Education and Skills Committee

20 March 2007

New Inquiry into Testing and Assessment

The Education and Skills Committee has agreed to undertake an inquiry into Testing and Assessment. Written submissions are invited for the inquiry. The Committee will begin taking oral evidence in the summer.


Testing and assessment in primary and secondary education is a key issue. Students sit Key Stage tests at 7 years-old, 11 years-old and 14 years-old. These are followed by GCSE examinations, AS level examinations and A2 level examinations, usually at 16, 17 and 18. In January 2007 the Government announced that it would pilot several measures at KS2 and 3, including allowing pupils to sit national tests as soon as they are ready instead of waiting until the end of the Key Stage.

Each year the publication of GCSE and A-level results leads to a debate about the state of the education system. Coursework has been criticised for encouraging plagiarism, amongst other things, and its use is to be reduced. A small but increasing number of schools are using the international baccalaureate rather than 'A' levels, and concern has been expressed about the maintenance of standards at GCSE and 'A' level.

The Committee is interested in receiving comments on the following issues:

General Issues

  • Why do we have a centrally run system of testing and assessment?

  • What other systems of assessment are in place both internationally and across the UK?

  • Does a focus on national testing and assessment reduce the scope for creativity in the curriculum?

  • Who is the QCA accountable to and is this accountability effective?

  • What role should exam boards have in testing and assessment?

National Key Stage Tests

The current situation

  • How effective are the current Key Stage tests?

  • Do they adequately reflect levels of performance of children and schools, and changes in performance over time?

  • Do they provide assessment for learning (enabling teachers to concentrate on areas of a pupil's performance that needs improvement)?

  • Does testing help to improve levels of attainment?

  • Are they effective in holding schools accountable for their performance?

  • How effective are performance measures such as value-added scores for schools?

  • Are league tables based on test results an accurate reflection of how well schools are performing?

  • To what extent is there 'teaching to the test'?

  • How much of a factor is 'hot-housing' in the fall-off in pupil performance from Year 6 to Year 7?

  • Does the importance given to test results mean that teaching generally is narrowly focused?

  • What role does assessment by teachers have in teaching and learning?

The future

  • Should the system of national tests be changed?

  • If so, should the tests be modified or abolished?

  • The Secretary of State has suggested that there should be a move to more personalised assessment to measure how a pupil's level of attainment has improved over time. Pilot areas to test proposals have just been announced. Would the introduction of this kind of assessment make it possible to make an overall judgment on a school's performance?

  • Would it be possible to make meaningful comparisons between different schools?

  • What effect would testing at different times have on pupils and schools? Would it create pressure on schools to push pupils to take tests earlier?

  • If Key Stage tests remain, what should they be seeking to measure?

  • If, for example, performance at Level 4 is the average level of attainment for an eleven year old, what proportion of children is it reasonable to expect to achieve at or above that level?

  • How are the different levels of performance expected at each age decided on? Is there broad agreement that the levels are appropriate and meaningful?

Testing and assessment at 16 and after

  • Is the testing and assessment in "summative" tests (for example, GCSE, AS, A2) fit for purpose?

  • Are the changes to GCSE coursework due to come into effect in 2009 reasonable? What alternative forms of assessment might be used?

  • What are the benefits of exams and coursework? How should they work together? What should the balance between them be?

  • Will the ways in which the new 14-19 diplomas are to be assessed impact on other qualifications, such as GCSE?

  • Is holding formal summative tests at ages 16, 17 and 18 imposing too great a burden on students? If so, what changes should be made?

  • To what extent is frequent, modular assessment altering both the scope of teaching and the style of teaching?

  • How does the national assessment system interact with university entrance? What does it mean for a national system of testing and assessment that universities are setting entrance tests as individual institutions?

Submissions should arrive no later than noon on Monday 4 June 2007. A guide for written submissions to the Committee may be found on the parliamentary website at:

A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to with an additional paper copy to:

Education and Skills Select Committee
House of Commons
7 Millbank
London SW1P 3JA