About Conservative Home

Conservative Home's debate blogs

Conservative Home's reference blogs

How is David Cameron doing?

Conservative blogs


Contributors test

« Next week on 100policies.com | Main | David Walsh: Compulsory British History at GCSE »


Denis Cooper

Pity that the present generation of teachers have to suffer so much government control because of the ideologically driven folly of some of their predecessors during the 60's, especially the 70's and into the 80's. I recall being constantly tested at school, but they were informal tests set by the teachers so they could see how well each pupil was doing, not so the government and public could see how well the school was doing.

Jonathan Mackie

Julia, I just can't agree with that at all. I think you have swallowed the 'testing is bad for children and pressures teachers" line that is peddled by teacher representatives.

I think there are interesting comments within your proposal, such as the narrowness of the subject range and the teaching to pass mentality that league tables breed. But the answer isn't to abolish testing it is to improve the depth of the league table scoring and as importantly improve the marking regime which does not punish poor grammar, or simple iteration of classroom thoughts.

At primary school in Scotland in the 70s and 80s I and my class were subjected to spot spelling, arithmetic and other tests. We had end of term exams in every year. There is no substitute for analysising what a child knows and doesn't where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

I am all for testing children and putting them under pressure. It is a big bad world out there. Pressure comes with the territory. You must learn to cope with it, and examinations throughout your academic life, including at primary school are the best means of doing that.


Drop the KS3 tests:

-they are not standardised year-on-year

-they are marked very badly in some cases

-students know they count for nothing and so do not put any real effort into them - this taints the exam system for some 14 year olds

-they are badly used as a baseline for GCSE - a good government trick is to artificially raise ks3 scores and then demand higher GCSE scores to achieve any real value added

-they are expensive

-they prevent proper learning and enjoyment of the subject - especially in science.

Don't move the KS2 tests - scrap them. Teachers put huge amounts on pressure on young shoulders. Seeing the very-able daughter of a friend vomit as she went to school because she was so scared of the tests is one of the most upsetting things I have seen in years. A very-able child who loved school had a desire to learn crushed out of her by the tests.

In both cases, school results can be made meaningless by one or two students being ill on the day.



I was also examined & tested through primary & secondary school - in primary it was real exam as in Africa standard 2 & standard 5 passes were used as qualifications (so evidence you could read English & do basic arithmatic) but the lessons & curriculum were not focussed on the exam but on educating the pupil.

The problem with the current testing regime is that it delivers a "qualification" for the school and enables teachers to be rewarded. With league tables & payment by results the Key stage results matter for employment & funding.

Objectives drive behaviour so teachers plan education best results in the exam not the needs of children. This is a conundrum as we need to be able to measure how well teachers & schools are doing but also want our children educated properly and given the teachers time and attention.

Julia has highlighted the issues well and I think her solutions are well targeted to try to resolve the conundrum.


No child should be allowed to attend school without vaccination certificates.

English tests should be frequent and a pre-requisite of moving classes........there can be only one language of instruction in a school and that is English..............anything else is reserved for foreign language teaching periods.

It should be impossible to move up a year if competency in English and Arithmetic is deficient.

Simon Chapman

My children are aged 5 & 3 and so I haven't direct experience of the current testing regime yet. Generally, though, I would be in favour of anything that keeps the curriculum as broad as possible for as long as possible at primary school level.

Julia's proposals are focussed on the primary stage. We also need to think about the secondary stage, and in particular whether to abolish AS levels. I enjoyed the first year in the VI form immensely - much of that was the enjoyment of exploring a smaller number of subjects in more detail, without having public exams at the end of the year.

There is a balance between testing & learning, and making sure that the former contributes to rather than detracts from the latter.

I will vote yes - and look forward to seeing how the details of this policy evolve.


"Schools: None. A teacher would take a year to put together schemes of work as they do for the standard three subjects, that they could perform with their classes. After this the plans would be in place for subsequent years."

Does not really work this way. Cohorts differ greatly and scheme are adapted year-on-year. If only life was so simple.

paul Newman

I think the danger of this sort of thing is that by tinkering with the system you imply that the Conservative Party basically agrees with the current dispensation. Additionally it looks a bit like fiddling while Rome burns given the scale of the disaster becoming apparent to parents if not the political classes
In the schools I have got to know it is entirely apparent that the problem lies chiefly with poor quality, badly motivated, staff. Given the job security, holidays and level pay it is scarcely surprising that the intake is not ideal and the output becomes worse over time . Tests , and central control of various sorts are in fact measures to combat satisficing amongst teachers and implying that `children getting bored` has anything to do with it insults the intelligence of those of us needing to use the state sector . With the right frame work for staff almost any exam system can work and has done. Without attention to the reality of school life nothing will work and …nothing has worked.
Policies need to be developed whereby teachers can be rewarded for performance and made redundant for lack of it in the which will of course be fought by the teaching unions. In that I can make any sense of this pretty wafflesome stuff at all I suppose it is a Cameronesque sop to the teaching unions who well understand who is being tested . I understand the electoral reasons for cultivating this marginal group but there are within schools a sizeable minority furious at the waste and incompetence around them who would support efforts to introduce competition into teaching .
There isn’t a lot of harm in this but no good either and as all of it could equally have come from the Labour party I don1`t see the point at this stage


I agree with Simon Chapman's comments about AS levels. Children are now examined at 16 (GSCE) 17 (AS) and 18 (A).
English AS students can take one paper in January only one term after finishing GSCE - what can they have possibly absorbed in that time ?

