Heads step up protest over exam leagues

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School governors could face legal action as a result of a campaign by headteachers against league tables for 11 year-olds, it emerged last night.

The National Association of Head Teachers has called on governing bodies not to pass on this year's test results for use in league tables. Its general secretary, David Hart, said ministers had broken a promise not to publish tables until after the tests had been carried out for a third time next year. He described the decision to issue this year's marks next spring as political and claimed that the tests had not had enough time to settle in.

Primary schools in England would be castigated for poor performance unnecessarily, he said, while ministers in Wales had decided to stick to their original decision not to publish this year. He added that there had been flaws in last year's tests which still needed correcting and the tests still needed more time before they could be seen as reliable.

Mr Hart wants schools to carry out the tests and to pass on their results to parents but not to the Government. Headteachers would jeopardise their jobs if they refused to carry out their duties but governors were in a stronger position, he said. Although they would be breaking the law, he hoped neither ministers nor parents would take them to court.

The association, which represents headteachers in the majority of the 14,000 schools affected by tests for 11 year-olds, has advised its members to ask their governing bodies to boycott the league tables.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, had brought forward the publication so that it would take place before the next general election, Mr Hart said. "She had better take care in future before she rides rough-shod over teachers and heads in such a cavalier fashion," he added.

He was confident that governing bodies would take action, but the National Governors' Council was more reticent, saying only that some would do so.

Pat Petch, chair of the council, said: "Others will weigh this very carefully in the balance and decide that they have to comply with the law."

Mrs Shephard said the NAHT's advice to members not to break the law was welcome, despite its call to governors. "Parents and the wider public have a right to receive vitally important information about the performance of schools," she said.

About 600,000 11 year-olds are taking the tests in English, maths and science this week. Their papers will be marked externally and returned to schools for checking at the end of June. Governors must then pass them on to the Government by the end of July.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said of the heads' action: "It is outrageous double standards for heads to expect governing bodies to do their dirty work for them. If they want to ballot members to fight against league tables we will be right behind them."