Heads will not block English tests boycott: Teachers' war of nerves with Patten escalates

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The Independent Online
HEADTEACHERS of secondary schools will do nothing to prevent a boycott of national tests for 14-year- olds by staff in English and Welsh schools.

With the two largest teachers' unions poised to boycott Key Stage 3 tests in English, yesterday's decision by an emergency conference of the Secondary Heads' Association is an escalation of the war of nerves between teachers and John Patten, Secretary of State for Education.

Mr Patten's concession that schools' test results should not be published this year has failed to win over the majority of secondary school headteachers, hundreds of whom are threatening to break the law by setting their own English tests. The association has said it cannot advise members to break the law. However, at a meeting in Birmingham, delegates expressed anger at the tests which they say distort teaching in schools.

John Sutton, the association's general secretary said that headteachers agreed not to take any action which would undermine the boycott of all the Key Stage 3 tests due to be held in June by members of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers. (The National Union of Teachers has given a boycott of the English tests approval in principle.)

However, the headteachers have left the door open to disciplinary action against their staffs. Mr Sutton said that the teachers who refused to carry out their duties would be reported to school governors or local education authorities.

'Heads would not initiate disciplinary action against staff but would act on an instruction from governors or the local authority,' he said. Mr Patten has so far declined to issue legal threats or spell out any policy for disciplining teachers. Yesterday the Department for Education said: 'The Secretary of State has made it quite clear that the tests will go ahead. Some teachers and headteachers have concerns about the tests, but the professional way forward is to give the tests a fair trial so that they can be properly evaluated.'

The right-wing Campaign for Real Education intends to encourage parents to sue schools that do not carry out the national curriculum tests.

Some headteachers are so opposed to the English tests, which have been completely revised since last year's pilots, that they are prepared to break the law. Chris Lowe, former president of the association, compared their stand to that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Suffragettes. He said that hundreds of headteachers were prepared to defy the law. The tests had nothing to do with the national curriculum and had been devised by a right-wing clique, said Mr Lowe, head of Prince William School in Oundle, Northamptonshire.

His school governors have agreed that the school should set its own tests to be sat on the same days as the national ones.