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Teachers 'relieved' by reduction in tests: Fran Abrams found a classroom which welcomed Dearing's curriculum review

A COLLECTIVE sigh of relief could be heard in the second-year classrooms at Sharples Hill School in Bolton, Greater Manchester, yesterday. They had been relieved of tests next year in technology, history and geography.

The school's 13-year-olds had already started working towards next spring's tests when it was announced on Monday that all but maths, English and science were to be dropped and that league tables for the age group would be abandoned.

Holly Elton, 13, has begun work on a technology project designing leisure clothing, and will continue with it even though it will no longer form part of a national test.

'It is a bit of a relief because all those tests would have taken a lot of revision. Some people might not want to take geography and history at GCSE but they would still have to do the tests in them,' she said.

The news that pupils aged between 14 and 16 will take fewer compulsory subjects to make way for a wider range of vocational qualifications was particularly welcome. Reducing compulsory GCSE courses to four would give pupils more room for manoeuvre when choosing their options, Frank Kenyon, the headteacher, said.

Mr Kenyon, who retires this week, said staff were very pleased with the announcement and with proposals from Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, for a slimmed-down curriculum and simpler testing arrangements.

Last spring, the tests were boycotted at Sharples Hill, as they were in most of England and Wales, but it seems that the changes will win over many teachers. 'At last, for the first time, there seems to be an element of common sense creeping into a system which really had got completely out of control,' Mr Kenyon said. He believes teachers will be more inclined to take part in the tests next year.

At the St Bede Church of England Primary School near by, there were similar feelings of relief.

The school did not complete this spring's tests for seven-year-olds because of the teachers' boycott. The headteacher, Jack Hatch, said that faced with shorter tests in English, maths and science, he thought staff would be more enthusiastic next year.

Ministers were heading for a new confrontation with teachers last night as two of the three biggest teaching unions revealed plans not to co-operate with a planned reform of training.

Government plans to introduce one-year training courses for non- graduate infant teachers - dubbed 'Mum's Army' proposals because they are expected to attract women returning from career breaks - have met with universal opposition.

The 145,000-strong Association of Teachers and Lecturers has ordered its members to withhold support from these new teachers, and has asked them to lobby school governors not to employ them.

The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, which has 190,000 members, will discuss similar action next month. Head teachers are also likely to oppose the plans. The National Association of Head Teachers, of which most primary heads are members, said in its response to the proposals that schools would be 'most unwise' to take part in the scheme.

(Photograph omitted)