The kids think Mr Patten's wrong, too: Pupils should be facing new tests. Yet many still do not know what they will sit. Geraldine Bedell reports

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The Independent Online
MUTINOUS 14-year-olds in Oxford want to write to their MP, complaining about the hash adults have made of national curriculum testing. Unfortunately their MP is John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, and he is the man they blame.

Like children their age across the country, 14-year-olds in Mr Patten's Oxford West constituency have been prepared for the Standard Assessment Tasks (SATs), due to take place over the next few weeks. The teachers' boycott means they won't be doing them. Unless, that is, their school still plans to set the SATs, and not publish the results.

Most 14-year-olds are waiting to hear what tests they will sit, and what implications they might have. To judge by those in Oxford, they are fed up.

At the Cherwell School, a 916- pupil comprehensive in north Oxford, popular with the offspring of university academics, pupils feel buffeted. The issue, they believe, is less about them than about the Government's apparent belief that the educational establishment is more committed to free expression than to teaching.

The school, one of the Financial Times' top 10 state schools by exam results ('which means nothing,' says head Martin Roberts, although he does mention it), is taking a case-by-case approach to the SATs - though, he says, 'no test results will be going out of the school, except to parents'. The maths department may set some of the Government's papers; the English department ('passionate Shakespeareans, who don't accept the Government's view that Romeo and Juliet is inaccessible to many pupils') will be running its own exams.

Down the road at St Aloysius Roman Catholic Primary School, tests are quietly under way for seven-year-olds, and staff are waiting to hear whether the governors will support their view that the results should be withheld from the Department of Education. The children appear blissfully unaware of the tests.

This placid atmosphere, says the head, Chris Crouch, has taken its toll of teachers and the school's budget: 'We have brought in extra teachers to ensure minimum disruption. Even so, I can see teaching of seven- year-olds becoming a job that nobody wants.' The St Aloysius pupils concentrate on their glueing and sandpit, unalarmed by such grown-up concerns as attainment tables; the Cherwell pupils are distinctly stroppy. They point out that, thanks to the unions, the world knows that teachers are against the tests, and thanks to opinion polls, that parents are too.

Pupils' views, by contrast, remain unreported. 'We don't have a union,' says Alastair Harding, 13. 'The teachers aren't allowed to talk to us about it because it's political. So no one asks us.'


We are being messed about. The tests don't tell you how well you are doing in relation to the group or yourself. For example, we had to design a chocolate bar: if you were in a higher band, you had to put the nutrients on. Some people in the lower band put the nutrients on, and did better designs, but they couldn't get better marks. Individuals get lost in all this: These tests don't help teachers or children. All that happens is that bad schools get publicised. If a lot of people in your school are doing badly, you get branded as stupid.


There's no room for creativity in the SATs. You can't surprise yourself or other people by doing particularly well: if you're entered for a particular level of a test, you can't do better than pass in that level. You also get penalised for trivial things, like not referring back to something else when you're writing up a science experiment. The rigidity means the teachers can't teach in an inspired way: they can't get enthusiastic. Everything becomes dull and plodding.


The English paper asks questions like 'Did Friar Lawrence make a mistake?' and you get the same mark for saying 'yes' as you would for explaining why and what effect it had. People feel embarrassed if they do badly: people in our class were crying when they had to copy out their bad marks on to their reviews.


Teachers are overloaded by the complicated marking system. Say a teacher teaches 250 children: that's 250 comments which must relate to what the pupil says and what the Government wants. Then they have to decide which level of the test to put pupils in for. If they're capable of making that judgement in the first place, what's the point of the tests?


Tests are good for schools as well as for pupils: they help teachers see how much is getting through to you. But tests have to be thoughtful, and these tests really only measure memory, and whether you've been in the lesson. We rush through things because we have to cover so much ground. It means teachers can't always teach properly.


The worst thing is the amount of time these tests are taking up. In science we had to spend one lesson hearing about the levels we could be put in for, then we had to do the practicals, then the written tests. We aren't actually learning anything in all this time.

Handicapped people are being included in the tests, and people who don't have English as first language. I am not sure that you can test English according to the same criteria across the country, when what you really need to test is creativity and perceptiveness.

A lot of marks are the teacher's personal opinion. Standardising judgements doesn't work. People aren't robots: it's possible to be good at something, but in an original and different way.


I like tests - like how many balls can a clown juggle with? And I like art, because it's messy. We don't get tests in spelling. You have to guess the long words. But we have tests on sports day, in egg and spoon. I beat Jacob and Daniel.


I like tests. We have them in maths and swimming. Maths is best, but you get certificates in swimming. We read every day. The teacher listens to us, or one of the extra teachers does. You know you are getting better when you get harder books.

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