Teachers' leaders call for abolition of curriculum tests

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The Independent Online

Teachers' leaders called for the abolition of all national curriculum tests up to the age of 16 - claiming they had turned a generation of schoolchildren off lessons.

A report prepared for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference in Gateshead called for an overhaul of the national curriculum with the scrapping of tests at seven, 11 and 14.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary, said: "We can't carry on with a national curriculum that has its roots in the 19th century, doesn't fit the 20th century and doesn't prepare children for the ... 21st century." Too many children became bored by rigid testing and left full-time education at 16.

A recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had shown the UK was 24th out of 29 industrialised countries when it came to the percentage of youngsters in education after the age of 16.

Dr Bousted said: "Even well-motivated pupils are turned off by the present curriculum,." The document will be put to conference delegates today. Instead of traditional subject headings such as history and geography, the union wants a range of skills taught - such as creativity, communications and citizenship. These, it says, would "not be amenable to mainly paper tests" which the union says are counter-productive.

The ATL believes pupils should not have to learn dates of famous battles, such as Trafalgar, but concentrate on what caused the battle.

Under the national curriculum devised under the Conservatives in 1988, 10 subjects were compulsory for children up to 16 - English, maths, science, history, geography, PE, music, technology, art, and modern foreign languages. It has been modified with history, geography and languages becoming voluntary from 14. Under the ATL blueprint, there would be a set of skills that pupils should learn. Teachers' leaders said pupils did not need a knowledge-based curriculum - but should be learning skills for their futures.

Critics will claim the union's document is an attempt to return to the 1970s, when schools were largely left to their own devices. The blueprint says schools should be able to build on the basic national skills framework and decide for themselves what to teach.

Dr Bousted said: "We should have a far less prescriptive curriculum." At present, in English, there were only two modern poets on the curriculum - Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. "If a new poet comes on who is excellent, it will take them five years to get on the curriculum - by which time they might well be out of date," she said.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at the University of Buckingham, described the union's report as "disturbing nonsense".

Ministers have insisted there will be no relaxation of testing at 11 and 14 - but they have agreed to put the emphasis on teachers' assessments of seven-year-olds.