Some of Britain's most popular children's authors last night pledged support for a campaign aimed at scrapping national curriculum tests for more than a million children in state schools.
Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Michael Rosen, the children's laureate, and Jacqueline Wilson, who wrote the Tracy Beaker books, have thrown their weight behind efforts to curb what they see as too great an emphasis on testing.
Up to 600,000 11-year-olds are due to start their national curriculum tests in English, maths and science tomorrow. The testing regime in England's state primary schools has been described by researchers, headed by the Cambridge-based academic Professor Robin Alexander, as the most exhaustive in the Western world.
Now leaders of the National Association of Head Teachers are calling on the Government to scrap the tests on the grounds that the pressure of league tables is forcing schools to teach to the tests and putting children off learning.
If they fail to convince ministers – as is almost certain from the robust defence of the system given by the children's minister, Beverley Hughes, last week – they will then mount a public campaign aimed at seeking to ensure that this year's national curriculum tests are the last.
Philip Pullman, himself a former teacher, said yesterday: "I've long maintained that Sats [national curriculum tests] and the league tables they support only distort teaching and don't produce a good and balanced education."
He added: "If we trust teachers, which I do, we must allow them to make their own judgements about the kind of work they do."
Ms Wilson said: "Frequently I get letters from 10- and 11-year-olds who are taking Sats tests, and they are saying things like, 'Help, what should I do?'"
Ministers claim the tests have ushered in the biggest rise in standards in the three Rs in the history of state education. Since 1997, the proportion of children reaching the required standard in maths and English at age 11 has gone up from about 60 per cent to 77 and 80 per cent respectively. For seven-year-olds, ministers add, the emphasis has already been changed from tests in favour of teacher assessment.
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