John Dunford Election Blog, Monday 3rd May

This blog is reposted here from John’s 2010 election blog for ASCL.

The hustings at NAHT annual conference yesterday told us nothing new and shed no further light on the parties’ views on key stage 2 tests, with no question on the topic being asked to the three main party spokesmen. According to their manifestos, the Conservatives will retain key stage 2 tests and make them ‘more rigorous’. Labour will publicise teacher assessment levels alongside test results in 2011, with a hint that further reform will follow. The LibDems want to ‘scale back’ key stage 2 tests and use teacher assessment with external moderation.

This year’s tests look set to be disrupted by a substantial but uncertain proportion of primary schools, impatient for change and unwilling to wait for Ed Balls’s slower pace of reform. The legality of the union’s action, being carried out in conjunction with the NUT, is not being tested in the courts and primary school governors are being placed by the secretary of state in the difficult position of finding a way ahead. As a primary school governor myself, I am very glad that I shall not have to broker those arrangements, as the head is not boycotting the tests.

If one party has a clear majority in parliament and a secretary of state is appointed on Friday 7 May, his first action could be to go to the courts and ask for the action to be declared illegal. The legality of the action has not been challenged by local authorities, which are the employers in many of the affected schools, so perhaps a new secretary of state would not want to start his term of office with what might be seen as a high-risk assault on two of the unions with which he will subsequently have to work. Of course, if there is a hung parliament and 7 May signals the start of a period of political bargaining, there will effectively be no secretary of state that day and the union action will go ahead unchallenged when the tests start on Monday 10 May.

Secondary schools can only look on at the events and wonder what will happen to their accountability when this year group has no externally verified judgement on their achievement at age 11 and thus no baseline for their progress during their years at secondary school.

Of more lasting importance is the wider question of whether the new government will take the action necessary to improve external assessment in England. The spat about key stage 2 tests in 2010 is only a small part of this issue.

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