Teachers across Britain have launched a campaign in protest at the pressures of coaching pupils through an ever increasing stream of exams.
As young people up and down the country prepare for GCSE and A-level examinations, academics are looking at the increasing number of complaints over testing, coming from teachers, pupils and the examining authorities.
The National Union of Teachers is collating data that could support calls for a boycott of national curriculum tests for seven, 11- and 14-year olds. A report on the issue is expected to be published later this summer.
Teachers are concerned not only about their increasing workload outside the classroom – a dispute that could lead to industrial action this autumn to include working a 35-hour week – but also about the growing pressure on students from an estimated 105 tests and exams per pupil in the average school career.
Teenagers sitting GCSEs this summer, for example, are destined to go straight into demanding AS-level courses. But these are just one of a number of new exams, tests and assessments introduced by the Government.
The NUT annual conference at Easter debated a motion to boycott tests. An NUT spokeswoman said: "Pupils are under increasing strain because of the huge number of tests and assessments they now have to sit. What we want to do is assess the impact on pupils and teachers and how to minimise that impact."
Dissent is felt at every level of the teaching profession and has been exacerbated by a series of widely publicised blunders by the examination board, Edexcel, whose warning that there were insufficient markers to cope with the number of exam papers being taken led to fears that the system might collapse.
Teaching unions are now demanding a full-scale review of the examination and testing system in schools.
John Dunford, from the Secondary Head Teachers' Association, said: "Whilst we need better quality assurance on the exam boards we believe it is the system as a whole which is at fault rather than the individual examination boards. We have far too many external exams in this country and it is time we had a thorough review of our examination system and slimmed it down to a more reasonable size.
"It is quite an unreasonable number of external exams from the point of view of teachers and parents and schools. The system is beginning to creak under its own weight."
Teachers believe much of the testing could be done internally or via the internet.
With David Miliband, the new schools minister in position, the Government last week sought to calm head teachers at the National Association of Head Teachers' conference in Torquay as they threatened industrial action over their workload.
The move had some success. There was a warm response to Mr Miliband's speech in which the former head of Tony Blair's policy unit described schools as the "armies of civilisation" and signalled further reform to education based on fewer high-impact initiatives.
'It's a nightmare revising, I just can't sleep'
By Robert Mendick
Keren Twito is 16 and she lies awake at night worrying. She is, in her own words, "having a nightmare". Last year she took nine GCSEs achieving two A-stars, four As and three Bs; this year instead of enjoying an exam break, she is working harder than ever. "It's unbelievably stressful. Nobody told me what a big difference it was going to be between A-levels and GCSEs. I didn't realise how big a jump it was.
"And now you have to go straight into it, you don't have that year break."
Over the past month she has taken AS-levels in biology, English and history. She was also planning to take chemistry but was forced to drop that subject in January when the pressure and workload of "mock" exams became too much.
"It's a nightmare. It has just been a horrible year," she says. "I have been going to school and then doing three or four hours' revision a night. I've had no sleep. I suppose it's the pressure but I am revising until late at night and just finding it hard to get to sleep."
Keren, who lives in south Manchester and goes to King David High School, at one point took five exams in the space of three days last month. She has had eight exams in total and she still has one more to take.
Her mother, Sharon, says the pressure on her daughter has affected the entire family. Mrs Twito's elder daughter Gili, 18, was under strain last year taking AS-levels. "But she did very well and that has reduced the pressure on her this year because she doesn't have to do too much work to get good A-level grades," says Mrs Twito. "At least that's one good thing about the AS-levels."
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