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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 June, 2003, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
'Stop the Sats' campaign launched
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online education staff

Conference
Teachers and parents met for an "anti-Sats" conference in London

"My daughter felt under so much pressure that she used to wake up with nightmares about the tests," says Suzanne Muna.

A parent from Waltham Forest in east London, she was one of about 200 people attending the launch of a national campaign against the school tests taken by seven, 11 and 14 year olds.

The "Stop the Sats" campaign, launched on Saturday at a conference held at a north London secondary school, wants to build an alliance of teachers and parents against the system of tests and league tables.

Arguing that the tests "don't help children to learn and don't help teachers to teach," the campaigners say that they have the backing of many parents who are worried about the stress and negative impact of over-testing.

"Children believed that if they didn't do well in the tests, they wouldn't go to a good school - they felt under such constant pressure," says Suzanne Muna.

Private lessons

And this anxiety extends to making parents feel that they have to make their own extra preparations for the tests, with the growth of private cramming sessions at "Sats clubs" - where pupils are given revision lessons outside of school hours.

Anti-Sats conference
Speakers argued that tests were crushing the creativity out of primary schools

"It's dreadful that when children should be letting off steam on a Saturday morning that they have to do even more cramming work."

But parents can feel that they are letting down their children if they don't pay for these private lessons, she says.

There has been particular concern over the pressures on seven year olds, and Suzanne Muna says that her seven-year-old son was visibly stressed by the tests, crying before school and claiming to be sick.

The principal organiser of the conference, Jon Berry, says that the campaign is not opposed to the principle of pupils being assessed - but is against the way that testing has come to dominate and constrict the curriculum.

A teacher for 28 years, and a divisional secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Jon Berry says that he hears parents' concerns about the "massive build up" to the tests.

"Parents are fed up of the sleepless nights - and they're asking why there is so much fuss about these tests."

Boycott threat

And he says that there are many other ways that teachers' assessments of pupils could be verified, without the structure of formal tests and league tables.

Jon Berry
Teacher Jon Berry says tests are damaging the quality of education

"We've always had marking and tests, we've always had reports, we've always had a dialogue with parents so that they know where their children stand," he says.

But where the current system goes wrong, he argues, is that so much of a school's time and energy is now taken with the performance of pupils in these narrowly-defined tests, that the wider quality of education suffers.

The campaigners are planning to take their message to schools around the country, hoping to put pressure on local councils and MPs.

And the National Union of Teachers, the driving force behind the newly-launched campaign, has already threatened a ballot for a boycott of tests next year.

The government has already announced that it wants to reduce the impact of formal tests and encourage a more creative primary curriculum. But it has shown few signs of shifting from its belief that testing is vital in monitoring the performance of individual pupils and schools.

Parent power

Education ministers have argued that parents should have access to information about how schools compare - and that test results highlight where improvements are necessary.

Suzanne Muna
East London parent, Suzanne Muna, and her son Ayad, have unhappy memories of the tests

But a parent attending the conference, held at the South Camden Community School, had already taken his own action against the tests.

Dennis Charman, from west London, had withdrawn his daughter from the tests taken by 11 year olds - a decision which had not been well-received by the school, he said.

In his view, he thought there was little of educational value in the tests' week, so he provided his daughter with a week of educational activities outside of school.

Many other parents would like to do likewise, he says, but they are under pressure to participate from their pupils' schools, which in turn are under pressure to perform well in league tables.

"These tests are only accepted on sufferance, by the pupils, parents and teachers," he says.




SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Primary school tests
20 May 03  |  Education
School tests overhaul to ease stress
20 May 03  |  Education
Negative response to school tests
24 Feb 03  |  Education


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