Unions wary of compulsion;News;News amp; Opinion

10th December 1999 at 00:00
THE EDUCATIONAL Institute of Scotland has welcomed the consultation, but hopes it will not prove "a smokescreen designed to cover a predetermined political agenda."

This was a warning against any attempt to impose external testing at fixed stages, which an alliance of teachers and parents defeated when it was proposed by the Conservative government in 1991. Ronnie Smith, the EIS general secretary, said such an approach risked giving pupils experience of nothing but failure at school. This would run counter to "the Government's own commendable policy on social inclusion."

Mr Smith also took Mr Galbraith to task for his emphasis on the shortcomings of 5-14 assessment. "There remain major unresolved issues as to curriculum content, and many areas of the 5-14 curriculum still have to be fully developed in schools. In addition two major areas of the 5-14 programme - environmental studies and modern languages - are currently under review and are likely to be subject to radical change.

"You cannot get testing and assessment right until the curriculum itself is right. The 5-14 programme is far from being fully in place. Much that is in place is not yet workable or appropriate to the needs of young people."

Bill Milligan, president of the Association of Head Teachers (Scotland) which represents primary heads, also condemned any move to fixed-stage testing as a retrograde step. "The present system operates reasonably well, giving teachers opportunities to test pupils when they are ready, not at a predetermined time whether they are ready or not. This would be disastrous if it led to children being labelled as failures. We're in the business of building children up, not pulling them down."

Mr Milligan, the head of Dalmilling Primary in South Ayrshire, also stoutly defended the reliability of assessments carried out by teachers. But he acknowledged the system was not flawless and agreed that there may be wide variations in teachers' assessments, which could be tackled by a system of external moderation.

Judith Gillespie of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, a key figure in defeating the Conservative testing plans, said any revival of fixed-term tests would confirm that the Government was only interested in testing the system, not the pupils. "The pupils are simply pawns in that managerial exercise," she said. "The best way of testing the pupils is through the Assessment of Achievement Programme, but that doesn't give the Government the information it wants to distinguish between good and bad schools."

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