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Last Updated: Monday, 5 May, 2003, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Heads say 'sick' tests are a crime

By Gary Eason
BBC News Online at the NAHT conference in York

Head teachers have demanded an end to the mandatory national testing in England which one described as an "annual torture" that amounted to "a crime against children".

Larry Malkin
Enough is enough is enough
Larry Malkin

Head teacher Larry Malkin said he was "hurt, frustrated and deeply angry - volcanic" about the harm being done to children and the education service.

The annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers asked its leadership to investigate preventing the publication of test results and to consider the viability of boycotting the tests.

The resolution trod something of a legal tightrope - but there was no doubting head teachers' passion about the national curriculum tests or "Sats".

Mr Malkin - from Easington Primary in East Yorkshire - said words could not express his loathing of the system.

He said the best way to measure children's progress was through continuous assessment and monitoring by teachers.

Children do need some sort of assessment
Linda, UK

'Unfair comparison'

The Sats - Standardised Assessment Tests - amounted to "Senseless Activities for Traumatised Students".

And their publication in league tables was divisive - how could his school in "leafy Yorkshire" be compared with one in "downtown Hull"?

Some heads had been reduced to cheating because of the pressure - which could not be condoned but could be understood.

"Enough is enough is enough," he said. It was time to end what amounted to "a crime against children".

The biggest teachers' union - the NUT - has voted to ballot its members on a boycott of the tests.

Legally, it is argued that this could be done only if teachers could prove it were an industrial dispute related to their conditions of employment - rather than a philosophical objection to testing.

'Bed-wetting children'

But Mr Malkin asked what the authorities would do if teachers in his school refused to administer the tests.

A system that's prepared to use six and seven year old children to further its own political agenda is sick
Jenny Simpson

"Will they call in the soldiers and the Green Goddesses to do them for us?"

It was time to end the "annual torture", he said.

"Help all those bed-wetting children and stressed-out, needlessly-exhausted teachers."

Delegates also called on the Westminster government to abandon the tests for seven year olds, as the Welsh Assembly has done.

Jenny Simpson of Lymington CE Infants School in Hampshire said Sats had no positive impact on children's education.

The tests for seven year olds ignored current research into child development, she said.

"They have nothing to do with how children learn."

'Sick system'

They took up a disproportionate amount of teachers' time and caused unreasonable stress.

"A system that's prepared to use six and seven year old children to further its own political agenda is sick," she said.

Gill Mitchell from New Silksworth Infant School in Sunderland reminded the conference that many of those who took the Key Stage 1 tests were only six, not seven.

She said when she had a meeting to brief parents on the tests their children would be doing, some were in tears at the prospect.

A former president of the union, Liz Paver, raised the possibility that even younger children could be next, in view of the new "foundation stage" of the curriculum.

David Hart
David Hart wants to see an end to testing of seven year olds

"I really fear for our three and four year olds," she said.

In most of the rest of Europe, children aged seven were barely out of kindergarten, she said.

The union's general secretary, David Hart, regards it as incredible that ministers in London have not followed the Welsh example of scrapping tests for the youngest.

But he doesn't believe his wider membership would support a boycott of the testing of 11 and 14 year olds even if it were shown to be legal.

The Department for Education insists tests are here to stay and there can be no going back to what it calls the "secret garden" era when parents did not know how well schools were doing.

A spokesman said it would be impossible to raise standards further without regular tracking of pupil progress.

"We have made significant gains in primary literacy and numeracy because of regular testing and assessment," he said.

"We have made it clear before that politicians who promise to abolish testing and assessment are living in cloud cuckoo land."

The BBC's James Westhead
"There is a rising tide of opposition against tests"

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