Full turn-out of pupils for exam: Julia Hagedorn reports from a school where all the tests will be taken

WHILE most of the 600,000 14-year-olds in England and Wales escaped the Government's English tests yesterday, there was no reprieve for 203 pupils in Dartford, Kent.

Leigh City Technology College is one of the few schools carrying out the full programme of tests, including the controversial English tests which first sparked off teacher anger against the testing.

The 1,070 pupil school was quiet in the sun as the teenagers sat a range of comprehension and letter-writing papers yesterday - and they emerged surprisingly relaxed after the one and a half hours, the first official exam they had sat since the 11-plus, which still operates in Kent.

Not one pupil failed to turn up - and that included Ruth Oaten, who arrived covered in camomile against threatened chicken pox. 'My mother said I needn't come,' she said. 'But I was looking forward to it. I wanted to see how I'd done.'

The general consensus was one that took in nerves the night before - mainly, it seems, instigated by parental pressure to do well - and relief once it was over.

Richard Budd summed it up. 'It was not enjoyable exactly, but it was not as boring as I thought it would be. It was quite interesting really - and it was easy.'

Kerry Beckett, 13, had been moved to a higher level half way through the term and had found it hard catching up, but even she coped 'quite easily'.

Their head of year, Heather Mulgrew, said the pupils had been 'quite psyched up in a positive way' and that the tests had helped their motivation.

Teachers in CTCs sign a contract that they will go along with the policies of the college whatever their personal or union's views. Being professionals, Ms Mulgrew pointed out, they stuck to that contract.

Virginia Waterhouse, principal of Leigh, has promised her staff that she will faithfully log all the extra teacher time taken up with the tests along with the problems encountered. These she will send to the Department for Education to help amend next year's tests.

'Otherwise, on what basis will they make their changes? There is no point in making guesses. If it has got to be done, it is going to be done professionally.'

She does not underestimate the workload that testing has put on her staff. 'Life has not been easy but I hope the effort is going to be worthwhile because we will be able to make constructive criticisms.

'Unless we do the tests, we don't know the levels at which children are working and I am genuinely worried that we may be underestimating them.'

She said her teachers had found it helpful to compare and look at differences across the eight forms in each year.

CTCs are already in the limelight. Mrs Waterhouse agrees that it is brave of them to go public on the tests but hopes both the boycotters and the Government will see the spirit they have done it in.

(Photograph omitted)