25th February 2000 at 00:00
Shock! Horror! Year 6 pupil on holiday during national tests! Our school is under pressure to improve our poor results - mainly so the children fulfil their potential and are equipped with the skills they need for life and secondary education, but also so the local education authority and the Government can hit their targets. We are threatened with public humiliation and an early Ofsted if results do not improve.

So we are pulling out all the stops to raise achievement. We encourage morning, noon and night, invite experts in writing and maths, leave no stone unturned that may ensure success. By the results are we judged.

We have 25 children in our Year 6. So each one counts for 4 per cent. Absentees are recorded on marksheets but the calculation of results shows no difference between them and children who score below level 4. The child going on holiday should get a level 4. If she does not sit the tests, she will score nothing.

We are considering providing transport from her holiday destination (about an hour's drive away) each day during the week of the tests. Why are we in this ludicrous situation? Because our school is judged on the proportion of children achieving level 4 in the tests - and 4 per cent one way or the other is a lot.

If a child breaks a leg or gets appendicitis during the test week, it counts as if he or she has failed, or rather, as if the schol has failed the child.

This stops unscrupulous heads encouraging their least able children to be absent for the tests. But counting absentees as failures is not fair. It is bad enough for us at the bottom of the heap, but equally disastrous for schools predicting 100 per cent level 4+ who are struck by chickenpox.

The parent in this story is not angry or defensive. She just said the family had booked this holiday and would not change it. She knows the worst we can do is refuse to authorise the absence. Big deal. We are also judged on levels of unauthorised absence. That small gesture of disapproval counts against us too.

The parent knows the tests will have no effect on her child's achievement. If she is at level 4, she will still be at level 4, test or no test. Testing simply gives an objective measure of achievement and without it, her next school will just use the teacher's assessment. Taking the tests will not make her more or less able.

Absence is not a factor at key stage 1 because children can take the tests at any time during May. We could raise our key stage 2 test scores nationwide at a stroke by allowing absentees to take the tests late or by counting teacher assessments in the statistics. Someone should tell Mr Blunkett. It may be one way of achieving those targets for 2002.

Cathy Byrne. Cathy Byrne is head of a primary school in Hull.

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