Minister rejects teachers' threat to boycott tests

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT will press ahead with testing for 14-year-olds in spite of mounting opposition from the teaching profession, Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, said last night.

Speaking at a dinner in London, Lady Blatch affirmed that the tests for 600,000 pupils in English, maths and science will take place in June, and she dismissed threats of boycott action by teachers. 'The tests are vital if we are to ensure the raising of standards . . . Parents will be given the information they have always sought: that is, how well their children are doing and what the results mean,' she said. 'This information enables teachers and, indeed, parents to build on the strengths, and to address the weaknesses, of pupils. How can anyone seek to deprive children, parents and teachers of this valuable information?'

All six teacher unions have united in opposition to the tests in English. The National Association of English Teachers is conducting a survey of head teachers on a national boycott and the National Union of Teachers is balloting members over a boycott. English tests are at the centre of the controversy because teachers claim that, unlike the tests in maths and science, they have not undergone a national pilot trial.

The tests, which were piloted in 2 per cent of schools last year, include compulsory Shakespeare, an extended written exercise and a controversial set anthology of extracts ranging from Derek Walcott to Geoffrey Chaucer.

Teachers also complain that the tests have been introduced too hurriedly and too haphazardly. The Government's intention to publish the results of this year's tests in league tables has undoubtedly contributed to nervousness.

Olive Forsythe, a spokeswoman for the NUT, said yesterday: 'Our chief criticisms of the English tests are the chaos and incompetent administration surrounding their introduction, and the Government's failure to pilot them properly.'

Government ministers maintain that the English tests have been given more trials than any other exam, over a three-year period. Madeleine Moore, at the Schools Examinations and Assessment Council, said the English tests had followed the Government's 'normal pattern' for piloting.

The science and maths tests, which were piloted in about 75 per cent of schools last year, had been the exception, she said: last-minute changes to the format of the tests had made it impossible for the Government to implement them fully in 1992.

However, teachers say that there have been so many pilots of the English tests only because each trial has led to drastic revisions. They argue that the form of tests being used this year has not been tried out adequately.

The English tests have also been the target of criticism from head teachers of independent schools. They had been hoping that the Government would compromise and run this year's English test as a national trial, without publishing the results.

Letters, page 18