School marking plan to break tests boycott

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The Independent Online
JOHN PATTEN, Secretary of State for Education, is proposing external marking of national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds to try to break the teachers' test boycott.

The disclosure of the plan, which could cost up to pounds 30m, is expected today. It will divide teachers who have boycotted tests at 7 and 14 for two years in protest against the extra workload.

Mr Patten hopes to escape further political embarrassment by adopting a 'carrot and stick' policy. He is conceding the demand of one union that external markers rather than teachers should mark the tests while examining ways of penalising schools that fail to do tests.

Only one of the six teacher unions continued the boycott this year but fewer than 10 per cent of schools are thought to have completed the tests for 14-year-olds and reported the results. The figures for 7- and 11-year-olds are higher.

Ministers are considering withholding grants for activ ities such as in-service training from recalcitrant schools. Another option would be to inspect such schools more often. Mr Patten said last week they would not be given money to expand and were more likely to face closure.

Teachers are divided about the merits of external marking, which would probably be done by exam boards.

John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, questioned whether it would end the boycott: 'It doesn't seem to me that it addresses the central issue of what kind of testing should be done at this level. The last thing we need is another expensive bureaucracy marking tests. Assessing pupils at this age is the business of teachers.'

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers, which is still boycotting the test, said: 'Those marking the tests need to know the children. External marking would have some impact on workload but there is still the question of the tests' educational invalidity.'

But Eamonn O'Kane, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: 'If external marking were introduced that would remove our last major problem with the workload involved in the tests.'

He added that the workload of assessing pupils in class for the national curriculum remained a problem.