Challenge to English tests grows

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The Independent Online
THE MOST moderate of the three big teacher unions disclosed yesterday it would ballot on a boycott if the Government refuses to compromise over this summer's English tests for 14-year-olds.

The warning came from the 145,000- strong Association of Teachers and Lecturers, whose general secretary, Peter Smith, said that any confrontation would be blamed on John Patten, Secretary of State for Education. Teachers had been 'goaded' into a dispute, he said.

The National Union of Teachers, with 180,000 members, is already balloting on a boycott, and all the other teacher unions have urged Mr Patten to regard this summer's tests as a national trial. The union threat came amid disclosures that the Government's exam council is pressing ahead with the tests against fierce criticism from members of its own English committee. Last week, Hilary Nicolle, chief executive of the Schools Examination and Assessment Council, was told at a meeting of the three-member panel of teachers reviewing the tests that they were too narrow, gave children too little opportunity to show what they could do and would compel teachers to teach to the test. It was also suggested that some questions would mislead pupils.

Members of the council's committees are frustrated at their lack of influence over the introduction of national tests, and accuse Lord Griffiths, the council's chairman, of excessive secrecy and of ignoring their advice. Peter Harding, head of English at a grant-maintained school and a member of Seac's English committee, last week publicly criticised John Marenbon, chairman of the council's English committee. The council blocked Mr Harding from visiting two schools which piloted tests last November.

Teachers say that the delay also in receiving test materials is unfair to pupils. Test samples were published earlier this week in a 12-page booklet, but they constitute less than half of the material which schools will receive next month.

It emerged yesterday that the tests piloted in a few schools are virtually identical to the tests which will be given to all 14-year-olds in June. The unpublished questions, which have been leaked, contain controversial reading tests in which candidates are asked to insert words into a passage. A second series of pilot tests is not complete and different questions on Shakespeare are being put on trial.

The council says that tests have to be put on trial in strictest security and that the views of members of the review panel have been taken into account and have played an important part in shaping the tests. A full set of sample papers for the tests will be in schools by 10 February.

Last night Seac moved to reassure parents, governors and teachers that this summer's English tests for 14-year-olds would be 'valid and fair to all pupils'. It said: 'If there is any question of pupils' or schools' interests being compromised, we shall substitute other papers, as is the practice at GCSE and A-level.'

Leading article, letters, page 18