Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 12:02 UK

Decision time for head teachers on Sats

Sats papers
Hundreds of thousands of pupils are due to take Sats tests next month

Half a million children are preparing to sit tests in three weeks' time which are meant to show what they have achieved in seven years at primary school.

But the tests, staged only in England, have been thrown into doubt by a looming boycott by head teachers and their deputies.

The two unions involved have just announced that the action will go ahead. Tests are due to take place from 10 May - just days after the general election.

Here, two head teachers who are both against England's Sats tests for 11-year-olds explain why they voted for and against a boycott - and why the path from here looks anything but clear.

AGAINST: HUW THOMAS, EMMAUS CATHOLIC AND CHURCH OF ENGLAND PRIMARY SCHOOL, SHEFFIELD AND NUT MEMBER

The significant fact in this ballot is the tiny size of the "Yes" vote.

I voted "No" because I think we left it far too late to pull the plug on the current Year 6. A lot of children have done a lot of preparation.

I can't stand the tests. They are bad for children and they have messed up education. It's quite sad for Year 6. It used to be such a vibrant year.

The tests dominate the year and they are a very narrow way of evaluating a child and a school. You see this especially in the writing test.

There was no way I was going to send children off with practice papers for the holidays and then give them the message that they might not be doing them
Huw Thomas

Children's writing has become very narrow and specific. Rather than creating good, fluent and lively writers we end up moulding writers who can tick very specific boxes, to gain the necessary marks.

If we had been boycotting the tests all year, I would have been one of the people advocating and pushing for this but by leaving the ballot so late our unions left us with a bad choice and bungled the action by balloting so late.

That probably explains the low turnout - a third of those balloted in the NUT and less than half of the NAHT.

There was no way I was going to send children off with practice and revision papers for the holidays and then afterwards give them the message that they might not be doing them.

'Limp response'

I am an NUT member and I am not sure what the union will do if they decide to hold the action. I wonder if they will "request" members follow it or mandate it?

The results do not look like a wave of support for a boycott - with the majority of colleagues abstaining I certainly don't feel swept up in the arms of the movement and am minded to go ahead and do what I believe to be right for my Year 6 children, taking them through the tests for which they have worked so hard.

The union's own figures tell us this action was assented to by less than a third of those asked for a mandate. Faced with such a limp response they would be wise to reconsider taking action.

I hope they will forego such botched action this year, talk to Ed Balls or whoever holds the education brief after May 6th, making the point that they have listened to reason about this year's belated action, and if need remains, plan action from the beginning of September - and do what they should have done all along.

FOR: BOB FLETCHER, NORTH EALING PRIMARY SCHOOL, LONDON AND NAHT MEMBER

I voted for the boycott because I am against the tests. It has always been the problem that the tests were designed for two purposes - first, to measure the level of the individual children and second to measure the standard the school achieves.

The latter reason has become massively over-worked. Success in the Sats has become almost the sole arbiter of a school's success. The data drawn from the results provides page after page of information on the school.

The system is failing and it is failing our children
Bob Fletcher

Our experience in 2009, provided further doubts about the efficacy of the tests.

In spite of 41 children achieving level 5 in the reading test only 2 on the first marking achieved Level 5 in the writing.

Our first attempt at rectifying the situation with a group review was unsuccessful so we had to ask for a process review.

Eventually we succeeded in improving the writing results of 13 of our pupils.

It was a mixture of stamina and persistence which prompted the change otherwise these pupils would have left primary school with the wrong grades! Yet these spurious results provide the foundation for all judgements about the pupils and the school.

Children's views

I took Year 6 today and asked the pupils whether they were keen to do the tests in a few weeks. Not one of the 60 pupils believed there was any point in taking the exams.

They claimed it was unfair that one day's tests should represent a pupil's achievement in primary school. They believed the whole process was a complete waste of time and the tests should be scrapped. The work they completed in their books was far more important.

The system is failing and it is failing our children. I would not be prepared however to do anything illegal especially as the mandate was not conclusive. I have received no instructions from the union.

My opinion of the tests remains however the same. Like our pupils, I believe we should scrap the Sats which is why I voted for the boycott.

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