Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Third Report


1. Our predecessor Committee, the Education and Skills Committee, announced its call for evidence on testing and assessment on 20 March 2007. That Committee received written evidence over the following months. In the light of that evidence, we decided in November 2007 to continue the inquiry and started taking oral evidence from 10 December 2007.

2. During the inquiry, we took evidence from: Professor Sir Michael Barber, Expert Partner, Global Public Sector Practice, McKinsey and Company; Professor Peter Tymms, Director of Curriculum, Evaluation and Management, School of Education, Durham University; Dr Ken Boston, Chief Executive, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA); Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL); Mick Brookes, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT); Brian Lightman, President, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL); Keith Bartley, Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for England (GTC); Dr Andrew Bird, Deputy Director General, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance; Murray Butcher, Director, Assessment and Quality, City & Guilds; Jerry Jarvis, Managing Director, Edexcel; Greg Watson, Chief Executive, Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations; Professor Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter; Professor Madeleine Atkins, Vice-Chancellor, University of Coventry; Susan Anderson, Director, Human Resources Policy; Richard Wainer, Principal Policy Adviser, Education and Skills, Confederation of British Industry; David Bell, Permanent Secretary; Sue Hackman, Chief Adviser on School Standards; Jon Coles, Director, 14-19 Reform, Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF); Jim Knight MP, Minister for Schools and Learners; Ralph Tabberer, Director General, Schools Directorate, Department for Children, Schools and Families.

3. In addition, we received nearly 50 written memoranda, which have helped us with our inquiry. We would like to extend our thanks to our Specialist Advisers, Professor Alan Smithers, Director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research, University of Buckingham, and Professor Dylan Wiliam, Institute of Education, University of London.

4. There are many contested definitions in the field of testing and assessment. For the purposes of this Report we have had to settle on certain definitions, but this is purely for the purposes of conveying our conclusions and such definitions as we have chosen should not be taken to mean that, in a more general sense, we favour any particular school of academic thought over another. Some terms are defined in context elsewhere in this Report. However, it is expedient to define others in advance of the main discussion.

5. We have adopted some of the definitions set out by the QCA in their paper Evaluating Assessment Systems. Thus, 'assessment' is used to refer to "any instrument or process through which student competence or attainment is evaluated (e.g., test, teacher assessment, examination, etc.)."[1] The term 'system' is used to refer to "the structure and mechanism through which students are assessed". The system is made up of such details as procedures for test development, distribution, administration, marking, reporting, evaluating, as well as the technical, professional, managerial and administrative employees required to develop and operate those procedures.[2] Although not defined by the QCA, we have used the term 'testing' in this Report to mean a nationally administered assessment, to include Key Stage tests and 14-19 qualifications. It follows that the 'testing system' refers to the system, as defined by the QCA, which serves the range of national tests.

6. The national testing system in England is complex. The overall structure is summarised in the following two, overlapping tables. Table 1 sets out the regime for the Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stages 1-4. Table 2 summarises the progression routes for pupils aged 14 to 19.

Table 1: Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stages 1-4

Table 2: 14-19 progression routes

Source: QCA, 14-19 education and skills: what is a Diploma?[3]

7. At the end of Key Stages 1-3, usually at age 7, 11 and 14, children take tests to show what progress they have made throughout that Key Stage. These are known variously as "Key Stage tests", "National Curriculum tests" or "SATs", standing for Standard Assessment Tasks. The latter term is still in common usage, although it is strictly anachronistic. Both test results and teacher assessment results are awarded at the end of a Key Stage. Test results are recorded as a series of levels, from 1 to 8. The QCA states that most 7-year-olds will be at level 2; 11-year-olds at level 4; and 14-year-olds at level 5 or 6.

8. These results and the teacher assessments are communicated to parents, along with, for comparison, a summary of test results for children in the child's age group at their school and the national results for the previous year. The QCA states that Key Stage tests are not "pass or fail" tests, but the level achieved is used to check progress and inform future learning, for example, to indicate where extra help is needed. The results may also be used by some schools for allocating pupils to sets for different subjects. The Government collects the results and uses them as a measure of schools' performance locally and nationally.

9. At the end of Key Stage 4, children take public examinations, usually GCSEs, and this signals the end of compulsory education. Children who continue in school after the age of 16 may pursue a range of qualifications, including A-levels (now divided into AS and A2 tests spread across two academic years), the International Baccalaureate, an apprenticeship or the new Diplomas.

10. Finally, we set out below a list of common abbreviations used in this report.

AfLAssessment for Learning
APUAssessment of Performance Unit
ASCLAssociation of School and College Leaders
ATLAssociation of Teachers and Lecturers
CVAContextual Value Added scores
DCSFDepartment for Children, Schools and Families
DfESDepartment for Education and Skills
GTCGeneral Teaching Council for England
IPPRInstitute for Public Policy Research
NAANational Assessment Agency
NASUWTNational Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers
NFERNational Foundation for Educational Research
NUTNational Union of Teachers
PIRLSProgress in International Reading Literacy Study
PISAProgramme for International Student Assessments
QCAQualifications and Curriculum Authority
RAISEonline  Reporting and Analysis for Improvement through School self-Evaluation online
TIMSSTrends in International Mathematics and Science Study

1   Ev 22 Back

2   Ev 22 Back

3  Back

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Prepared 13 May 2008