Delegates at the Professional Association of Teachers' annual conference in Southport said continuous assessment should replace tests and exams, and claimed the Government had a "sadistic" obsession with testing.
The debate by the 35,000-strong association, the most moderate of the classroom unions, heard the first calls in recent years for exams to be scrapped. It follows an intense row over the effect on creativity of the Government's crusade to raise standards in the "three Rs".
Nearly 800 young people contact the charity Childline each year to talk to counsellors about exam problems. A survey of 200 callers found 13 had contemplated suicide while one girl tried to hang herself because of exam pressure.
Earlier this month a coroner warned of the consequences of exam stress after hearing of two Buckinghamshire teenagers who hanged themselves in separate incidents during the run-up to this summer's exams.
"Exams contribute little to education that cannot be achieved by more humane methods," said Rosemary Wright, a music teacher from Halifax. "The education system should be the young person's friend, not a persecutor."
Philip Parkin, a delegate from Humberside, said school life has become just one big test. "The desire to raise standards has become obsessive. It is stifling creativity and depriving children of their right to a childhood."
In a separate debate, the association called for Ofsted inspectors to take up supply teaching to keep up their classroom experience. Any inspectors who failed to renew their skills should be barred from inspecting schools, it said.Reuse content