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Last Updated: Friday, 21 February 2003, 16:05 GMT
Complaints grow over school tests
test classroom
The government says tests are needed to assess progress
As the school test season approaches there are fresh rumblings of discontent about the stress on children.

Almost 90 children's authors have expressed their concern at "the growing domination of the school curriculum by national tests".

In the education secretary's Norwich constituency, parents are signing a petition accusing the government of damaging their children's education.

At a school in Hampshire, parents are considering boycotting the tests after being told to buy revision books for their children to complete over the half-term holiday.

Chief inspector's concern

The tests, popularly known as the Sats, are taken in England by children at the ages of seven, 11 and 14, in Wales at 11 and 14 and in Northern Ireland at the age of 14.

I and a number of other parents are on the verge of refusing to let our children take their Sats
Mother Caroline Fertnig

The focus of the complaint is on England where the 11-year-olds' test results are used by the government to compile the primary school performance tables.

In Wales, national tables have been scrapped - as have the tests for seven year olds.

But last week the annual report from the chief schools inspector, Susan Lewis, said some teachers in the final year of primary school "continue to concentrate too much on activities in English, mathematics and science that focus too narrowly on questions similar to those in the national tests".

This "often leaves too little time for other subjects", she said in her annual report.

It is reported that her English counterpart, David Bell, has been urging ministers privately to drop their 2004 test targets - having failed to reach the 2002 targets.

'Ticking boxes'

Most of the tests are taken during the month of May but surveys suggest some schools start preparing children for them as early as the autumn term.

Geraldine McCaughrean
Reading for pleasure is being squeezed by the relentless pressure of testing
Children's authors, including award winner Geraldine McCaughrean

"We believe that there is a danger that Years 2, 6 and 9 are becoming years spent preparing for the tests," say children's authors who have written to the Times Educational Supplement.

"We think that children's understanding, empathy, imagination and creativity are developed best by reading whole books, not by doing comprehension exercises on short excerpts and not from ticking boxes or giving one word answers."

They say "reading for pleasure is being squeezed by the relentless pressure of testing" - creating "an atmosphere of anxiety around the reading of literature".

They support calls by some teachers' unions and by the National Association for the Teaching of English for the abolition of the tests.

The association says tests do not provide teachers, children or parents with the most appropriate information about pupils' progress.

The Department for Education argues that testing is necessary as a measure of progress.

Parents' petition

In Norwich, where the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, is an MP, midwife Ruth Hooper is organising a petition which so far has about 190 signatures.

7 year olds: during May - schools choose dates
11 year olds: 12 - 16 May
14 year olds: 6 - 12 May
11 year olds: 9 - 15 May
14 year olds: 7 - 13 May
14 year olds: 1 - 7 May

Mrs Hooper, who has two boys aged six and eight, said: "I just think there's far too much pressure - not from the teachers at the school but from the system generally.

"I had lots of conversations with parents in the playground who felt the same way."

She trusts teachers to tell her how her children are doing - and thinks the tests at best only confirm their assessments and at worst undermine children's self-confidence.

Another mother, Caroline Fertnig, said her 10-year-old daughter was ill with stress-related shingles at the looming Sats in her school in Yateley, Hampshire.

"She has had a long stream of supply teachers during this half-term and has been told by her class teacher that after half-term they are going to 'work their backsides off' in preparation for the tests."

My six year old is already crying himself to sleep at night worrying about his SATs
Mark Adams

She said another child in the class "is pulling his hair out, literally".

"I and a number of other parents are on the verge of refusing to let our children take their Sats exams."

A meeting to discuss the issue has been called for next Tuesday.

Mrs Fertnig said parents had been told to buy commercially-produced test revision books for their children to complete during the half-term holiday next week.

"The school were selling them," she added.

Her daughter's school could not be reached for comment.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) said that if a child was enrolled in a school, the head teacher had a legal obligation to administer the tests to that child.

These are the names of the authors and illustrators who have written in opposition to the tests:

David Almond
Rachel Anderson
Neil Arksey
Bernard Ashley
Ros Asquith
Steve Barlow
Stephanie Baudet
Martyn Beardsley
David Bedford
David Belbin
Lionel Bender
Julie Bertagna
Val Bierman
Thomas Bloor
Denis Bond
Tim Bowler
Waltraud Boxall
Tony Bradman
Abi Brown
Peter Buckman
Melvin Burgess
Georgia Byng
Sheridan Cain
Pauline Chandler
John Cunliffe
Ted Dewan
Penny Dolan
Paul Dowswell
Malachy Doyle
Carol AnnDuffy
Rowena Edlin-White
Jonathan Emmett
Josephine Feeney
Lindsey Fraser
Vivian French
Graham Gardner
Sally Gardner
Jamila Gavin
Paul Geraghty
Alan Gibbons
Morris Gleitzman
Debi Gliori
Bob Graham
Gwen Grant
Keith Gray
Diana Hendry
Mary Hoffman
Lynn Huggins-Cooper
Ivan Jones
Ann Jungman
Brian Keaney
Linda Kempton
Lisa Kopper
Elizabeth Laird
Alison Leonard
Elizabeth Lindsay
Brian Lux
Geraldine McCaughrean
Tony Mitton
Nicola Morgan
Michael Morpurgo
Beverley Naidoo
Linda Newbery
Judith Nicholls
Anna Perera
Caroline Pitcher
Chris Powling
Alison Prince
Diana Pullein-Thompson
Philip Pullman
Jane Ray
Shoo Rayner
Enid Richemont
Chris Riddell
Malcolm Rose
Michael Rosen
Rosie Rushton
Andrea Shavick
John Shelley
Steve Skidmore
Wendy Smith
Jeremy Strong
Robert and Brenda Swindells
Pat Thomson
Theresa Tomlinson
Gill Vickery
Steve Weatherill
Beth Webb
Ian Whybrow

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29 Nov 02 |  Education
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