School tests are 'a disgraceful waste of money': Spending on national curriculum bureaucracy draining education budget, conference told

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The Independent Online
MILLIONS of pounds are being 'wasted' on this year's government tests, which in many schools are not even taking place, it was claimed yesterday.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told the association's conference in Newcastle upon Tyne that answers in Parliament revealed that the Government has pledged pounds 23m to pay for national auditing of assessments of seven-year-olds. It is estimated to have spent a further pounds 6.5m on providing and distributing the materials required for this year's tests of 7- and 14- year-olds. But few schools are conducting the tests after the main teacher unions voted to boycott them.

'The school system is positively starved of the resources it needs to deliver an effective curriculum. It is nothing short of a disgrace to see millions of pounds wasted on national curriculum bureaucracy and paperwork at the expense of desperately needed staff, books and equipment in our schools,' Mr Hart said.

Sir Ron Dearing, who is conducting a review of the national curriculum and testing, introduced a more conciliatory note on the final day of the conference when he underlined the importance of listening to teachers' views. Unlike John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, who riled headteachers on Wednesday when he refused to take questions after his speech, Sir Ron was received warmly.

'I want to listen to what you say,' he told them. 'You know best, better than I do, what will work . . . lift up your voices and tell us.'

Sir Ron emphasised the importance of 'getting it right' in his review. 'If we fail we may imperil some things of great value. If we get it wrong, the people we damage will be the children.'

To cries of 'hear, hear' from his audience, he said that when politicians changed the system from the centre they did not always understand how much work would be involved for teachers on the receiving end.

'We have to make fewer changes. We have to recognise that that means going slower to get it right . . . Sometimes it is better to stay with what you have than to keep changing.'

Sir Ron's review, which completes its first stage next month, has invited responses from 1,500 schools. Ten consultation conferences have so far been held, involving teachers from 60 schools discussing aspects of the curriculum in small groups.

Sir Ron said among key issues to be decided were whether to retain the national curriculum's 10 'levels' for measuring attainment, and whether a 'rolling review', taking two subjects at a time, was the best way of revising the curriculum.