Government refuses to back down over school testing

The government will continue to resist calls from teachers’ unions to moderate its “obsession” with testing, following a statement from the new children and schools secretary Ed Balls that national tests and school league tables will not be scrapped.

Critics of the government’s education policy had been hoping for a new approach from Gordon Brown’s administration after he signaled a change of direction on a host of other policy areas.

But Mr Balls’ interview with the Times newspaper has eradicated any hopes the education establishment might have had of reforms.

Arguing that tests are the best way of ensuring accountability, he said: “It enables us to be able to see as policymakers what is working, who is not performing well and, in the extremes, being able to tackle poor performance.”

Children in England are the most heavily tested in the world, sitting an average of 70 tests and exams during the course of their education, but remain near the bottom of international league tables.

The tests are almost universally condemned by teaching unions and are widely despised within the profession. Calls for change reached a new pitch when the government’s own examinations regulator, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), broke ranks and called for a rethink on the issue.

Mr Balls claimed tests empowered parents by helping them to judge their child’s performance in school. He also opened up a new front with David Cameron by berating the Tory party over its support for streaming.

Calling such proposals “backward-looking and divisive”, he said: “I do not find anybody sensible advocating streaming in schools.

“As somebody who went through streaming myself through secondary school I saw how deeply socially divisive it was.”

The issue of streaming is one of the few areas where Labour and Tory education policies diverge. Both parties support the government’s controversial city academies programme and the Tories also rallied to Mr Balls’ side today over testing.

A conservative spokesman told “Testing is crucial to ensuring that schools are accountable to parents and the public.

“Without universal testing it would be difficult to determine the quality and effectiveness of individual schools.”

But Lib Dem education spokesperson Sarah Teather disagreed.

“The government’s obsession with testing continues to be questioned by those who know most about how to teach our children,” she said.

“The current system of testing and targets perverts the true purpose of education – children get drilled on how to pass tests, not educated.

“The Lib Dems have called for tests to be scrapped for years – now is the time to abolish this stressful and bureaucratic process and make a positive change for our children.”

Mr Balls joined the prime minister yesterday in the first meeting of the newly formed National Council for Educational Excellence.

The council aims to consolidate links between schools and universities, colleges and businesses.