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Tests deserve a tough sentence

LAST Friday a judge jailed a headteacher. Alan Mercer admitted forging answers in national tests and was sent down for a three-month sentence.

Mr Mercer's former chair of governors expressed pleasure in the sentence, tempered with regret that his former head had not been banged up for longer. What an understanding soul.

Some of us think: "There but for the grace of God (and understanding governors) go I." Don't get me wrong, cheating is misguided. Where tests are concerned there is a line that separates doubting their integrity from subverting their security.

Mr Mercer crossed it, and this is unfair to the pupils. However, he epitomises a profession bound by a system it does not believe in. We are still not committed to tests as a way of measuring our schools. A recent National Union of Teachers' survey found 84 per cent of teachers wanted to scrap them completely. Judge Keith Simpson said: "If others were to act in a similar fashion, then the whole system would be immediately and utterly destroyed." Don't tempt us, Keith.

This is not a plea to scrap the target and testing regime. I don't think we will ever get that genie fully returned to the bottle. I'm just suggesting that a system that pushes good and committed people into bad practices must, in itself, be faulty. Isn't it time to trust us to look again at the end-of-key-stage assessment? If they can do it in Wales, surely the English can use a bit of imagination.

Imagine a testing regime that had won the support of most of the profession, rather than being cited as a constant cause of demoralisation.

Imagine if it could truly assay the quality of learning, rather than the ability to do tests. Mr Mercer's judge has been tough on crime. Imagine if we could now be tough on the causes of that crime.

Briefing, 28 Huw Thomas is head of Springfield school, Sheffield.

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