Tests are a waste of time, say teachers

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National tests for 14-year-olds are unreliable and should be subject to a wholesale review, according to a survey published yesterday.

National tests for 14-year-olds are unreliable and should be subject to a wholesale review, according to a survey published yesterday.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) claimed the key stage-three tests damaged standards by cutting into teaching time and forcing staff to "teach to the tests".

The union's survey, carried out in conjunction with the English, maths and science teaching associations, found more than one-third of teachers believe the tests did not cover the full national curriculum. One in three said the tests failed to motivate pupils to perform well, while more than half felt the tests did not give students an opportunity to show their understanding of a subject.

The report's authors said: "Feeding children is surely far more important than weighing them, a fact policy makers are slowly beginning to recognise."

All 14-year-olds must take tests in English, maths and science as part of the national regime of assessment at the ages of 7, 11 and 14. The secondary school tests, however, do not form part of league tables and have been criticised as superfluous by head teachers.

The survey of 748 teachers found more than half of English specialists felt the marking of tests was inaccurate. Accuracy was a concern for one in four maths teachers.

The union report said: "We must continue to question the extent to which statutory testing in the three core subjects skews overall curriculum coverage at this key stage away from breadth and balance and towards both narrow and 'shallow' curriculum coverage."

The union's general secretary, Peter Smith, said: "These tests were meant to raise standards, bridge the primary-secondary gap, motivate students and improve teaching and learning. These 14-year-olds must be the most tested youngsters around. The culture of constant testing is a real turn-off for young people."

* Primary school teachers are entering the new millennium demoralised, devalued and dispirited, according to a survey. But despite the pressures, they still find working with children rewarding.

The snapshot survey of 168 teachers in England and Wales, carried out by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), found most felt the biggest pressure in their work was implementing government initiatives, followed closely by paperwork.

More time out of the classroom to prepare work was the biggest single change teachers wanted. Few primary teachers get any so-called "non-contact" time, the NUT says, while a small number get no more than 30 minutes a week.

More than one-quarter of teachers felt Ofsted inspections and "constant criticism" was the biggest pressure in their work.

One teacher with 30 years' experience said: "Good teachers never make a child feel inadequate, but good teachers are made to feel inadequate every day of their teaching lives, with 'must try harder' on every end-of-term report."

More government funding was cited by more than one in three teachers as the single change that would do most to improve standards in schools.

Teachers also made clear they opposed having pay based partly on performance, a policy due to start this year.