Parents take children out of school tests arena: An Independent/NOP poll shows parents believe testing should be dropped. Judith Judd finds government policy is uniting the opposition

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PARENTS at a Bristol primary school are withdrawing their children from national tests which they believe are too stressful.

Out of 58 parents with six- and seven-year-olds at Sefton Park Infants' School, 55 will this week appeal to governors to exempt their children from the tests. Ros Roberts, who has a six-year-old daughter, said they took the decision after teachers explained the nature of the tests.

'In previous years they have been done in the classroom as investigations. This year the majority are written pencil and paper tests. The children are not used to working in this way.

'There is also a built-in failure point: they carry on until they come to a question they can't do. Teachers at our school try to build up their confidence. The arguments about tests at 14 are different. At seven they are too young to be put under this sort of stress. I don't want my daughter waking up at night worrying about them.'

The parent-led Campaign Against SATS (Standard Assessment Tasks) says parents at more than 100 schools from Cumbria to Gloucestershire are withdrawing their children from the tests for seven-year-olds, and going through the same appeal process as those in Bristol. They expect more protests from parents of 14-year-olds.

At Gosforth High School, Newcastle upon Tyne, parents of 290 out of 320 14-year-olds decided in March to withdraw them from English tests.

David Baker, whose daughter attends the school, said: 'I am not objecting to testing, but I don't believe a simple test is going to help me find out how my daughter is doing in English. I don't want her to be assessed in this way.

'I wish somebody had asked parents what they thought. There comes a point when you get so fed up that you have to cry foul. I think it's wrong to use one-dimensional class tests to assess schools. I don't see that my child gets any benefit from it.'

A few parents at the school have asked for their children to be exempted from all tests.

Raymond Boyle, of the Parents' Coalition, which joined teachers' unions and local authorities in Scotland to force the Government to back down over testing north of the border, says he is receiving calls from parents throughout England and Wales who oppose the tests. 'The whole thing is beginning to snowball in exactly the same way as it did in Scotland, where it started with just one school.' A massive parental boycott of tests is less likely in England: relations between teachers and parents have an uneasier history than in Scotland, and few local authorities are overtly backing the anti-test campaign.

But that does not mean parents are enthusiastic about the Government's testing policy. In some areas, action by parents has almost certainly been averted by schools' decisions to abandon government tests.

In west Oxfordshire more than 700 parents from seven schools who attended parents' meetings organised by secondary head teachers at the beginning of last term expressed strong opposition to the tests for 14-year- olds, and a minority said that if teachers did not boycott the tests, parents would.

Ed McConnell, head of Marlborough comprehensive school in Woodstock, says the decision of the seven schools to produce their own English and technology tests and report the results to parents will almost certainly prevent a parental boycott.

While some parents oppose the particular form of the tests, others are focusing their opposition on the use to which the Government wants to put test results: in Bradford a survey of more than 5,000 parents found that three-quarters of parents opposed league tables based on the tests.

The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations agreed on Saturday at its conference to ballot members on whether this year's tests should be voluntary.

At a recent meeting, Margaret Morrisey, the confederation's public relations officer, told John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, that he had united parents and teachers against the Government. 'He has said to parents, 'you must be involved and you must take an interest'. They have. Now, if he ignores them, he will have a riot on his hands.' Ironically, the Government's own policies may have succeeded in bringing parents and teachers closer together. As schools have become more welcoming to parents, and more have joined governing bodies, some of the old mistrust has disappeared.

The more that parents know about teachers and schools, the more sympathetic they have become.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WHAT THE PARENTS WANT ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1. Do you personally support or oppose the teachers' decision to boycott the new national tests of schoolchildren which are due to take place this year? Support . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51% Oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27% Neither . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14% Don't know . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9% 2. Given the teachers' decision, do you think the Government should abandon this year's tests altogether, or should they carry on trying to get them held? Abandon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .62% Carry on . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31% Don't know . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7% 3. Looking to the future, do you think that schoolchildren should be tested in all subjects in the national curriculum, or only the core subjects of English, maths and science? All . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .49% Core only . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .44% None at all . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3% Other answer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2% Don't know . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2% 4. The Government has stated three ages at which children should be tested before GCSEs. If tests are carried out do you think children should be tested at . . .? Age 7 Age 11 Age 14 Yes . . . . . . . .35% 85% 82% No . . . . . . . . 64% 13% 16% Don't know . . . . .1% 2% 2% 5. If schoolchildren are to be tested at fixed ages, should this be done by tests set by the Government, or by continuous assessment of children by their teachers, or a mixture of both? Tests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3% Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50% Both . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46% Don't know . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1% 6. In the future, if all schools do take part in the tests, do you think the overall test results for each school should be published as a sort of league table of schools' achievement, or would any such tables be misleading? Publish table . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27% Table misleading . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70% Don't know . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3% NOP interviewed a representative sample of 627 parents, all with children aged 5-16, by telephone on 5 and 6 May. -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

Leading article, page 15

Comments