Patten survey urges go-ahead for pupil tests: A government poll of 1,000 parents found most backed testing this year

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MORE THAN half of parents think this year's national curriculum tests should go ahead, according to a survey commissioned by John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education.

The survey, which comes after an NOP poll in the Independent earlier this month showing that just over half of parents supported the teachers' boycott, marks the latest round in the battle for parental opinion.

The findings were released yesterday, apparently to pre-empt the results of a ballot by the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations to be announced today. That is expected to show a majority in favour of making this year's tests voluntary.

Mr Patten's survey, conducted by Bulmershe Research, part of MAI, a market research company, questioned 1,000 parents over the telephone and found that 37 per cent were against this year's tests.

All three main teacher unions are boycotting tests for seven-year-olds, which are taking place now, and will boycott tests for 14-year-olds, which are due to take place in 10 days. They say that the tests are time-consuming and educationally bad.

Heads and teachers have urged Mr Patten to make this year's tests voluntary.

Parents questioned in the Government survey, which was carried out last weekend, were first told that 'it has been argued that if this year's tests do not go ahead it will be more difficult to improve the tests for next year'. Forty-three per cent agreed and 46 per cent disagreed.

They were then asked if they supported or were against the testing of children this year as part of the national curriculum. Fifty-seven per cent supported testing.

Teacher unions said the Government had phrased the questions so that it received the answers it wanted. A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said: 'Other polls have asked straight questions and received straight answers. This is just another publicity ploy which fails to deal with the issues. Parents, teachers and governors all agree that children should be assessed. They have said that they disagree with these tests.'

Mr Patten said: 'The results of this survey show strong support for this year's tests and the reforms that have been proposed for next year. Many people dearly want to get behind the headlines and find out what children are doing at school, and how their progress is being measured.'

The survey also found that three-quarters of parents approved the recently announced changes to make testing and the curriculum simpler.

Ann Taylor, Labour's education spokeswoman, said: 'Parents have rejected the use of their children as guinea pigs and no amount of polling commissioned by Mr Patten, paid for with taxpayers' money, will change that.'

Wandsworth, the Tory-controlled London borough which challenged the legality of the teachers' boycott in the High Court, announced yesterday that it was cancelling tests for 14-year-olds in English and some parts of technology. Tests in maths and science have not been cancelled.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: 'I hope that the Government will be able to follow the lead shown by its flagship local authority. Surely if it is good enough for Wandsworth it is good enough for the Government.'