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For more than a decade, testing and assessment have played a vital role in delivering rising standards in primary schools. This year, 107,000 more pupils left primary school secure in English and maths than did so in 1997. Those are the basics that every parent knows that their child needs if they are to succeed in secondary school. The national curriculum tests at the end of key stage 2, at 11, are the only objective measure of attainment in primary schools for parents, head teachers and the public.

The current format of key stage tests at the ages of seven and 11 is not set in stone. At key stage 1, we have already rightly replaced externally marked tests with teacher assessment and introduced new catch-up teaching for children at risk of falling behind. We will now examine whether the current system of requiring teachers to use nationally set tasks as part of moderated teacher assessment is working effectively. We are also piloting “stage not age” single-level tests at key stage 2. Although the emerging evidence from the continuing pilots is encouraging, it is too early to decide to proceed nationally. However, I am convinced that externally marked key stage 2 national curriculum tests are essential to give parents, teachers and the public the information they need about the progress of each primary age child and of every primary school. Some argue that we should abolish the tests, but that would be the wrong thing to do.

The testing and assessment system has also supported rising standards in our secondary schools, with some 68,000 more pupils gaining five or more good GCSEs including English and maths in 2007 than in 1997. Having looked hard at the current testing regime, we do not believe that the three principles that I have set out justify the key stage 3 testing arrangements in their current form. Parents want to be able to choose the right secondary school for their child and to see how the school is performing, but it is usual for them to look at the school’s GCSE results to help them to do so. Parents also want to be able to track the progress of their child, but the measures that we have already introduced to improve real-time reporting of progress will mean that parents get much more regular information than just the results of a single national test.

Head teachers have told me repeatedly over the past year that a more flexible system of assessment throughout key stage 3 would allow schools to focus their efforts more effectively on personalised teaching and learning and to use the flexibility of the new secondary education curriculum. We have considered a shift to “stage not age”, single-level tests in secondary schools too, and we have also been piloting them at key stage 3, but the emerging evidence that I have seen over the summer shows that single-level tests at key stage 3 are not working effectively. Therefore, on the advice of the National Assessment Agency, we will now bring the key stage 3 piloting of single-level tests to an end.

I am announcing today that, as part of a wider overhaul of key stage 3 assessment, children will no longer be required to do national tests at the age of 14. Instead. we will ensure that every parent receives regular reports on their child’s progress in years 7, 8 and 9, and that teachers have the training and support to help every child make good progress. We will continue to provide key stage 3 test papers to any school that wants to use them internally, and we will ensure that schools properly focus in years 7 and 8 on the progress of those
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children who did not reach the expected standard at key stage 2, with effective one-to-one tuition and catch-up learning. We will also introduce an externally marked test, with a sample of pupils to measure national performance at key stage 3, so that the public can hold the Government to account.

Some parents find it difficult to judge how well their local schools are doing from national tests or Ofsted reports alone, so we also want to go further on school accountability. With the support of Ofsted, and following discussions with our social partners, it is our intention to introduce a new school report card for all primary and secondary schools. The school report card will help parents better to understand how well schools are raising standards and improving, compared with other schools in their area. It will show how each school is supporting the progress of every child and playing its role in supporting the wider development and well-being of children. It will draw on the successful model being used in New York city and elsewhere, but it will be designed to suit our schools. We will set out detailed proposals for consultation before the end of the year, with a White Paper to follow in the spring.

These are far-reaching reforms and it is vital that we get the details right. We will draw on the analysis and findings of the Select Committee report, and we will work closely with our social partners to take them forward without unnecessarily adding to teacher work load. To advise us on the development of this new system, I am also today appointing a new expert group, and placing copies of its detailed terms of reference in the Libraries of both Houses.

Today’s reforms require changes to the procurement of national tests for 2009. Consistent with our plans for future years, we will continue to require pupils to take the national curriculum tests at key stage 2, but we will not require pupils to take key stage 3 tests from 2009 onwards. The QCA is now extending its procurement deadline accordingly.

The package of reforms that I am announcing today will give parents better, more regular and more comprehensive information about their child’s progress and their school. It will support head teachers and teachers to ensure that every child can succeed, and it will strengthen our ability to hold all schools to account, as well as the public’s ability to hold the Government to account. I commend this statement to the House.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his announcement, and for keeping us up to date throughout the summer with the steps taken to resolve the problems with this year’s SATs tests. As he eventually admitted, the administration of those tests was a fiasco. I stress that we want to work with him to ensure that we never again put pupils, parent and teachers through the stress and chaos of this last year. Therefore, I want to underline that we welcome the broad thrust of his announcement today.

