Dropping key stage 3 exams have allowed standards to drop, Wilshaw says

Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw has called on the government to reinstate key stage 3 exams, claiming abolition of tests had allowed standards to drop and has widened the gap between the rich and poor.

The controversial tests were scrapped in 2008, after the company responsible for delivering the papers failed to mark them in a timely manner.

However, Wilshaw said that bringing back the national tests for 14-year-olds in England would help tackle the persistent underperformance among the most able pupils. In his monthly written commentary, Wilshaw said the ‘mistake’ had led to thousands of competent pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, ‘drifting’ through secondary school.

Wishaw argued: “There can be little doubt, in my view, that these tests have contributed greatly to the recent narrowing of the attainment gap in primary schools between poorer pupils – including the most able – and their peers.”

“Those who indulge in moaning and whinging about national testing need to remember that when standards decline, it is the most disadvantaged pupils who suffer the most.”

“The most recent statistics paint a bleak picture of underachievement and unfulfilled potential. Thousands of our most able secondary age children are still not doing as well as they should in the non-selective state sector where the vast majority of them are educated.”

“As chief inspector, I have consistently lamented the failure of too many secondary schools to stretch our most able children, particularly the poorest. If our nation is serious about improving social mobility then our secondary schools have got to start delivering for these children.

“I urge the government to consider bringing back external national testing at key stage 3. I firmly believe that it was a mistake to abolish these tests in the first place. If we are serious about helping all disadvantaged children, but especially the most able, to learn well and unlock their full potential, we need to know how they are doing at 14, as well as at seven, 11 and 16.”

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, counteracted that children were already facing an excessive amount of formal testing. He said: “Schools work very hard to provide the best possible education to all their pupils, including the brightest. Most are judged by Ofsted as outstanding or good. Nobody denies there are still challenges but we believe these will best be solved by everybody in the education system working together in a supportive and positive manner.”

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