Labour's school test fiasco: After 12 years, ministers FINALLY do a U-turn and tear up SATs exams

Ed Balls

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has decided to axe national SATs for 14-year-olds following this summer's marking fiasco

SATs tests for 14-year-olds have been scrapped in a humiliating U-turn by Children's Secretary Ed Balls.

And school exams in other age groups will be radically overhauled, he said.

Mr Balls told the Commons today that the key stage 3 tests taken by pupils at 14 were 'not justified' and would be dropped with immediate effect.

Tests for primary pupils will remain but the high-stakes examination for 11-year-olds leaving primary school could be scrapped by 2010. The assessment of seven-year-olds will be downgraded.

Mr Balls's announcement cuts a swathe through the controversial testing system embraced enthusiastically by five previous Labour Education Secretaries after its introduction by the Tories 15 years ago.

It follows a marking fiasco this summer which heaped misery on thousands of pupils after results were delayed and inaccurately recorded.

The overhaul also comes on the back of criticism from teachers and parents of the high-pressure examination regime.

More than half a million teenagers expecting to take SATs in English, maths and science next spring will no longer face them - leaving teachers scrambling to rethink their lessons for Year 9.

Universal testing of 14-year- olds and accompanying school league tables will be axed and replaced by a system of sampling, where a small proportion of pupils are tested each year to measure educational standards.


Exams over: Education chiefs have scrapped SATs tests for 14-year-olds while school exams in other age groups will be radically overhauled

The Government conceded last night that it is 'unlikely' to be in place by next May.

Teachers will be encouraged to keep track of pupils' progress by stepping up internal marking and giving more frequent reports to parents.

The reforms spelt out yesterday by Mr Balls potentially affect millions more children.

Instead of taking a single test at age 11, at the end of key stage 2, primary pupils would take shorter exams more frequently, in a system similar to music grades which are taken when teachers judge them ready.

However, plans to introduce the same music-style regime for 11 to 14-year-olds had to be abandoned after 'disappointing' results in trials.

Tests for seven-year-olds could be downgraded even further. A previous reform allowed teachers to mark the tests, with samples of marking checked externally, and let them give the papers to pupils on a day of their choosing.

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the announcement was an 'admission that the current testing system has failed'.

She said: 'For too long, English, mathematics and science teachers in secondary schools have found themselves skewing everything to enable their pupils to jump through a series of unnecessary hoops.

report cards

'The marking disaster of this year's tests has clearly been the last straw.

'A mixture of incompetence and an endemic shortage of markers must surely have propelled Ed Balls to take the view that at least part of the testing system was unsustainable.

'Now I would like him to understand that the whole testing system needs fundamental change.'

Mr Balls's decision to demolish half the national testing system will be seen as attempt to avoid a repeat of marking chaos that affected SATs for 1.2million 11 and 14-year-olds.

Computer glitches and administrative failures delayed the release of results beyond the July 8 deadline and meant tens of thousands of pupils broke up for the summer holidays without knowing their marks.

Schools then complained that results were wrong or missing and thousands of pupils were incorrectly marked as absent for the tests.

An inquiry looking at what went wrong is to report by the end of the year. While it is expected to criticise private contractor ETS Europe, it is certain to examine the part played by ministers and Government agencies.

Mr Balls admitted that the fiasco - and the need to draw up a new contract for future testing cycles - had forced the Government to clarify its thinking on national testing.

Announcing the shake-up in the Commons, he said the current testing arrangements for 14-year-olds were 'not justified' and the results had become 'less and less relevant'.

His announcement comes in the wake of a call by the Tories for 'fewer, better, more rigorous' exams.

Michael Gove, Tory schools spokesman, said: 'Over the last seven years we have fallen behind as a country in every external measurement of educational performance so it is welcome that Ed Balls has recognised that change is necessary.'

Yesterday's announcement comes amid a growing clamour from headmasters' leaders and MPs who warned that pupils are over-tested and that the current regime is driving teachers to drill pupils to pass exams - 'teach to the test' - instead of ensuring genuine gains in knowledge and understanding.

SATs for 14-year-olds were introduced in 1993, followed in 1995 by SATs for 11-year-olds. Each test is taken by 600,000 pupils in England each year.