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Children losing sleep as tests stress mounts

AS the debates over 5-14 assessment and national testing are set to resume following this week's election, evidence from a TES poll south of the border has some disturbing messages for the Scottish Executive's new ministers.

More than a third of seven-year-olds suffer stress over national tests - and the figure rises to two-thirds by the age of 11. One in 10 of seven-year-olds loses sleep because they are so worried.

The poll of almost 200 parents in England by YouGov found test pressures now start in infancy and escalate as children move through school. One in five of seven-year-olds spends so much time revising that they have cut back on play.

The Liberal Democrats placed considerable emphasis during the election campaign on doing away with national tests, although this looks to be little different from the previous Executive's commitment to streamline testing by combining the 5-14 regime with the Assessment of Achievement Programme.

The party is not guaranteed the continuation of its coalition partnership with Labour, but Labour's rhetoric has been much more robust on the underperformance of schools and education authorities.

Judith Gillespie, development manager with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said that she believed the TES findings of pupil stress would be "replicated in sentiment" in Scotland. The issue had not hit the headlines in the same way because of different reporting arrangements.

Mrs Gillespie said: "Tests are now becoming much more prominent, as a critical benchmark which is intended not just to measure the performance of the child but of the school as a whole. So they are no longer simply a confirmation of where a child is at in terms of his or her progress, which was the original intention in Scotland."

There was evidence that 5-14 test results were becoming more important in relation to what children are allowed to sit at Standard grade and Higher.

This again reflected the pressure schools are under to perform, Mrs Gillespie said.

The English poll shows that more than one in 10 seven-year-olds have been reduced to tears in the run-up to the tests. Twelve per cent of 11-year-olds have refused to go to school to sit tests and 9 per cent have suffered anxiety attacks.

English unions are becoming restive. Their Easter conferences put testing at the top of their agendas. The National Union of Teachers voted to ballot members on boycotting tests at seven, 11 and 14 next year.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers believe that would be illegal, while the NAS wants to scrap tests for seven-year-olds.

The Welsh Assembly has already abolished tests for seven-year-olds.

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