Memorandum submitted by Professor Colin
1. This memorandum argues that the issue
of testing cannot be seen in isolation but needs to be considered
as part of the re-formation of accountability in English education.
It proposes a new style of accountability focussed at national,
school and parental levels and involves reconsideration of the
place and nature of national tests in the education of young people
before the age of 16.
2. The views expressed are the result of
experience of, and reflection on, national testing since its inceptionin
my roles as senior HMI, as Ofsted's specialist adviser for primary
education and latterly as visiting professor at a number of universities
in the United Kingdom and abroad.
3. The proposals for the future of accountability(including
testing) assume that:
(a) some form of national curriculum continues
(b) some form of national testing is a political
(and public) necessity;
(c) some form of national inspection system
is a political(and public) necessity;
(d) the prime task of teachers is teaching
(e) autonomy must be balanced by accountability;
(f) in academic terms parents are particularly
concerned with their children's achievement and progress in reading,
mathematics and basic writing skills, though they also support
their children's entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum.
4. Accountability in pre-16 education needs
to be rendered at national, school and parental levels.
5. At national level the Government needs
to keep standards under review and to devise a non-intrusive system
for assessing pupils' performance in relation to those standards
over time. It needs to be able to determine whether that performance
is improving or deteriorating over timepreferably in relation
to all the major components of any national curriculum, not just
the core subjects. The current system of national assessment at
ages seven and 11 does not provide a valid or reliable assessment
of national performance over time. The Assessment of Performance
Unit (operative during the 1980s) might provide a possible model
on which to build.
6. The Government should set up an independent
national body to review standards and to devise national tests
which reflect those standards. Such a body would have to make
publicly defensible decisions about which age groups would be
involved, which components of the curriculum should be tested
and which aspects of these components would be tested. The same
set of tests would be administered year on year to a very small
but representative sample of the school population. The tests
would have to be administered confidentially to avoid pressures
on schools for test preparation. Data at the national level would
be published annually.
7. The Government needs a system which assures
that individual schools are providing a suitable quality of education
and which triggers action should that quality not be evident.
This requires some system of school inspection which assesses
standards and quality and retains the confidence of parents and
teachers. The current Ofsted inspection model does not provide
this. However, parents have come to expect publicly available
periodic assessments of the quality of and standards in, individual
schools. It would be political folly to abandon the notion of
8. The current Ofsted model would be modified
in a number of ways to make "inspection fit for purpose"
Inspections would be lengthened (compared with the current "light-touch"
model) but not to the same extent as the earlier Ofsted inspection
models. This would probably involve lengthening the time between
inspections from three to perhaps five years. Such enhanced inspections
would focus on the classroom, not on the school's paperwork, and
would report on (a) the performance of children in the work actually
observed by inspectors; and (b) the quality of teaching and (as
far as is possible) learning based on far more classroom observation
than the current "light-touch" inspection model allows.
Enhanced inspections should also report on the effectiveness of
the school's procedures for self-evaluation and improvement. A
summary of these judgements would be reported publicly to parents,
along with a summary of the school's reactions to the inspection
judgements. A very adverse report might trigger a full inspection
or the bringing forward of the timing of the next enhanced inspection.
9. Governors and parents would have the
right to request an inspection during the five year-year period
between inspections and this request would be considered by either
Ofsted or HMI (see 13)
10. Inspection teams would include the individual
school's improvement partner (ie its S.I.P or its future equivalent)
who would advise the inspection team, might (or might not ?) contribute
to the team's judgements and would take responsibility with the
head and governors of the school for any follow-up work consequent
on the inspection.
11. The system of enhanced inspections would
be administered by a reconstituted Ofsted whose inspectors would
be drawn from the current cadre of additional inspectors (along
with suitably trained headteachers on secondment) and whose management
would be drawn from that same cadre. Whatever the failings of
the current and post Ofsted models of inspection, the system introduced
in 1992 has identified and developed the expertise of enough capable
Ofsted inspectors to manage, "man" and regulate the
proposed system of enhanced inspections.
12. HMI would revert to a role similar to
that of pre-Ofsted days. They would be members of, and act as
advisers to, a reconstituted Department of Life-Long Learning,
would liaise with local authorities and would also carry out their
own programme of survey inspections. In exceptional circumstances
they might also inspect individual schools at the request of ministers.
They might (or might not) consider inspection requests from parents
(see 10 above).
13. Parents need to be assured that the
education system as a whole is performing well, that the schools
to which they send their children are providing an education of
appropriate quality, and that their children are making appropriate
progress. The first two of these considerations would be met by
the systems outlined above. It would be political folly not to
provide parents with reliable information on how well their children
are progressing in the so-called but "mis-named" basics.
14. To provide parents with information
about individual progress teachers need to engage in ongoing assessment
and to report its results.This would be provided in part by approaches
to assessment for learning and in part by testing. It would be
important that tests should serve, not dominate, good quality
15. There would be one or two kinds of testing.
One would involve adopting the Scottish model of having a national
data-bank of test items linked to progression particularly in
English and mathematics and of teachers drawing, as appropriate,
on this bank when seeking to determine or confirm their judgements
of individuals' progress. These judgements would then be reported
to parents on an individual basis. They would not be reported
on a school by school basis (thereby helping to prevent "teaching
to the test" or excessive pressure being placed on teachers
for results) but they could be reported at an LA level (if thought
16. If the first type of testing is not
considered sufficient, a second type would complement itfocusing
on parents' main concerns: their child's performance in reading,
mathematics and basic writing skills. National standardised tests
would be devised to provide both summative and (if possible) diagnostic
information which would be reported to parents on an individual
basis, not on a school by school basis. Such national tests would
be administered twice in a child's primary careeronce on
a one-to-one basis at the end of year 1 (followed where necessary
by programmes of "reading recovery" and "number
recovery") and once collectively at the end of year 5 (followed,
where necessary, by more remedial or more challenging work to
be provided within the same school in year 6). This slimmed-down
programme of testing would replace the current end-of-key-stage
and "optional" tests which too often dominate both the
teaching and the curriculum, especially, but not only, in years
2 and 6.
17. Such a three-fold system would remove much
(though not all) of the burden currently placed on schools by
over-controlling regulatory measuresin particular national
testing. It would provide government, schools and parents with
appropriate information about progress and performance and provide
an appropriate balance between professional autonomy and public