Headteachers vote to expel Michael Gove's new reading tests for primary school pupils

Blow to Education Secretary as unions refuse to co-operate with exams for six- and 11-year-olds

Headteachers are planning to boycott two new literacy tests for primary school children, throwing the future of the tests into doubt.

Delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers' conference in Harrogate voted overwhelmingly in favour of refusing to co-operate with a compulsory new test of 11-year-olds' spelling, grammar and punctuation, set to be introduced next year by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. In addition, Russell Hobby, the union's general secretary, warned that heads would also pull the plug on a new reading test for six-year-olds next summer if there was any attempt to publish school-by-school results.

The test for 11-year-olds follows a review of the national curriculum ordered by Mr Gove last year. It will include a test of handwriting as well as spelling, grammar and punctuation. Next year more than 600,000 11-year-olds will sit the test, which will be externally marked and will be in addition to a writing test to be marked by teachers.

Tony Draper, head of Water Hall Primary School in Milton Keynes and an NAHT executive member, claimed the Government had "misled" heads over its review of testing and created a new "monster" to replace the SATs – which heads and teachers boycotted two years ago. "Let me be absolutely clear," he said. "We have no objection whatever to the teaching and learning of spelling, punctuation and grammar as part of the curriculum. It is without doubt essential to making progress in English.

"This [test], though, will cost millions of pounds to introduce – which would be better invested in learning and school improvement. It will lead to a further narrowing of the Key Stage 2 curriculum [for seven to 11-year-olds], and increased misery for Year Six students and their families." He argued that spelling, grammar and punctuation could all be assessed as part of the existing writing test, adding that it was time to say "enough ... we will not co-operate with further tests".

Helen Clegg, a member of the Bew committee, which reviewed the tests, and head of Shiremoor Primary School in Newcastle, added: "Money would be better spent on professional development for teachers in accurate and reliable assessment. There is no reason why spelling, punctuation and grammar can't be assessed internally."

On the reading test due to be taken by six-year-olds for the first time next month, Mr Hobby said: "We don't see the need for this screening check – it is inferior to what most schools do already – but if it is to happen it should be used as a genuine diagnostic test, not a stick to beat schools with."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "Too little attention has been paid to spelling and handwriting in exams over the past decade." On the test for six-year-olds, she added: "The phonics check will help identify thousands of pupils who need extra help to become good readers."

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