Page last updated at 17:49 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 18:49 UK

Heads' ballot backs Sats boycott

By Angela Harrison
BBC News education correspondent

Sats test
Pupils are due to take their Sats in a few weeks' time

Head teachers have voted for a boycott of this year's Sats tests due to be taken by 11-year-olds in England in a few weeks' time.

In ballots of the National Association of Head Teachers and some members of the National Union of Teachers, 64% of those voting backed the action.

Union leaders say they are pleased but will take a final decision on whether the action goes ahead next week.

These national tests, in maths and English, are only taken in England.

Hundreds of thousands of pupils have been preparing to sit the tests, which are due to take place from May 10.

Turnout in the ballot was just under 50% among NAHT members and of those who voted, 61.3% supported the action.

This ballot and the impending action was entirely avoidable
Mick Brookes, NAHT general secretary

At the NUT, turnout was nearly 34% and 74.9% of those who returned their papers backed the boycott.

NUT leaders say that is a "good enough mandate" to go ahead.

The union balloted members who are head teachers or deputy heads.

A toal of 24,699 people were balloted and overall the turnout was 64%.

Together, the two unions represent heads in about 80% of England's 17,000 primary schools.

The unions say the tests are bad for children's education - because teachers are forced to "teach to the test" and concentrate so much on the "three Rs" that other subjects are squeezed out of the curriculum.

They are also deeply opposed to the league tables drawn up from the results of the tests.

'Not a strike'

The unions insist any boycott would be industrial action and would not amount to a strike.

The aim, they say, would be to "frustrate the administration of the tests".

This would mean head teachers and their deputies - who generally stage the tests - not opening the packets of test papers when they are delivered to their schools.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "This is a significant result for the NAHT, we have not conducted a national ballot in a quarter of a century.

"This ballot and the impending action was entirely avoidable."

Probably most parents and children themselves would find it a little disconcerting - like moving the goal posts - if this year's tests did not take place.
Siobhan Freegard, Netmums

All the political parties have urged the unions not to go ahead with a boycott.

Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of Netmums, said most parents thought Sats were "not a good thing" - but it was probably too late to stop them going ahead for this year.

"We have seen too many children too stressed. For the whole year they do nothing but cram for the Sats. It is heart-breaking for parents to see their child pulled away from their childhood," she said.

"But a lot of parents think it is too late to pull the rug out from under the children.

"Probably most parents and children themselves would find it a little disconcerting - like moving the goal posts - if this year's tests did not take place."

Margaret Morrissey of the Parents Outloud website said she was in favour of a boycott.

"We fully support the teacher unions' vote to boycott Sats tests and hope politicians will now listen to the majority voice of parents and teachers," she said.

Alternative assessment

The unions want the Sats to be replaced with teacher assessment.

Teachers are assessing their pupils all the time - measuring what they can do and saying which level they are working at.

In England, they already have to report their assessments of children in the last year of primary school to the government.

This year, for the first time, those assessments will be published alongside schools' Sats results.

This change came about after talks between the government and union leaders and ministers had hoped this might have been enough to head off a boycott.

A boycott of this year's tests would not be in children's best interests
Vernon Coaker, schools minister

But the NAHT and the NUT had passed motions at their annual conferences last year to ballot on a boycott if the government did not agree to abolish the tests.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: "We would like to see the next government introduce a national sampling system for English and mathematics tests in Year 6, which they have already done for science in year 6 and for all subjects in year 9.

"A sampling system would give a national picture of pupil achievement without identifying individual schools or children."

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: "Heads and teachers don't just have a statutory duty to make sure tests go ahead, but a professional responsibility to their pupils and their parents.

"A boycott of this year's tests would not be in children's best interests. We urge NAHT and NUT executive members - and heads and deputies round the country - to think hard over the next few days and to decide not to disrupt children's testing and learning."

All the political parties have said they are against a boycott of this year's tests. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats say they would refine Sats. Labour says they are not "set in stone".

The tests were abolished in Wales and Northern Ireland and have never been taken in Scotland.

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