End the testing of infants

9th April 2004 at 01:00
Seven is too young for tests, say parents in TES poll. Michael Shaw reports

The Government's commitment to testing seven-year-olds has received a resounding no confidence vote from parents who want the tests scrapped.

An exclusive poll of more than 700 parents in England and Wales today shows that three-quarters of them would like national tests for infants abolished.

The survey, carried out for The TES by FDS International, shows parents in England are almost as opposed to the tests as in Wales, where they have been dropped. The poll is certain to be seized on by teachers' leaders this weekend as they gather for their annual union conferences.

Primary teachers in the National Union of Teachers voted in December to boycott the tests. However, industrial action was ruled out because only a third of eligible teachers voted.

While in England 67 per cent are in favour of tests for 11-year-olds (50 per cent in Wales) and even more back those for 14-year-olds, parents are firmly opposed to testing infants. Parents clearly believe children should be tested as they get older, but they think the age of seven is just too young.

Other findings in the TES poll show that parents have mixed attitudes to school choice, private education, and the Government's specialist schools programme.

The vast majority of parents said they were happy with their child's state school and that most had received a place at their first choice. Only 4 per cent expressed dissatisfaction, 60 per cent sadi they were "very happy".

At the NUT conference, which starts in Harrogate today, one of the key issues will be the growing role of teaching assistants. Research commissioned by the union showed that most teachers are opposed to support staff taking lessons. However, 57 per cent of the parents were in favour of classroom assistants covering for short-term teacher absence.

High levels of satisfaction with schools among parents appeared to be related to the fact that 93 per cent of parents in England and 99 per cent in Wales sent their child to their first-choice place.

Parents who were unhappy were significantly more likely than others to say they believed school league tables and inspection reports were important.

A slim majority of English parents said they wanted league tables abolished.

The greatest defence of the tables came from working-class families in poorer areas - boosting ministers' claims that publishing schools' test results has been a bigger help to those parents than the well-connected middle classes.

The parents were split on the issue of whether schools should be allowed to select pupils by academic ability at 11, with 48 per cent in favour and 47 per cent opposed.

They were also divided on government plans to turn all secondaries into specialist colleges, with a slim majority against the move.

David Miliband, minister for school standards, said the Government recognised that parents were concerned about tests for seven-year-olds, and was piloting a scheme where the emphasis lay on teacher assessment. He said: "It's encouraging to see that significant numbers of parents are happy with their child's education."

Parent power's importance was underlined this week by the former school standards minister Stephen Byers who proposed that parents should be able to sack heads and governors at failing schools.

news 2, 6, leader 16

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