Kiss and make up under the mistletoe

19th December 2003 at 00:00
Sats distort the curriculum. But the withdrawal of the National Union of Teachers' threat to boycott testing is good news for teachers, schools and children, though not for the reasons advanced by Charles Clarke (who, in view of our page 1 story, we should point out is the Education Secretary - in a Labour Government).

Pupils gain little from the tests. So it was preposterous to suggest that a boycott would seriously damage their education. The spectacle of teachers refusing to carry out what Parliament has enacted would have done little to enhance the status of the profession, however. Nor would it help to convince the public that the taxes Labour is ploughing into education are well-spent.

Some might say the failure of the NUT's boycott ballot is an early Christmas present that Mr Clarke did not entirely deserve. He shares the blame for the vote taking place at all. He seemed to relish confrontation this time last year, when the workload agreement was being finalised, instead of striving harder to keep the NUT on board - as his predecessor, Estelle Morris, undoubtedly would have done.

Had he succeeded, he would have duly trotted along to the union's Easter conference. Delegates would have settled for a bit of seasonal barracking and the executive would have kept the wilder elements in control. Instead, his snub provoked collective outrage. The NUT leadership was reduced to sensing which way the activists were heading off and then getting out in front of them.

But Christmas is the season of goodwill - a time to let bygones be bygones.

So perhaps the minister should now reciprocate the responsible stance over testing taken by the majority of the profession and the loyalty most have shown to the workload agreement despite the funding crisis of 2003.

The NUT may have failed to reach the very high level of support it needed to trigger a ballot. But the Government would be foolish to ignore the strength of feeling this vote represents and the wider rejection of testing among other union members demonstrated by The TES's own poll this week. The research belatedly published this week which calls into question the reliability of some test results, will add to professional dismay. There are legitimate demands for accountability. But these should not deny children an uplifting and inspiring education. There is a wealth of evidence that the tyranny of testing is doing just that.

So, with the boycott threat lifted, now would be a good time for Mr Clarke to announce a full review of testing, just as Jane Davidson, his more popular and better-known counterpart in Wales, has done. Perhaps then more teachers in England will know not just who Mr Clarke is but that he has some respect for them.

Merry Christmas - and heartfelt thanks to all our readers for their support and encouragement in 2003.

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