Heads' opposition threatens English tests

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The Independent Online
GROWING opposition by headteachers in England and Wales is threatening to throw next summer's national tests in English for 14-year-olds into confusion.

Support for a boycott is already strong among teachers of English but it is unlikely to be effective without the backing of headteachers and governing bodies. The campaign against the Key Stage 3 tests, which has been denounced by Baroness Blatch, the Minister of State for Education, has been strengthened politically by the refusal of most independent schools to take part.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said there was a growing conviction in both the state and independent sectors that ministers had 'got it wrong'.

Complaints about testing in schools and the spate of changes to the curriculum appear to be hardening into outright opposition because of late changes to the English tests which have left teachers anxious and angry.

Schools have still not been sent a 20-page anthology on which their pupils will be tested and say they have little idea what the tests will look like. Teachers, who will have to mark tests in the summer, are being told to order their test papers by 15 January after grading their pupils into appropriate tiers. They have complained that pupils will not have enough time to prepare for tests assessing their progress in the first three years of secondary schools. Results will be published nationally and be recorded on pupils' records of achievement.

Mr Hart said: 'The independent sector has given a tremendous thumbs down to the Key Stage 3 assessment arrangements. The majority of their schools are not going to do it because it is deeply flawed.

'There is a strong possibility that the heads may in due course come together and present a united policy. If, in the new year, we forge an independent and state sector alliance it would lead to a clear indication to the Government that it has got it wrong and that it ought to start listening.'

In an effort to head off criticism, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, chairman of the School Examination and Assessment Council, wrote to all secondary school heads promising to speed up production of the anthology and let schools see sample test questions by 10 February.

The NAHT and the Secondary Heads Association, which between them represent virtually all state headteachers in England and Wales, criticised the results of last year's pilot tests for 14-year-olds in mathematics and science as unfair and unreliable, but have not so far backed an outright boycott of the first statutory tests this summer. However, groups of secondary school headteachers, including those in Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire, have agreed to press their governing bodies to oppose the tests.

The largest union, the National Union of Teachers, is surveying members' support for a boycott while the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (formerly the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association) protested to John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, about inadequate pilot trials for the English tests which were held in only 32 schools. The 1993 English tests should be pilot tests, the association urged.

A boycott of pilot tests for 11-year-olds has been called for by the NAHT, which represents 90 per cent of primary headteachers.

The legal position of school staff or governors who refuse to take part in the Key Stage 3 tests is not clear. Baroness Blatch has said teachers would be in breach of contract and she warned parents not to withdraw children.