First, I welcome the clarity of the Secretary of State’s analysis of the case for external assessment at the end of key stage 2. We need proper information on how individual children are making progress, and we need accurate information about how individual schools are doing. However, he is aware that there is still widespread
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concern that preparation for national curriculum testing occupies too much school time. He will know, I hope, that there are real worries that a move to single-level testing at key stage 2—the so-called “stage not age” testing—may lead to individual schools testing their pupils more often and more intensively as they try and retry to get individual pupils to the appropriate level so that league table rankings improve. Will he ensure in the pilots that he is undertaking that there will not be more tests, more teaching to the test and a narrower learning experience and that there will not be league tables that distort rather than clarify?

May I also welcome what I take to be the spirit of the Secretary of State’s announcement on key stage 3 testing? I have argued for fewer national tests and more rigour, and we want to work constructively to improve the assessments and qualifications regime. So I welcome his proposal to ensure that all parents have timely information each year about the progress that children are making between 11 and 14.

The transition from primary to secondary can often be a time when pupils, especially boys from disadvantaged backgrounds, falter and become disengaged. On present measurements, 84,000 pupils in one year made no progress or fell backwards in English between key stage 2 and key stage 3; 28,000 made no progress or fell backwards in maths; and 140,000 made no progress or fell backwards in science. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) has pointed out, those years are some of the most important in education, and it is a tragedy that thousands of children aged 14 have a reading age lower than 11. These young people are often on a conveyor belt to truancy, delinquency and unemployment. My hon. Friend has underlined that, whatever their failings, the current SATs have reinforced the need to focus extra attention on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who are falling behind. Will the Secretary of State therefore guarantee that, as changes are made, there will be a special focus on ensuring that we track and reverse under-achievement among the poorest?

Ofsted clearly now has a more crucial role to play than ever. Does today’s announcement mean that the Secretary of State will change the inspection regime brought in by the Education Act 2005? Will he now give Ofsted the remit and the resources necessary to conduct in-depth inspections to help underperforming schools improve? With regard to the expert group, will he give sympathetic consideration to recruiting the best head teachers from our highest-performing schools to that group to underpin a commitment to excellence?

As well as concern about too much testing, there is concern about a lack of rigour in all national tests. The Secretary of State will, I am sure, know that one of the questions in the most recent key stage 3 science tests was, “What part of a rider’s body does a riding hat protect?” and one of the questions in our GCSE science tests asked students whether we looked at the stars through a telescope or a microscope. Does he consider those questions evidence of sufficient rigour in the curriculum and, if not, what instructions has he given to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the exams watchdog Ofqual to ensure that standards are high?

The Secretary of State will be aware that concern about the national curriculum has meant that more and
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more high-performing schools are abandoning state exams and opting for qualifications such as the international general certificate of secondary education. Will he allow state schools to offer the IGCSE and have achievement in that exam count in their league tables?

On the issue of new exams, the Secretary of State will know that the take-up of diplomas so far has been disappointing, with just 12,000 rather than the expected 50,000 pursuing these new qualifications. We want the exams to be a success, but, given how few high-performing schools are embracing the full diploma offer, will he take this opportunity to confirm that the A-level will now be safe beyond 2013?

Over the past seven years, we have fallen behind as a country in every external measurement of educational performance. We have dropped from fourth to 14th in science, from seventh to 17th in literacy and eighth to 24th in mathematics. Those are OECD figures. We congratulate the Secretary of State on recognising that change is necessary. We hope that we can continue to work in a consensual fashion to push forward the case for reform, built around fewer and more rigorous tests, less bureaucracy, more freedom for professionals and a commitment to excellence for all, underpinned by a special focus on the most disadvantaged. Our children deserve no less.

Ed Balls: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support, although I am somewhat surprised by his remarks. He did not seem to address any of the issues that I raised in my statement. He seemed almost to be responding to a different statement delivered by a different Secretary of State on a different subject. It was not a statement about A-levels or diplomas. The thing that I found odd about his response was that he did not tell us whether the Conservative party supported our decision to abolish key stage 3 tests at 14—yes or no. Nor did he tell us whether he supported our decision to introduce report cards—yes or no. However, he did support my clarity on the fact that at key stage 2, we will continue with external assessment. We will also make sure that we evaluate the pilots on single-level tests in a way that genuinely supports the best teaching and learning, and the progress of every child. We are not, at this stage, making a decision on whether to proceed with single-level tests; we will do so on the basis of proper evaluation. I am grateful for his support for our making those decisions in the right way.

On key stage 3, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s saying that we should do more to focus on pupils who fall behind in years 7 and 8 of secondary school. That is precisely why I am today giving the expert group a remit to look into those issues. I welcome his support for that, too. Clearly, we want to ensure that Ofsted, our inspection regime, and our accountability regime more widely, focus on the issue of pupils who fall behind.

