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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 11:01 GMT
Teacher leader's warning on tests
By Gary Eason
BBC news, at the ATL conference in Torquay

Dr Mary Bousted
Dr Bousted said 1066 should still be taught
A teachers' leader says the school tests planned to replace England's Sats might make children's lives worse.

Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers linked the rise in childhood mental health problems to the stress of constant testing.

In her speech to her annual conference she also repeated her call for a less prescriptive national curriculum.

She said developing life skills was more important than children knowing about the Battle of Hastings.

Currently children have to be tested at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 to determine what national curriculum level they have reached.

There are national expectations for their attainment in these so-called Sats.

Schools are set attainment targets and the results of their pupils' tests at 11 and 14 are published in performance tables.


The government is piloting new "single level" tests. Children are entered for these when their teachers feel they have reached a certain level and want to confirm that.

Evidence from Scotland is that this leads to the children being tested repeatedly.

The government has said in its Children's Plan that its intention is to implement single level tests in reading, writing and mathematics "at the earliest opportunity".

Children's mental health problems cannot be divorced from their status as the most tested in the world
Mary Bousted, ATL

It says: "the new tests would replace the current national curriculum tests for 11- and 14-year-olds".

Dr Bousted told her conference, in Torquay, that this decision to abolish Sats was "a triumph" for the ATL.

"The current arrangements narrow the curriculum and lead to teaching to the test; children suffer stress and anxiety as the test looms and the rise in children's mental health problems cannot be divorced from their status as the most tested in the world," she said.

They labelled children as failures at a young age, were not educationally valid and were unreliable.

But she feared there were as many problems with the new single level tests.

The government expected every student to progress by two national curriculum levels in each key stage of their schooling.

"The danger is that schools with disadvantaged intakes will continue to be penalised because their cohort of students will not make the same progress as the students in those schools with more advantaged intakes."


And Dr Bousted said she was "implacably opposed" to the plan to pay schools for improving the performance of low attaining pupils.

Turning to the curriculum, the ATL leader said teachers should have far more control over what was taught.

"Our national curriculum should be far more focussed on the development of life skills and ways of working than whether or not we teach the Battle of Hastings," she said.

ATL conference
The conference heard intense criticism of testing

Dr Bousted told reporters she thought the events of 1066 probably were in fact one of the things children should learn about.

But in general there were "very few things which we need to teach everyone to bind us together as a nation".

There was far too much prescription and not enough imparting of the sort of skills children and employers needed.

There should be "not so much regurgitation but more interpretation of knowledge".

"Too much learning that goes on in primary and secondary school is rote learning and that's not learning for the 21st Century," she said.

Her union's conference gave a rough ride to the visiting Schools Minister Jim Knight on Wednesday, partly on the very issue of trusting teachers to get on with the job as they saw best.

He said then that he felt it was right for politicians to tell teachers what they ought to be teaching - but then leave it to the teachers to decide how best to do that.

'Here to stay'

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children said teachers and pupils taking part in the pilots of the new testing system were "enthusiastic" about the plan.

"We are already hearing of dramatic effects on some pupils in the pilot, particularly those who have had one-to-one tuition," she said.

"Testing is here to stay: in this day and age we don't think that parents want to go back to a world where the achievements of schools and their children are hidden.

"But we do want to see more emphasis on teacher assessment, using tests to confirm teachers' judgments, rather than supplant them."

Many teenage boys fail test grade
27 Feb 08 |  Education
Test chief targets 90% attainment
17 Dec 07 |  Education
School tables show better results
06 Dec 07 |  Education

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