Governors urged to break law on results

Changes in education: NUT steps up pressure over primary league tables as teachers refuse to exclude a violent pupil
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The Independent Online
Pressure on school governors to break the law by boycotting school league tables for 11-year-olds intensified yesterday as Britain's biggest teaching union launched a campaign for non-co-operation.

The National Union of Teachers is writing to 14,000 chairmen of governing bodies, asking them to withhold the results of the tests, which took place last week. The move is bound to strengthen the position of the National Association of Head Teachers, whose members hope to persuade governors to disrupt the publication of the marks.

By law, both heads and governors have to co-operate in providing the test results to the Department for Education and Employment by the end of July. The unions argue that while heads could face the sack if they boycott the new league tables, ministers would be unlikely to take legal action against governors.

Both teachers and governors protested when Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, announced in February that there would be league tables for 11-year-olds in the spring of 1997. Just 10 days earlier, she had said that the tests needed more time to "bed down" before their results were published.

Yesterday Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that Mrs Shephard had caved in to pressure from right-wingers in the Tory party.

"If there was a significant number of schools [boycotting the tests], she would be very pleased, as she would be able to go to the Cabinet and say that she got it right.

"Any huffing and puffing about the law would be fairly empty - these are the people that they want to continue as governors," he said.

The two national governors' associations have been divided over the proposed boycott. The National Association of Governors and Managers has advised its members not to break the law, but the National Governors' Council has written to Mrs Shephard asking her to abandon the tables and seeking an urgent meeting.

Its vice-chairman, Jack Morrish, said no one was looking for an excuse to break the law but added that previous test boycotts had not led to any legal action against schools. "We have to recognise that there was that precedent," he said.

Mrs Shephard said she had no intention of reversing her decision to publish results of the tests, which took place last week. "Parents and the wider public have a right to be able to compare the performance of schools," she said in a statement.

Mrs Shephard said she had changed her mind because of evidence that 11-year-olds were underachieving. The results of last year's tests showed that only about half of the age group reached a standard which should stretch them in English and maths, and the Chief Inspector of Schools had noted a dip in achievement in the later primary years, she added.