What the hon. Gentleman did not tell us, in a conclusion that veered off towards the subjects of diplomas and A-levels, was whether he supports our decision to abolish key stage 3 tests. I know that the Leader of the Opposition has, in past interviews, said that the Conservative party wants to continue with tests at 14. I know that last week, the shadow Schools Minister, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), told the House of Commons in a debate:

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I understand that there will be a need for a period of reflection on those issues before the Conservatives’ policy is decided, but I hope that when they reflect on our principles, they will conclude that the proposals that we are putting forward today are in fact the right way to take forward the learning of every child.

I was also disappointed that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) did not tell us whether he supports our proposals for new report cards, but again I hope that when Opposition Front Benchers have had the opportunity to reflect, they will decide to support those proposals, too. I can tell him that we will ensure rigour in our expert group.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s final remarks, I can make very clear commitments on the wider issues that he raised. I can make a very clear commitment: we will take forward our reform to ensure that education continues not just until the age of 16, but until 18 for every child, and not just some. We will ensure that every young person in our country has the choice of one of 17 diplomas, and the best chance to break out of the old two-tier divide between academic and vocational learning. We will ensure that every young person has a properly funded educational maintenance allowance. Those are three clear commitments, none of which Opposition Front Benchers support. That—more so than anything that the hon. Gentleman said in response to my statement—tells us everything that we need to know about the modern Conservative party.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I start by thanking the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I welcome the Government’s U-turn on the key stage 3 tests; it will be widely welcomed outside this place, and no doubt in his own household. I also welcome what I think was a U-turn from the Conservatives on the key stage 3 tests. Four or five days ago, they were telling us that they were committed to those tests. I think that the shadow Secretary of State said today that he was happy with the announcement that the Secretary of State made, although we await clarification of that.

Outside this place, key stage 3 tests have long been regarded by all parties involved in the education debate as a complete waste of time, expensive, inaccurate and unwanted, not only by parents but by schools and other players in the educational debate. We are very pleased that they have gone, because they are expensive without adding anything to the system.

We support the Secretary of State’s decision to keep the key stage 2 tests, which are vital for primary school accountability. He said that they should be externally marked. Will he clarify whether he is saying that he will always insist on full external marking, or is he still considering internal marking with external moderation?

The Secretary of State has made one very welcome U-turn; may I urge him to make a number of others on similar issues? He said, I think, that single-level tests were being axed at key stage 3, but that on key stage 2 the emerging evidence was encouraging. I should like to know what that emerging evidence is, since most of the people to whom I speak and most of the evidence that I am aware of is that those tests are a failure, that they would erode accountability at the primary level, and
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that they would institutionalise a testing factory farm in schools in an unwelcome way that runs directly counter to the other announcements today.

May I ask the Secretary of State about one potentially important announcement that he made today, and discover whether it is as important as it looks? The Department’s response to the Select Committee report indicated that it was sceptical about the random sampling across the school system of particular cohorts so that we could find out what was happening over time to standards, without those figures being distorted by teaching to the test or the dumbing down of examinations. What is the meaning of his statement today that he will introduce sample testing, presumably at key stage 3, and who will do it?

If the Secretary of State is serious about introducing more sample testing to end the debate about standards in education, will he beef up the Ofqual that he announced a year ago and make it a genuine educational standards authority that will have credibility in the education standards debate, which it does not possess at present? Will he also consider the future of AS-level examinations and whether they are necessary? Will he consider the systems of targets that are used alongside Government tests, which often have distortive impacts, particularly on the borderline between level 4 and level 3 and between C grades and D grades?

Finally, on the shambles of the key stage 2 and 3 tests in 2008, may we have an update not only on the number of papers that have yet to be marked, but on the appeals situation? I understand from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority that appeals are up 50 to 100 per cent. on last year, which indicates that the confidence that the right hon. Gentleman displayed in his statement of 22 July that marking remains of high quality is not shared by many schools across the country. What are the latest statistics on appeals, and is he as confident about marking quality as he was a number of months ago?

The changes announced today are long overdue and will be welcomed by people right across the political spectrum, from extreme left to extreme right. I hope that this is the first of a number of major changes that can restore credibility to the standards debate in education and ensure that we strike the right balance between school accountability and genuine freedom and liberalisation.

Ed Balls: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for our reforms and proposals. I found his response comprehensible and I agreed with almost all of it. I was glad that I was not the only person in the House to be totally confused by the remarks of the shadow Schools Secretary. We know that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) likes to read out a prepared text, but as I had given him mine an hour before, one would think that he could have written a slightly more comprehensible one. [Interruption.] Yes, he would almost certainly have failed to get to level 4 at key stage 2 in comprehension with that reply.

We will continue with externally marked key stage 2 tests. We are not proposing a move towards external moderation but internal marking. That is not the approach that we are taking at key stage 2, 3 or 1.

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