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Teachers hold to defiant line: Secondary school heads' leader warns Patten against outlawing tests boycott

LEGISLATION to outlaw boycotts of school tests would provoke passive resistance by teachers, Louise Kidd, president of the Secondary Heads Association, said yesterday.

She warned John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, that in the present climate of low morale such legislation would lead to other forms of action.

'Passive resistance can be a very powerful force. Look at India, look at Gandhi and remember the consequences of his action for the British government,' she said at the association's annual conference in Southport. She called on Mr Patten for a strategic review to slim down the national curriculum. Enthusiastic classroom teachers must not be turned into robots by an over-prescriptive curriculum, she said.

Interviewed by Brian Walden on ITV yesterday, Mr Patten refused to rule out compelling teachers to carry out tests for 7- and 14-year-olds and said there was Tory backbench pressure for legislation. He urged members of the teaching unions who are to vote on a boycott to 'step back from the brink'.

Referring to the clearance for a boycott given by the Court of Appeal on Friday, Mr Patten said: 'It was my belief, until it was tested in the courts, that there was a statutory and contractual duty on teachers to carry out these tests. I have to consider very carefully the legislative options but my instinct is that these issues are best not solved by legislation.'

Mr Patten has already conceded the need for revision of particular subjects and Sir Ron Dearing, chairman-designate of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, is reviewing the testing and assessment arrangements.

But Ms Kidd made it clear that secondary head teachers want a more fundamental approach. 'We do not want a rolling review of the national curriculum subject by subject. The need is for a strategic review of the whole curriculum,' she said.

'We must not turn enthusiastic, motivated classroom teachers into robots who view students simply like a factory assembly line where the parts of the curriculum are moulded into them at a fixed time in a fixed order. Our children are not machines, they are human beings with a diverse set of needs and we must respect this.'