This policy should be broader and encompass secondary school and sixth form



"There is no substitute for analysising what a child knows and doesn't where their strengths and weaknesses lie." KS2 tests do not do this - they are summative, not formative. SATS test schools, not children.

"Pressure comes with the territory. You must learn to cope with it, and examinations throughout your academic life, including at primary school are the best means of doing that."

The students in KS2 are all under ten - they are children, not city bankers. If, and it's a big if, pressure is essential we need to help students deal with it. As far as I can see students sitting SATS fall into three groups: Take them very seriously and buckle under the stress; don't understand what's going on and ignore them so results do no reflect actual ability; understand them and ignore them - often sitting through the exam with their head on the table.

Jonathan Mackie

Ted, I agree with your comments, but the answer isn't to abolish testing it is to improve marking, raise the bar for particular grades and widen the range of subjects taught and tested.

TomTom makes an interesting point about preventing annual advancement unless grade attainment is achieved. There is some merit in this, although it may result in teachers inflating the grades of troublesome pupils.

Being a product of the Scottish system and now parent in the English system, I perhaps am a bit bias. At secondary the O level or standard grade is taught over two years between ages 14 - 16. The Higher is taught in fifth year alone. the result is that the standard for O levels is much higher as the content over two years is greater and require more knowledge of a subject. The Higher is really about the application of the knowledge from the previous two years.

If you don't pass the O level (standard grade) with a decent grade you do not proceed onto the Higher.

Here in England everything is focused on the A level exam. As a result we have pupils illsuited to A level academia sitting the exams with the resulting grade inflation.

The answer isn;t to abolish tests and exams but to improve their rigour.

Denis Cooper

The rot really started in the teacher training colleges. But now thanks to the deterioration in schools we have some people training to teach who really need to go back and get a better schooling themselves. It will take decades to sort out.

Jonathan Mackie


You are not asking kids under 10 their knowledge of nuclear science. Spelling, grammar, arithmetic, basic grasp of concepts are all where the exams should focus.

Pressure to succeed at any level and age is good. We need to get away from this view that kids are all feeble and about to crumble under the pressure of exams.

As I said in my previous post I had spot tests, term exams in an array of subjects, throughout my primary school years. I know of no-one of my peers who had a nervous breakdown as a result. Kids need to be challenged intellectually. Give someone and excuse to fail and they will.

Wat Tyler

I agree with Julia that there's too much state mandated testing in schools. But like others, the real source of my discomfort is the whole organisational model in which politicos mandate anything.

I hestitate to admit it, but we were lucky enough to afford private schooling for the junior Tylers. And in private schools, guess what- it's the teachers in control. And we as parents were able to choose which school regime we reckoned would best suit each child. Brilliant.

The single most important thing we Conservatives can bring to education is not further tweaking with the testing regime or new setting arrangements, but some real parental choice and competition a la Reform.

PS Mrs T used to be a primary teacher, and she set and marked weekly 3Rs tests for all 40 of her kids. But that was so she could track how they were all doing- not because the government told her to.

David Banks

Hasn't she got lovely teeth!
Shame about the policy idea.


I was about to leap in and criticise this policy but then I realised I had absolutely no idea what Key Stages were. Why does everything today come with a management-speak label?

Anyway, on closer inspection the policy seems to be motivated, at least partly, by a desire to reduce examinations because of some notion of the nefarious "pressure" they exert on children, and this must be wholeheartedly rejected by Conservatives.

Anecdotes, swaddled in pc expressions like "very-able", about vomiting kiddiewinks upsetting grown adults do not help address the issue seriously. The truth, as Jonathan Mackie eloquently explains above, and bears repetition, if not shouting from the rooftops, is that examinations should take place as early and as often as possible so that childern learn to take life's tests, trials and tribulations in their stride rather than throwing up at the very thought of them.

Fred Baker

Getting everybody stamped, certified and inoculated strikes me of being Labour and Communist ideals! Testing takes valuable time from learning.

One reason why schools are getting better grades is that teachers’ resources are far better. e.g. Explanations have improved and text books are far more interesting.

The many GCSE “A” Grades achieved indicates that a term could be deducted. Taking exams in a flaming May/June heat wave is not beneficial to results. Let exams start after Christmas and “A” levels start in the Summer Term.

Allow those not doing “A” levels to leave after their exams, some of these kids have really had enough of schooling and are just nuisances.

By doing this, a term could be added to the intensive A level course. The A level exam could be made that much harder and hopefully discourage the 25% or so that later drop out at university.

