School governors were told last night they should consider suspending headteachers who boycott national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds next month.
In a letter to governing bodies, the Schools Secretary Ed Balls said: "If necessary, you may consider whether to instruct the headteacher to remain absent from school at times when the tests are due to take place while another person administers the tests."
He reminded governors that they as well as the headteacher had a statutory duty to ensure the tests went ahead. If the head refused to open the test papers and pass them on to pupils, governors should ask another "competent person" to do so, he suggested.
Headteachers and teachers' leaders dismissed the guidance as "a desperate last throw of the dice". Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the suggestion of suspension was "inflammatory".
On their website, governors have counselled against getting involved in the action. The tests, which should be taken by 600,000 pupils, are due to start on 10 May.