give children the best start to their secondary school education.
Clegg defend his plans for new tests for five- and 11-year-olds during radio and television interviews on Wednesday morning.
A government consultation has asked whether a "baseline" test should be introduced at the start of reception for five-year-olds. This would be used to assess a school's success when tougher standards are set for new key stage 2 tests, the exams pupils take at 11 as they prepare for secondary school.
Under the changes, 85% of pupils will have to reach a "good level of attainment" by 2016 in updated key stage 2 tests. The old level 4 will be replaced by a new "scaled score" in line with the new national curriculum covering maths, reading, spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Clegg told BBC Radio Five Live that the government would not "turn schools into exam sausage factories". But speaking later on the BBC News channel he defended the proposal for new "baseline" tests for five-year-olds.
He said: "For a school, say, in a very difficult area catering for children where it is really challenging to give them a good education they might say it is going to be very difficult for us to clear this new 85% hurdle.
"What we are saying is: OK, why don't we then ensure there is some baseline assessment when a child first starts at primary school so that those schools can prove that they have nonetheless – even if they haven't actually cleared that new higher hurdle – really given those children a good education. To do that you need to have some baseline assessment at the beginning of primary school so you can compare that to how they do at the end. That is one of the things we are consulting on today."
Clegg announced the tougher tests as he unveiled a big increase – from £900 this year to £1,300 next year – in the pupil premium for disadvantaged primary school children. This will be targeted at children who have had free school meals in the past six years as well as those in care.
Clegg said the tests for 11-year-olds were designed to ensure more children are better prepared for secondary school. He told the BBC: "We expect primary schools in the future to get more children across the bar so that they are ready to do well on the first day of secondary school. Pupils are already tested in the last year of primary school. Parents and teachers already get marks – level five, level four, level three – which distinguish one pupil from another.
"What we are saying is why don't we give teachers and parents not a sort of name-and-shame league table, not something we would publish so that people are denigrated or celebrated one against each other, but give parents and teachers just a bit of information about how the boys and girls in that last year of primary school are doing compared to other boys and girls on our primary school system."
Christine Blower, the general secretary of NUT, said: "It is difficult to see how a 25% increase in the primary floor standard between 2010 and 2016 could be realistically achieved without wide-scale teaching to the test and other inappropriate drilling techniques. Given that approximately 20% of children have some form of special needs, this new target will doom many of them to 'failure'."
The proposed tests for five-year-olds in England would be a more formal version of tests already set informally by some teachers. These include sitting a child next to a computer for 15 minutes and asking them, for example, to point to a carrot that would be displayed on the screen. As another example they could also be shown a picture of four cats. The pupils would then be asked how many cats were displayed on the screen.
The new tests would be subject to external supervision: outside examiners would assess papers but would not sit in on the tests.
An early draft of the consultation, to be published on Wednesday, says: "We would welcome views on the most appropriate point for a baseline to measure progress. We propose either retaining a baseline at the end of key stage 1 using end of key stage 1 tests or introducing a simple baseline check at the start of reception (making the early years foundation stage profile non-statutory)."
The pupil premium is one of the Liberal Democrats' signature policies which featured prominently in its 2010 general election manifesto. On the first page, the party said it would invest £2.5bn "in schools targeted to help struggling pupils" – a target that will be met with Wednesday's announcement.
George Osborne said in his spending review in June that the pupil premium would simply rise in line with inflation from 2015-16. This means it will rise more slowly than it has in this parliament. It was first set at £625 a pupil in 2011-12.