Infants in test distress

25th April 2003 at 01:00
Seven-year-olds across the country are cutting down on play and losing sleep before national tests. Helen Ward reports

MORE than a third of seven-year-olds suffer stress over national tests and one in 10 loses sleep because they are so worried about them.

A TES poll of almost 200 parents by YouGov found test pressure now starts in infancy and increases as children move through school.

Parents' groups accused the Government of depriving pupils of their childhood as the poll showed one in five seven-year-olds spends so much time revising that they have cut back on play time.

By the age of 11, two-thirds of children show symptoms of stress as they revise for national tests. Around 34 per cent suffer from general stress, a quarter have lost confidence and 20 per cent are so busy revising that they have less time to play with friends.

The findings come after the National Union of Teachers' conference threatened a boycott of all of next year's national tests and a report to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said pupils were being tested "to destruction".

NUT leaders are preparing a campaign that will include a national petition and advertising. The aim will be to build on parental anxiety about the effect of tests on children. Parents in the Norwich constituency of Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, have already organised a protest.

The TES 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.

Around 20 parents at Greenside school in Shepherd's Bush, west London, attended a meeting to consider pulling children out of the tests. Most have reluctantly decided not to but one, Cathy Cross, says it is "very unlikely" that she will allow her daughter to sit them.

"Even Einstein didn't learn to read and write until he was seven or eight but our children are already sitting tests," she said.

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "We really are in grave danger of taking their childhood away. Children are in school for a lot of the time. It will be really sad if they lose the time to play with friends when they are at home as well."

Professor Ted Wragg, of Exeter University, said: "This is the price our children are paying for a high-stakes exam system. The last thing you want if you are seven years old is to be told you are thick."

The NUT voted to ballot members on boycotting tests at seven, 11 and 14 next year. The NASUWT and Association of Teachers and Lecturers think that would be illegal, but a call from NASUWT delegates in Birmingham and London to abolish national tests at seven and 14 was due to be debated at the union's conference today.

Amanda Haehner, an English teacher in Croydon, said: "Many pupils just give up because their lack of academic ability is reinforced over and over again."

Lesley Connolly, Birmingham association secretary and a teacher at Aston Tower primary, said: "At key stage 1 the children are very distressed. They don't know what is going on."

Around 1.2 million children take the compulsory national tests at seven and 11 each year in England. Wales has abolished tests for seven- year-olds.

Penny Vaughan-Pipe, of Poole, took her son Graeme out of his independent school after his key stage 1 tests.

She said: "I know my son was put under pressure. When he did his tests at seven he felt a failure. At the state school he is really enjoying it.

Teachers do a good job and they should be left to get on with it without being bogged down with national tests."

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