One nice outcome of this is that there would be a surplus of teachers during the summer term allowing lower priced holidays to be taken!


Overall a good proposal, particularly the broadening so that not just Maths, English and Science - but without adding to the overall burden.

Of course children should be tested in any good system but the ill effects of the present system come from standardised testing and teaching to the tests.

Let me have a go at the random other subjects at KS2:
History, Geography, R.E., French (or an alternative language if school specifies which could be ancient or modern), I.T.. Not sure that there are any other subjects that one would want to be universal (I would not include P.E. as it is not an academic subject). However, as a refinement, I suggest that half the year group is tested in the subject the testing people choose but, if the school chooses, the other half are tested on a subject chosen by the school after the random choice is known so they can show up a good subject for them if they feel the first one might be weak. If you had that second volunteer subject you could include Latin, Music and Drama (perhaps others) that it would not be practicable to make a universal possibility. If the school did not want the complication of another subject, then the whole year group could all do the one specified at random.

Patsy Sergeant

I agree and disagree with this proposal. I am considerably older than most of the posters on this thread, and we had exams at school every summer term - in other words at the end of year. These exams were set by the school FOR the school to assess how we were all progressing, they were NOT set so that a political department and ministers could boast about how many schools were improving under THEIR jurisdiction, and the statistics gathered were, as far as I know, kept within the school, not used (and perhaps 'adjusted') in order to prove a political point!


"These exams were set by the school FOR the school to assess how we were all progressing, they were NOT set so that a political department and ministers could boast..."

Agreed but even some posters on this board - let alone the teaching establishment - cannot be relied upon to test children frequently without being forced to from above.

Jamie Redhead

My concern with this policy is that I am against government testing of children below 11 anyway. I think the government should take a minimal role in testing with 'in-house' informal testing to see whether children can actually read and write correctly.

All the Key Stage testing does is provide the government with more fodder to say what a 'wonderful' job it is doing with education (perhaps skimming over the wonderful job it is doing with statistical manipulation).

In essence though, I agree with this policy but feel that it does not go far enough and that it ultimately supports the Labour government’s position.


"Testing takes valuable time from learning."

Surely one of the the most wrongheaded and dangerous comments that has yet appeared on conservativehome.


If schools want to test children it should be up to them. Those parents who want their children to be tested regularly can send their children to schools where this system is in place. Those that don't can send their children to school with an alternative system. In short, get the government out of education and give power to the parents.

To be honest I don't really remember any pressure during my Key Stage exams and I came out of it in one piece so I'm tempted to vote in favour of the status quo


I had to check the url of the site to be sure I hadn't accidentally wandered into some socialist group hug of a forum run by the NUT. If the conservative party is this deeply infected with socialist ideas and policies its no wonder people can't see any difference between us and NuLab.
Government has NO role in deciding what is or isn't taught in schools. None. At. All.
That is a job for parents.
My wife's just about to give birth to our first child, and so I've been thinking about education a lot recently and every time I think of this it makes me furious.
Between myself and my wife we generate, through direct and indirect taxes, somewhere between £25,000 and £30,000 a year for the government. Neither of us have serious illnesses, we don't claim benefits, so we are very clearly net contributors to the government budget and have been for the last few years.
Now I don't mind that at all - its part of being a member of a modern, caring society.
But in 5 years time, when my daughter goes to school, for the first time I am going to become a major consumer of government services - I've paid my money in, now I'm going to be taking something back.
But for my annual £25k what choice do I get in how my child is educated?
Can I select a school for her based on the curriculum they teach? I'd like her to learn the classics, including latin and greek, and to get a good grounding in world history.
Nope, can't do that. 1 curriculum for all kids, regardless of what I want for my child.
How is that right? How did we end up with such a bizarre and twisted education system?
There is nothing special about education as a service - if we no longer trust government to run the phone system or the trains or the gas or the electrics can someone please explain to me why government is magically suitable to act as the monopoly provider of education?
Abolish the national curriculum. Abolish government provision of education. Allow anyone who wants run a school, and let parents have a free choice in the type of school they send THEIR children to. The ONLY role for government in education is ensuring that everyone has access. Thats it. Dead easy.



"I was about to leap in and criticise this policy but then I realised I had absolutely no idea what Key Stages were. Why does everything today come with a management-speak label?"

This was a Conservative idea many years ago - and not a bad one at that. Before the introduction of such labels (including a common numbering for school years) you had no idea what was going on.

"Anecdotes, swaddled in pc expressions like "very-able", about vomiting kiddiewinks upsetting grown adults do not help address the issue seriously."

"Very able" is not a pc expression. And I am sorry for feeling compassion for children. Quite clearly you have a piece of swinging lead for a heart.

But the revealing point of your comments is that you no very little about education and just spout prejudices.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • DVD rental
  • Conservative Books
Blog powered by Typepad


  • Conservative Home's
    free eMailing List
    Enter your name and email address below:

  • Tracker 2
  • Extreme Tracker