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Assessment Of Performance Unit

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 30 November 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the work of his Department's assessment of performance unit.

The Government's policies for education in schools are directed towards improving the standards attained by pupils. Evidence on which judgments about those standards may be based is available from various sources. Examination results, for example, provide evidence of academic attainment in certain subjects for those secondary pupils who take public examinations. Her Majesty's inspectors' inspection visits, surveys and reports provide valuable qualitative judgments. These types of evidence are being supplemented by the information about pupils' performance provided by the assessment of performance unit.The APU is conducting a series of annual national surveys, over periods of five years in each case, using a specially designed testing programme, to monitor performance in mathematics, English and science at ages 11 and 15—and also at 13 for science. They will be completed in 1982, 1983 and 1984, respectively. The findings, which are published in the form of substantial reports, provide much detailed information about pupils' performance and attitudes in these areas of the curriculum.The content and conduct of the APU's testing programme are widely recognised as being of high quality. I pay tribute to the co-operation of schools in this work and to the skill of the monitoring teams. This work needs to continue in order to provide information which is of interest and concern to the education service and its clients, to encourage the maintenance and improvement of educational standards, and to assist teachers in the essential professional tasks of developing appropriate means of assessing pupils' progress and diagnosing their difficulties. After the present series of surveys are completed, there will be further comprehensive national surveys of performance in mathematics, English and science, in each case at intervals of five years. Monitoring at these intervals will reduce the demands made on schools by the national surveys and will be sufficient for identifying changes or trends in levels of performance, while releasing resources for further interpretation and exploitation of the material collected.The APU's findings need to be made more readily available to teachers, both to contribute to their professional work in the schools and for use in initial and in-service training. The unit has commissioned appraisals of the findings so far in mathematics and language, to help classroom teachers in particular; and is working towards means of presenting the findings from all its surveys in ways which will be more accessible to teachers.The findings also need to be presented to a wider readership. Parents, school governors, politicians, industry and commerce, and all others with a concern for the work of schols, should have access to this further evidence about the performance of the nation's children in language, mathematics and science. The APU is exploring ways in which these findings can most halpfully be presented to these readers.To secure a complete national picture, pupils in independent schools are included in the unit's monitoring. By agreement with the APU consultative committee and representatives of independent schools, the performance of these pupils is not separately reported. As a result, the findings in some respects do not accurately reflect the picture for the maintained sector. Opinion on the possibility of separate reporting of independent school results is divided; but I consider it right to have another look at the question. The APU will be taking it up with representatives of the independent schools and, subsequently, with the consultative committee.