Boycott of school tests supported by teachers

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A LARGE majority of teachers involved in English tests for 14-year-olds want to boycott them, according to the results of a ballot announced yesterday, as the rebellion against the Government's testing programme grew.

A boycott looks increasingly likely after it won the backing of nine out of 10 teachers who have to administer the tests, voting in the ballot held by the National Union of Teachers.

A survey by the moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers, also released yesterday, found that 50 per cent of English teachers in 145 of the Government's flagship grant-maintained schools supported a boycott unless ministers reversed their decision to publish results. Only 2.8 per cent wanted the tests to go ahead.

Leaders of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers meet tomorrow to decide whether to ballot members on a boycott of all national curriculum tests.

The National Association of Head Teachers and the NUT are also advising members to boycott pilot tests for 11-year-olds.

However, ministers are determined that this summer's English tests for 14-year-olds will go ahead and that the results will be published. They believe that any compromise would be seen as a surrender to union militants.

Baroness Blatch, Minister for Schools, used a new report issued yesterday to argue that teacher assessment, which the unions favour, is unreliable. The report by the School Examinations and Assessment Council showed that teacher assessment in last year's tests in maths and science for 14- year-olds was unsatisfactory.

Meanwhile, more than 700 schools have joined a campaign to boycott the English tests, run by the London Association for the Teaching of English.

Of the 5,500 English teacher members of the NUT who will have to administer the tests in secondary schools, about 4,500 - 75 per cent - returned the questionnaire. Of these 91 per cent favoured a boycott.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, said that he hoped other unions would support the action, but added: 'We have enough English teachers in this sample to make a boycott very effective. We are not opposed to tests. Teachers are applying their professional judgement to bring home to a dogmatic government that it has got the nature of testing wrong.

'By ignoring professional advice and parental concerns the Government has built a monstrosity on a catalogue of incompetence.'

Teachers argue that the English tests have been changed so often that they have been unable to prepare pupils properly. The union will have to call a formal ballot on a boycott in May. It wants tests in England to follow the pattern in Scotland where assessment is done mainly by teachers, and pupils take tests only when teachers think they are ready.

The report on teacher assessment, prepared by the National Foundation for Education Research and Brunel University, says teachers need more training if they are to assess pupils properly.

Lord Griffiths, chairman of the School Examinations and Assessment Council, said teacher assessment was unlikely to be as reliable or as publicly credible as a formal written test. The research was based on questionnaires sent to 200 schools and a detailed study of 10 schools.

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