Patten aims to break boycott

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MINISTERS are discussing plans to use supply teachers and part- time examiners to break the boycott of school tests.

Buffeted by last week's overwhelming boycott vote from the moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers, John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, is concentrating on salvaging tests for 14-year-olds in some areas. The prospect of forcing teachers to implement the test by amending the Education Bill was described as 'dead as a dodo'.

Among options being considered are the use of pressure on some, or all, local authorities to copy the example of Tory-controlled Wandsworth in hiring supply teachers to reduce the classroom workload. This could be done through a departmental circular or a letter from the Education Secretary, perhaps to selected Tory boroughs. Last week, Mr Patten wrote to remind heads and governors of their legal obligation to carry out the tests.

Others options include compiling registers of supply teachers or even forming 'flying squads' of potential examiners.

Mr Patten is thought to have appealed to the Treasury for more money to help fund a supply teacher initiative, although some of his allies argue that local authorities will have sufficient money in their contingency funds at this time of the financial year.

Opinion is divided over the merits of providing new money, with some arguing that the public purse should not be used to bail the Education Secretary out of a mess he created. However, one Whitehall source argued that the sums required were comparatively small, 'the sort of figures that the Department of Social Security spends in a couple of hours'.

The Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme there had been a 'sudden reaction from the teacher's' trade unions and from some of the more strange people in the educational world seeking to stop Mr Patten in his tracks and to reverse what his predecessors have done'.

He added: 'We have gone so far so slowly and we cannot leave John Patten to fight totally alone a battle which matters so much to the Government.'

But a Conservative peer Lord Skidelsky, said he was considering resignation from the Schools Examination and Assessment Council, which is soon to be replaced by another body, in protest at the tests.