Unions describe proposals as ludicrous and pathetic

David Henderson examines the proposals for compulsory external testing in the first two years of secondary school

Compulsory testing would almost certainly provoke a boycott by the majority of secondary teachers, the two major unions have confirmed. Labour would not implement any of the current Government plans.

The Educational Institute of Scotland has reaffirmed its long-standing opposition to compulsory tests in either primary or secondary and the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association last autumn agreed to ballot on action if the Government pressed ahead.

Both unions have lambasted what they say are politically driven plans to impose testing in early secondary and publish league tables of results for the whole of the 5-14 programme. The scheme has been labelled "ludicrous" by George MacBride, the EIS's education convener, and "pathetic and a waste of time" by Craig Duncan, deputy general secretary of the SSTA.

Curiously, while the Scottish Office consultation paper advocates publication of attainment grades at all levels, Michael Forsyth confines the Tory manifesto to a promise to publish results of school tests at the ages of seven and 14.

Mr Duncan poured scorn on the testing regime and believed the Inspectorate had told ministers it would be impossible to implement. "It is great news for the timber trade, bad news for the Amazon, great news for the building trade which will have to build warehouses to store the tests, good news for Royal Mail and bad news for pupils and teachers," he said. The tests would not provide any new information and published results would be "as much use as the attendance tables". External marking was against the educational trend.

Fred Forrester, the EIS's depute general secretary, said that the tests were "not compatible with 5-14 and superimposed on it". They were clearly a different form of testing and represented a move towards a national curriculum.

Both unions complain that the cost of external testing would be substantial. The Scottish Qualifications Authority would be faced with around 360,000 scripts, given that there are around 60,000 pupils in each of the first two years of secondary and that each pupil would take three tests in reading, writing and mathematics. David Elliot, director of the Scottish Examination Board, said the SQA would run the system on a "full-cost recovery basis". It would have to appoint setters, principal examiners, invigilators and markers and issue certificates. He suspected tests would be simpler to mark than Standard grade and would be cheaper.

The exam board currently has a budget of Pounds 11 million to run external assessment at Standard grade, Higher and Sixth Year Studies. But a rough costing of Pounds 10 per pupil for the new tests would compel the SQA to ask the Scottish Office for an additional Pounds 3.6 million. Local authorities are not expected to pay extra.

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