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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Vote likely on school test boycott
child writing
Critics say children in England are tested too much
A campaign by the UK's biggest teachers' union could see major disruption to next year's national tests for seven, 11 and 14 year olds.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is likely to ballot its members for a boycott of the national curriculum tests - SATs - saying they are counterproductive.

The union is now trying to enlist the support of the other classroom unions in England and Wales in favour of a boycott, but is expected to go ahead and ballot its members regardless before the next tests in May 2003.

Doug McAvoy
Mr McAvoy says a ballot is likely
The move follows an NUT survey of over 3,000 primary and secondary school teachers in England, which found 84% wanted to boycott the tests because of the "narrowing" effect they had on the curriculum.

NUT general secretary, Doug McAvoy, said: "There is a very compelling educational argument for getting rid of SATs and league tables."

"I don't think it will be difficult to persuade parents and governors that these tests are useless and there are better ways of assessing pupils that are better for pupils, better for teachers and better for parents," said Mr McAvoy.

"Whether we can persuade the government, I don't know."

Scotland and Northern Ireland had never "bothered" with compulsory national tests at those ages, Mr McAvoy added.

And in Wales, Key Stage 1 had already been scrapped, although children were still tested at 11 and 14.

Creativity squeeze

In its survey of teachers' views, the NUT found 86% felt the tests - in English, maths and science - squeezed out other subjects.

If we want a world class education system then we need to test how children are performing

Department for Education
This was in spite of a report published on Monday by the schools watchdog, Ofsted, which said creativity was not being stifled by the drive to improve pupils' basic skills.

National curriculum tests - SATs - for the youngest children provoked the strongest opposition, with 92% of the teachers surveyed feeling the Key Stage 1 tests were unnecessary.

The research found 80% thought the tests put too much pressure on pupils and 90% said this was the case for teachers.

Parental interest

Just 178 said that the tests had improved parental interest or support for their children's education, while 75% claimed parents were opposed to the tests.

Use of test results for school league tables was opposed by 94% of teachers surveyed.

And 77% said national tests were unsuitable for pupils with English as an additional language; 80% said they were not suitable for those with learning difficulties.

But more than a third - 35% - admitted the tests did bring some benefit, with 23% saying the tests had improved pupils' motivation.

And 15% said they helped to reduce teachers' workload because they meant less time spent marking and preparing lessons.

Alternative system

Commenting on the results of the survey, Mr McAvoy said: "With more than a decade of experience with these tests, teachers continue to see them as narrowing children's education, time wasting and providing little information of value."

"The survey shows overwhelming opposition to tests and league tables. There is a clear desire to move to a more supportive and helpful system which would benefit pupils and provide more valuable information to their teachers and parents," said Mr McAvoy.

"The tests narrow the curriculum, limiting children's opportunities and the downward pressure from league tables forces teachers to teach to the test.

"The vast majority of our members have made it clear that they would willingly vote to boycott these tests in conjunction with members of other teacher organisations."

'No apologies'

The Department for Education was unrepentant about the need for national testing.

"If we want a world class education system then we need to test how children are performing," a spokesman said.

"We make no apologies for publishing the results of tests - we are not going back to the days of the 70s when parents had little or no information about the education of their children."

See also:

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