'Crude, clumsy and a dire misuse of cash'

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CLARE GARNER

Most pupils at Priory Middle School passed last summer's tests for 11- year-olds with flying colours. In their book, it was the politicians who failed.

One by one, they reiterated the concerns of Roger Pepworth, head teacher at the 530-strong mixed comprehensive in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Everyone agreed that the tests were "crude", "clumsy", and "a mere snapshot" - inaccurate at that - of children's ability.

"I'm strapped for cash, I'm strapped for staff, and I've got buckets in the corridors because the roof is leaking. The money spent on SATs is a dire misuse of cash. I could use the money a lot better on teachers, resources, and buildings," said Mr Pepworth yesterday.

"They are crude, they are inaccurate, they are limited in what they assess. They've got more to do with politicians than the children's needs. I think they are a distraction from the planned and progressive learning process."

Despite the school's policy of playing down the significance of the tests, all the children complained that they felt under undue pressure to perform well. Helen Ashton, 11, said: "I found that when I revised I got more and more nervous because I knew the results go on to your upper school. They say they reflect your ability, but that's not true. You might have been having a bad day because you are under a lot of stress. They make you feel uptight."

Indeed, many pupils feel the tests are unfair and that it would make more sense for their teachers to set and mark them. Helen Ashton added: "Teachers in our school might not have taught what teachers in other schools have taught. They should test us on what we have been taught."

Helen was just one of many pupils to complain that her marks did not reflect important qualities such as attitude, effort, values, character and social skills. Furthermore, both teachers and pupils mistrust the results.

"The quality of marking for the English tests was just lamentable. The children could have marked the tests with more accuracy," said Mr Pepworth, who complained to Gillian Shephard that his pupils' scores were not too low, but too high. Spellings like "gingerlly", "saticfied", "centurey", and "ucording" were marked down as correct. When re-marked, only 18 of the 132 papers had no alteration to the final mark.

It makes 12-year-old Mark Crane angry with the Government. "They give us them to do and then they don't mark them right."

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