Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Sunday, 3 May 2009 16:10 UK

Teachers on Sats collision course

By Angela Harrison
BBC News education reporter at the NAHT conference

Brendan Hassett
Children taking Sats tests at Brendan Hassett's school will be given treats

Head teachers in England have set themselves on a collision course with the government by voting to ballot members on whether to boycott next year's national Sats tests.

But what will they find when they get back to their schools on Monday, and will children, parents and their staff rush to congratulate them?

Members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) defied pleas from Schools Secretary Ed Balls when they voted at their annual conference in Brighton to ballot their members.

The government says the heads will be breaking the law if they do not administer the tests for 11-year-olds.

It is a very unusual position for these pillars of the community to be in.

'Poisoned education'

Back at school, primary head teachers will see their 10 and 11-year-olds being put through their paces with practice papers for this year's Sats, which start in a week's time.

Some 600,000 children across England will face a week of tests in English, maths and science.

The results will be used to make league tables, which heads dislike even more than the Sats, but which the government insists play a vital role in informing parents about their local schools.

Ministers also say many parents are in favour of the Sats.

boy taking test
Sats force schools to over-concentrate on subjects being tested, teachers say

But the union disputes this, saying their own survey found nearly all parents were against them.

It is going to give heads a letter to send to parents, explaining why they have taken this stand, and saying why they think children will benefit.

Head teacher Brendan Hassett, from Lancashire, is confident of a good reception when he gets back to school.

He asked parents what they thought of Sats tests last October.

"I wrote to them setting out why I am against the Sats, they almost all said they thought Sats should be abolished," he said.

"I have taught Year 6 children for many years and have been a head for eight years and Sats do put pressure on children, on teachers and on schools."

At his small school, Dolphinholme in Lancaster, children taking their Sats tests next Monday will start the day with a treat of hot chocolate and crumpets.

I don't think politicians at this time can lecture us on morals
Les Turner, head teacher

He said: "I will open the papers in front of the children and pack them up in front of them and say 'that's it, they're done, let's get on with learning'".

On Monday afternoon the children will play cricket, and the school has lined up other fun activities, such as fencing, for the children to do every day after the tests.

Mr Hassett thinks even when schools do their best to cut the pressure, children feel it because of the cramming and test practice needed to enable pupils to do their best on the day.

Parents can also put the pressure on, he adds.

Surrey head teacher Gail Larkin, who is ready to take early retirement if the Sats continue, said she was "over the moon" about the vote for a ballot.

'Enough is enough'

She said if the government was not ready to move on them, there was "no alternative but to go to our members to try to get a clear mandate to boycott the Sats".

The union's regional officers and perhaps heads will now need to persuade other NAHT members to back the boycott in a ballot, if it is to keep pressure on the government.

According to Tony Roberts, a retired head teacher and union official in Lancashire, that is not an issue - at least in his area.

"Before we came we surveyed our members and out of 200 replies, 176 were for this stand we have taken," he said.

"They feel that it is time to make a stand. We have put up with this for too long. The Sats are distorting the education system."

Les Turner, also from Lancashire, said: "We owe an apology to all our children because their education has been poisoned."

Heads and teachers argue that Sats force schools to over-concentrate on the subjects being tested, narrowing the curriculum - what they call "teaching to the test".

Mr Balls, in his speech just before the heads' vote, told them they would not be setting a good example to their pupils if they pursued their campaign.

He urged them to work with the government to reform the system, but said Sats for 11-year-olds would stay.

"I don't think politicians at this time can lecture us on morals," Mr Turner said.

"We are a very conservative profession. We usually grit our teeth and if it's the law, we do it. But we think enough is enough."

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