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Ban teaching to tests, not tests

Ten years ago the NASUWT won an important legal victory. It established that teachers could take industrial action against national tests on employment-related grounds since, as the tests were then designed, they created extra work.

Then, the national tests were new and highly complex. They met with concerted resistance from teachers, heads, parents and governors. The Conservative government was soon forced to bring in Sir Ron Dearing to simplify them. External markers were employed to ease the workload.

John Patten, the hapless education minister who threatened and blustered in vain, lost his job. Alone among the unions, the NUT maintained its more ideological boycott for a while. It had no practical effect, however, and was eventually abandoned.

The tests and league tables are now established. 2003 is not 1993. And while any test is capable of improvement, it is now inconceivable that any government would remove them from the end of primary. Even in schools, there is growing acceptance of public accountability.

The threat of the NUT conference this week to revive its 10-year-old boycott is a symptom of its isolation from the other teacher unions and the Government over the workload agreement . Without the support of other unions, if the boycott goes any further it will be as a defiant gesture in the face of ministers' own petulant response to NUT obduracy.

It is not even clear what practical effect a boycott could have since tests are now marked externally. The union could even find itself at the losing end of a court case for taking industrial action on ideological rather than work-related grounds. It could, however, have a positive effect if it discourages the endless revision that is damaging the broader curriculum and puts unnecessary pressure on children.

But schools do not need to boycott the tests to counter narrow targets imposed from above. From next week The TES will be running its own campaign to show how schools can target the creativity that has been lost from too many classrooms. It is time to teach to the child again, not to the test.

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