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Primary classes fall eerily silent

IT'S 9am on the second day of national tests at Patcham junior school in Brighton and there is a problem. Not enough question papers have been sent for the final maths test - due to begin at 11.15am - and urgent efforts are being made to get the extras in time.

Evidence of panic is not obvious in the three Year 6 classes enduring a week of key stage 2 tests at Patcham. What is obvious is the eerie silence emanating from the classrooms, in marked contrast to the bustle of numeracy hour lessons from their neighbours. It is an unexpected sort of silence to find in a primary school.

The cheerful wall displays are still there, but tables of serious, uniformed pupils have been rearranged into rows. Thinkers stare into space: others are writing or frantically rubbing out.

The mascots of GCSE exams are absent: all that adorns the exam tables of 10 and 11-year-olds are pencil cases and their reading books, in case they finish the 35 or 45-minute papers ahead of time. The only sign of nerves are in the children's legs and feet as they twist, kick and jiggle beneath the tables.

Suzie Knight, 11, emerges beaming from the science test. "I was panicking a bit yesterday, but not today.

"Sometimes when I read through the questions I don't know them, but then I read them again and I do. I think it's quite good practice for examinations later."

Tests have made a big difference to the school, although maintaining a balanced curriculum and children's self-esteem is a priority.

"If anyone tells me getting children a higher mark on an exam paper is the only measure of my success as a head, I'll quit," says Richard Sutton-Smith.

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