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Head teachers give Patten rough ride over league tables: Secretary of State accuses his opponents of 'living in the Dark Ages'

HEAD TEACHERS gave a stormy reception to John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, who yesterday accused opponents of examination league tables of living 'in the Dark Ages'.

Delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) conference in Newcastle upon Tyne were united in their dissatisfaction with national league tables branded 'unfair' and 'unhelpful'.

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, which represents about 80 per cent of heads and deputies, said delegates had not been discourteous to Mr Patten but were 'angry at his continuing insistence that league tables are the right way to judge school performance'. He said their hostility showed that the gulf between the teaching profession and the Government was 'as wide as, if not wider than, it ever was'.

Mr Patten's speech concentrated not on the controversy over testing and assessment but on new proposals for teacher training which place more emphasis on training in the classroom. He further annoyed delegates by refusing to take questions, although he found time to conduct a press conference and interviews. 'Abandoning tests and reporting arrangements would leave parents, teachers and the wider community in the dark about our schools and how they are performing,' Mr Patten said, to noisy protests.

At the press conference, he argued that league tables were essential if schools were to be accountable: 'The measurement of performance is the justification of public expenditure . . . these tables, with associated testing, are the only way of driving up performance in schools. Otherwise we turn the clock back into the Dark Ages.'

The conference later voted unanimously to call on the Government to abandon publication of the 'flawed and discredited' league tables. Delegates also gave unanimous support to a motion calling for an urgent review of 'the whole curriculum, its assessment, and the publication of results'.

Sir Ron Dearing's review of testing, which completes its first stage next month, does not include league tables in its remit.

Pat Moss, a head teacher from Rotherham, south Yorkshire, said: 'Mr Patten still won't admit that these tests are a total flop.' She said teachers should consider opposing next year's national tests as well and emphasised that results should only be communicated to parents and pupils.

Mark Newman, a head teacher from Bradford, where schools fared badly in last year's league tables, said the tables were unreliable, instantly out of date and divisive in pitting schools against each other instead of promoting co-operation. 'You don't increase the height of children by measuring them,' he said.

Mr Patten's speech concluded by advocating performance-related pay. Pat Partington, NAHT president, said: 'Many of us do not accept that performance-related pay is appropriate for teachers. It will damage and divide the ethos of schools.'