Science Sats to be scrapped but maths and English tests expected to continue

• Ruling means Balls faces teaching union boycott
• Move to discourage creation of league tables

A review of Sats commissioned by the schools secretary, Ed Balls, will rule today that formal science tests taken by 600,000 11-year-olds every year should be scrapped.

Every child in England will receive a detailed graduation certificate listing their achievements at the end of primary school, to help ease the transition to secondary school by giving their new teachers details about their accomplishments.

But the expert group behind the review will stop short of recommending that all national tests be abolished – leaving the government to face a showdown with two teaching unions, which say they will boycott next year's tests if they are not reformed. The Guardian understands the group will recommend that the controversial system of testing all 11-year-olds in English and maths should continue.

Tests could be replaced by "single level tests" in years to come based on the model of music grade exams, for which pupils are entered when their teachers think they are ready to sit them, instead of as a cohort once a year. But pilots in 400 schools have raised concerns that teachers will be tempted to enter pupils repeatedly, leading to more stressful testing. This has prompted the expert group to ask for an extension of the pilots.

Balls is expected to accept the recommendations of the expert group. Pupils will still be assessed on their scientific knowledge and understanding, but through practical work in the classroom instead of in formal tests, after the group ruled that the science Sats were failing to test children on what they were learning in the classroom. The decision follows plans to remove science from the core of the primary curriculum and replace it with information and communication technologies – ICT – a move which prompted concerns that science teaching for younger pupils would be undermined.

The report will also announce changes to the system of publishing schools' results to create league tables. The group was asked to investigate versions of the American "report card", which would give richer detail on schools' achievements, including the quality of sports provision and standard of pupil behaviour, as well as test results. Details of those plans are expected next month in a white paper but options being considered include scrapping the system of publishing school-by-school results on one day to discourage the creation of league tables.

The group, which includes the author of last week's review of the primary curriculum, Sir Jim Rose, the former London schools commissioner Tim Brighouse, and headteachers, was set up by Balls after the collapse of last summer's Sats marking and Sats for 14-year-olds were scrapped.

The report will reject the position of the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers, which oppose national testing altogether and are threatening a boycott next year. Some 600,000 pupils are due to take Sats tests in every state primary in England next week.

Last night, Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT, said: "All of the arguments about getting rid of tests for 14-year-olds apply to 11-year-olds as well. We really think there is no point in testing every single 11-year-old in the country. Even if there is a will to change the league tables, it won't happen unless you get rid of the tests. We're saying we're happy to do sampling and teaching assessments but get rid of tests in all three subjects at key stage 2."

The review comes as the government's strategy for maths in primary schools was attacked in a report by the Commons public spending committee, which said it was disgraceful that more than a fifth of 11-year-olds were leaving primary school in England without a firm grasp of the subject and urged ministers to rethink their strategy for raising performance.

The report identified 38,000 pupils who started school at the top of the class but by the time they left primary school had dropped to the bottom. Low achievers were significantly more likely to be from the poorest homes, it said.

The report said that in 2006–07, £2.3bn of the £10bn primary teaching budget was spent on teaching mathematics. Despite this, improvements in the mathematics results of primary pupils have levelled off since 2000. In 2008, 79% of pupils met the government's expected standard at 11 in national tests – the highest recorded results, but well short of the department's ambitions of 85% by 2006, it said.

Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the public accounts committee, said: "It is disgraceful that over one fifth of all primary school children reach the end of their primary education without a secure grasp of basic mathematical skills. This can have serious long-term consequences, for many then continue through secondary school without acquiring basic numeracy skills, impairing their chances in life and leaving them later in need of expensive remedial education."

Sarah McCarthy-Fry, the schools minister, said: "Last year over 100,000 more children achieved a level four in their maths at the age of 11 than in 1997. This is a tremendous achievement, of which our pupils and teachers should be rightly proud. We continue to make progress."


Polly Curtis, education editor

The GuardianTramp

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