Teachers threaten boycott of tests

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

Teachers are threatening a new boycott of the Government's tests for seven-year-olds because money promised for extra classroom support will not be available to all schools. Opted-out schools will not receive any extra cash, it emerged last night.

With schools already up in arms over spending cuts which could mean hundreds of teacher redundancies and larger classes, the prospect of further unrest is bound to alarm ministers.

The teaching unions agreed to carry out the tests in English, maths and science this spring following two years of disruption. Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, promised four days' cover by a supply teacher for each class of seven-year-olds and external markers for the test papers of 11 and 14-year-olds.

Now the National Association of Head Teachers, NAHT, has written to Mrs Shephard to point out a "glaring gap in funding" after a survey of 36 local authorities found that almost two thirds doubted whether the funding was adequate. Grant- maintained schools had been told they must find the money from existing training grants.

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said it had advised its members they need not do the tests if there was no extra money. Up to 60 per cent of primary schools would find their grants did not cover the cost of employing extra help, he said.

It was impossible to tell how many schools would boycott the tests. "There is still a great deal of opposition to the concept of tests for seven-year-olds . . . Failure to fund adequately vital supply cover costs only makes matters worse," he said.

The three main teaching unions said there could be more boycotts if the Government's pledges were not fulfilled.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the biggest, the National Union of Teachers, said that if necessary it could resume a boycott without holding a ballot. "If our members are not protected against excessive workload then participation in the tests may not take place in that particular school," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said the Government had allowed funding for four days' supply cover for teachers of seven-year- olds. "This is a generous amount . . . Mr Hart has raised some additional points in his letters and we will be replying in due course," she said.

t Governors from more than 20 schools in Warwickshire submitted illegal budgets yesterday rather than impose cuts that would mean teacher redundancies and larger classes. Ultimately the move could force the county council to step in and remove the schools' powers to handle their budgets but officials said last night that this would only happen as a final resort.

The governors have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State for Education.Two governing in Shropshire and Derbyshire have resigned rather than impose cuts.