Sir Ron Dearing signalled in an interview with the Independent that he wants to respond to teachers' concerns and he is determined to ensure that the content of each of the 10 national curriculum subjects is reduced, to ease their overload.
Sir Ron also made it clear that he has an open mind about the form that tests might take. He suggested that continuous assessment might be more suitable for some subjects, such as English, which would be a significant change on the pencil and paper tests proposed for this year.
Meanwhile, the leader of the biggest headteachers' union urged John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, to cancel this year's tests for 7 and 14-year-olds, as the first step in Sir Ron's review.
Mr Patten is unlikely to bow to the demand from David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers: he and Sir Ron have said that they need to see how this year's tests work.
Sir Ron took over chairmanship of the National Curriculum Council and the Schools Examination and Assessment Council this week, in readiness for the amalgamation of the two into the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority this year.
Mr Patten has told Sir Ron to explore ways of reducing curriculum overload, see whether the 10 levels of the national curriculum are the most effective framework, improve testing arrangements, and review the administration of the curriculum. Mr Patten wants initial proposals by the end of July.
One of the three main teacher unions is boycotting preparation for this summer's tests, and the other two are balloting.
However, Mr Hart said that Mr Patten's letters to governors and heads on Monday reminding them of their legal duty to ensure that tests go ahead were pointless. Heads had a statutory obligation to publish the results of all pupils, but they could not carry it out where the boycott meant only some results were available.
Unlike the three main teacher unions, heads are not being balloted on a boycott. But Mr Hart said they shared teachers' concerns.
Some heads have decided to cancel tests, and more are expected to follow if the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers join the National Association of Schoolmaster Union of Women Teachers in the boycott.
The Court of Appeal will rule tomorrow morning on whether the NASUWT boycott is lawful. The London borough of Wandsworth is appealing against a High Court decision that it is legal.
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