Governors and heads warned over school tests: Patten steps up pressure as council goes to Court of Appeal over teachers' boycott

GOVERNORS and heads have a legal duty to ensure national tests take place, John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, warned in a letter to all schools yesterday.

The letter, sent to heads and chairs of governing bodies on the eve of a court case which will decide whether a teachers' boycott of this summer's tests is legal, does not detail what heads and governors should do, but says: 'It will be your responsibility to make it clear that you expect the teachers in your school to fulfill their professional and contractual duty to administer the tests.'

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers yesterday began balloting more than 98,000 members in state schools on a testing boycott. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has already voted for a boycott and the National Union of Teachers is also balloting members.

As the battle between Mr Patten and the teacher unions gathers pace, the extent to which governors will be held legally liable for the effects of the boycott is being debated.

Even if Wandsworth council loses its case in the Court of Appeal against the NASUWT, which begins today, the boycott will face a fresh legal challenge. A right-wing pressure group, the Campaign for Real Education, yesterday repeated its threat to take to court heads and governors who say they support the boycott.

Heads and governors, however, believe that the success of legal action against governing bodies is far from certain. Walter Ulrich, of the National Association of Governors and Managers, said the legal situation was unclear: 'The key fact is that governors can't make these tests happen if teachers won't conduct them.'

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: 'I don't think governors should worry . . . To talk about taking governors to court when they can only operate through the agency of the head and with the co-operation of the teachers is to misunderstand how schools work.

'No amount of sabre rattling by the Government will make a blind bit of difference to the boycott.'

Governors might be vulnerable to an action by parents, but even then a claim for damages would be difficult to prosecute. It would be necessary to show that children's education had been damaged because they had not taken the tests or to claim money paid to outside teachers brought in to conduct the tests.

The biggest problem for a governing body facing such a challenge would be finding the money to cover legal costs.

What can governors do in response to Mr Patten's warning? Teachers in most schools are employed by local authorities, not governors, so, as Mr Hart pointed out, councillors are responsible for docking pay. Only governors in voluntary-aided schools and those which have opted out of local authority control employ teachers.

The Department for Education would not say yesterday whether Mr Patten expected heads and governors to take disciplinary action against teachers. His letter asks them simply to give 'a clear lead'. Unless the boycott is declared illegal by the courts, even that seems unlikely.

Mr Patten would have little to gain from a court case against governors. It would raise the political temperature and threaten the Government's policy that schools should manage their own budgets. That policy depends on thousands of governors volunteering to manage schools.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
UK Border Control
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: E-Commerce Manager - Fashion Accessories

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Senior / Assistant Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Credit Controller

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful candidate will h...

Recruitment Genius: Office Junior / Assistant

£7800 - £13455 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A career opportunity has become ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn