Patten offers carrot and stick to end tests boycott

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A CARROT-AND-STICK package of measures to break the teachers' boycott of national curriculum testing was announced yesterday by John Patten, Secretary of State for Education.

Extra help will be available for teachers carrying out and marking the tests, but penalties could be imposed on schools which still refuse to take part. The measures will cost between pounds 15m and pounds 30m, of which local authorities will be expected to find 40 per cent.

Mr Patten said there could now be no defensible case for industrial action against the tests, which were opposed by most teachers on the grounds that they created an unreasonable workload. However, the move is unlikely to end action by the biggest teachers' union, the National Union of Teachers, which also opposes testing on ideological grounds.

From next year, teachers will no longer be responsible for marking the test papers of 11- and 14-year- olds. Teachers of 7-year-olds will have extra help in the classroom while they do the tests.

Teachers responsible for carrying out practical tests with all age groups will also be given support, in the form of supply staff to teach the rest of their pupils.

The existing auditing procedures for checking the marks given by teachers for their pupils' classroom work are to be scrapped.

Mr Patten has hinted that those schools which continue to boycott the tests may receive additional visits from the schools inspectorate, Ofsted, and may find themselves at the bottom of the list when applying to expand.

The NUT is the only one of six unions still officially boycotting the tests, but members of other unions appear to have joined this year's boycott. Fewer than 10 per cent of schools are thought to have completed the tests for 14-year- olds and reported the results, although the figures for 7- and 11- year-olds are higher.

Mr Patten said: 'Parents will not understand if, with no plausible argument based on workload, the benefits of testing are denied to pupils because of ideological opposition by some teachers who refuse to simply hand out papers and invigilate exams.'

The announcement drew a mixed reaction from teachers' organisations. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, said Mr Patten was throwing money at a flawed system in order to avoid having to sit down with teachers and work out new arrangements.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the second-biggest teachers' union, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, claimed the announcement as a victory. He has been one of the strongest advocates of external marking for the tests.