Heads losing patience with Patten's threats: Donald MacLeod reports on a rising tide of resentment within schools

HEADTEACHERS did little to disguise their impatience as John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, insisted yesterday that the national curriculum tests should go ahead this summer despite the Court of Appeal judgment that teachers can continue to boycott national tests.

Few heads expect the tests to be carried out and reported as planned in their schools, and they resent what they see as the Secretary of State's threats over their statutory duties.

Several heads attending the Secondary Heads' Association's annual conference in Southport, Merseyside, felt that Mr Patten's intransigence over English tests for 14-year-olds had jeopardised tests in maths and science which might have gone ahead.

Malcolm Hewitt, the Association's vice-president, seemed to sum up the mood of many when he told Mr Patten that the issue had caused consternation among headteachers who were stretching their consciences to breaking point to stay within the law. 'You should know, sir, that whatever the law says our sympathies are with the teachers.'

The appointment of Sir Ron Dearing, former chairman of the Post Office, to head the review into the national curriculum and testing, was welcomed.

Headteachers, as well as Mr Patten, are pinning much faith on Sir Ron's ability to defuse the situation, but clearly they want an end to their present embarrassment - caught between the Government and their own mutinous staff. Sir Ron yesterday visited the conference to hear headteachers' views.

Harry Tomlinson, head of Margaret Danyer's College in Stockport, Cheshire, said he was a strong supporter of national testing but these tests were flawed. 'I have not made a decision yet, but I do not think they will take place. Last year we volunteered to do maths pilots. Because of the way Mr Patten has handled English we won't even be doing the maths tests this year. He could have got maths and science off the ground, no problem, if he had started with English and technology as voluntary pilots.'

Michael Duffy, head of King Edward VI School in Morpeth, Northumberland, said that parents were overwhelmingly opposed to their children being judged by flawed tests that did not cover what they were taught.

'We cannot make the tests happen if teachers do not want to deliver them. If at the end of the day teachers are not prepared to administer the tests or report the marks to us there is not much we can do,' he said.

Chris Lowe, head of Prince William School, Oundle, Northamptonshire, said Mr Patten had missed an opportunity to call off the tests. 'Who wants to put his political reputation on the line for Key Stage 3?'

Mr Lowe is spokesman for a group of headteachers who announced that their schools would not do the national curriculum but would set their own instead.

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