Patten tries to divide teachers over testing: Head accuses minister of acting like First World War general

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JOHN Patten appealed yesterday to teachers worried about national curriculum tests not to support a politically-inspired boycott. But the Secretary of State for Education's attempts to divide the growing opposition to tests for seven- and 14- year-olds were met with derision at the National Union of Teachers' annual conference, which voted unanimously on Saturday to ballot for a boycott.

Some of the strongest support for a boycott came from primary teachers who are administering the Standard Assessment Tasks for the third year. Chris Holmes, headteacher of Birch Primary in Colchester, Essex, said: 'The Secretary of State is acting like a First World War general. He is miles from the front and not in touch with what is going on. The children are becoming Patten-fodder.'

The three largest teaching unions, representing some 400,000 teachers in England and Wales, are committed to ballots or already taking action. Mr Patten is looking increasingly beleaguered as doubts surface among Conservative MPs about his strategy,

Speaking on Radio 4's The World This Weekend, Mr Patten said: 'It is important for those teachers to make up their minds whether they want to be involved in a sensible rolling review of national curriculum assessment or whether they want to see the stopping of national curriculum and testing dead in its tracks.

'It will be a tragedy for seven-year- olds around the country if the unions pull the plug on these tests. They will end up damaging children and the image of the profession.' Mr Patten said that the agenda of unions such as the NUT went beyond professional concerns over the tests to attacking the Government's whole education policy; unions were worried about the effect of league tables on teachers.

Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said: 'There is one agenda for the National Union of Teachers on the issue of assessment and testing. The Government's imposed methods are flawed. They are not beneficial to pupils and they cause excessive workload to teachers.

'By boycotting the tests we will not cause chaos in schools and classrooms. We will create a better environment in which children can be taught. Parents should be cheering to the rafters.'

Mr McAvoy believes that a boycott can go ahead legally even if the Court of Appeal reverses a High Court ruling in favour of the action taken against the tests by the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers.

Leading article, letters, page 15