Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Saturday, 11 April 2009 17:43 UK

Teachers back a boycott of Sats

By Gary Eason
BBC News website education editor, at the NUT conference

Teachers explain why they want to boycott Sats tests

The union representing a majority of teachers in England's primary schools has backed a plan to ballot them on boycotting next year's Sats tests.

The annual conference of the National Union of Teachers decided a ballot should be held if "all other reasonable avenues have been exhausted".

It hopes the National Association of Head Teachers will adopt a similar course at its conference next month.

The government said it would be unlawful not to administer the tests.

It is urging NUT members to vote against a boycott.

Autumn action?

The most "high stakes" tests are those taken by 11-year-olds whose results form the basis of the annual league tables.

Tests are also used to bolster the assessments that seven-year-old pupils' teachers make of their progress. The results are not published but the unions' attack includes those tests.

The proposal which the NUT conference adopted refers to the whole 2009-10 academic year, not just the tests themselves which are held mainly in May and affect some 600,000 children in each year group.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said a great deal of preparation work was done by teachers during the year - and there was no statutory obligation on them to do that.

Although nothing has been decided yet, it raises the possibility of action beginning following a ballot in September.

If there were any serious question about the lawfulness of action involving a boycott of Sats we wouldn't be proposing it
Graham Clayton, NUT solicitor

Proposing the boycott motion, Hazel Danson, a member of the NUT executive, said testing narrowed the curriculum and did not raise standards, but damaged children's learning.

She called it "educationally barren."

She said that as a primary school teacher she spent her life trying to ensure that every child achieved their full potential, and she could be trusted to know what needed doing.

The league tables, derived from the results, forced schools to focus their efforts on developing pupils who were just below the required attainment level.

They were "tantamount to wholesale government-funded cheating", she said.

Max Hyde, who seconded the motion, said Sats must end.

"At best they are detrimental and skew the curriculum and at worst, especially for the most vulnerable children, they are perilously close to a form of child abuse."


Sasha Elliott is a London teacher who for nine years has taught Year 6 classes - the year group who take the Sats, at the end of their primary schooling.

Pupil taking Key Stage 2
Sats and official attainment tables now exist in England only
In Wales children take cross-curricular "skills tests" in numeracy, literacy and problem-solving aged nine or 10; results remain within schools.
In Northern Ireland there are statutory tests, marked within schools
Scottish pupils sit assessments in reading, writing and maths when their teachers feel they are ready, marked in schools

She said she was convinced the children made more progress in the two months following the tests than in the nine months beforehand, when she was having to teach them a "Gradgrind curriculum" in the test subjects - English, maths and science.

"Stop the cruelty," she said. "Boycott the Sats."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "It is regrettable that the NUT leadership and their conference, in voting for a boycott, are setting themselves against the clear wishes of parents and the need to raise standards in every school and in every child.

"Not only is a boycott unlawful and causes great disruption to the schools; it also sends entirely the wrong message to children and young people an undermines the standing of the teaching profession.

"The unions representing the majority of teachers do not support the approach being urged by the NUT leadership and we urge the NUT to think again."

The other unions that represent classroom teachers - primarily the NASUWT and the ATL - have not backed the joint campaign being mounted by NUT and NAHT leaders.

NUT members with banner
Some NUT members say Sats make children nervous

The NUT's Christine Blower said they did not, however, support Sats and league tables any more than her union did.

The NUT conference is being held this year in Cardiff - where the Welsh Assembly Government scrapped the Sats in its schools between 2002 and 2005.

The NUT says this absence of testing in Wales has not resulted in an upsurge of "barbarian hordes".

However, the Welsh inspectorate, Estyn, has expressed concern that the proportion of five to seven-year-olds with good levels of reading and writing has stopped rising over the past five years.

Some of the NUT delegates held a small demonstration in the Cardiff sunshine outside their conference venue, wearing red T-shirts with the slogan No Useless Tests (NUT).

One, David Clinch from Devon, said: "Sats are like cigarettes. They've got no benefit to the human body whatsoever.

We want to scrap the Sats now. We know they're bad for children
NUT member Sara Tomlinson

"What they do is make children very nervous about their learning in fact they are not learning they are being coached to do particular tests which have no benefit to them at all," he said.

"The key benefit is to the state to make schools compete against one another and to put schools into league tables, which is not what we think, we believe in collaboration and innovation in teaching."

Another, Sara Tomlinson from Lambeth in London said: "We want to scrap the Sats now. We know they're bad for children.

"Every report, every survey that's done by expert groups says they are damaging to children."

She said there was no problem with having a bank of materials to assess children, but there was a problem with the top-down imposition of test targets.

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