Britain Scraps Student Testing (And A Country Breathes Again) II

From across the pond, Brits are abandoning their high-stakes tests...
Education unions plan 2010 Sats boycott

Teachers are threatening to bring the Sats system in England to a halt by boycotting next year's tests.

Two of the biggest education unions will ask their members to refuse to take part in the tests, which they say have become "unacceptable for the future of children's education".

It is a significant escalation in the teaching profession's opposition to the testing regime, and comes after ministers scrapped the tests for 14-year-olds last year. The two unions, representing more than 300,000 teachers and heads, say they will conduct this year's tests of all seven and 11-year-olds in May only on condition that they will be the last.

The National Union of Teachers will put the plans to its annual conference over Easter, while the National Association of Head Teachers will consider an identical plan at its conference at the end of April. Both organisations say the tests have damaged primary education and put children under unnecessary stress.

Mick Brookes, the NAHT general secretary, said: "Testing narrows the curriculum and makes learning shallow, because the tests are simply regurgitative. Then the results are published in league tables, and schools in the toughest areas, where you've got hardest to teach children, are ridiculed on an annual basis. There is high stress for children; some will already be spending up to 10 hours a week rehearsing these tests. It's a complete waste of time. It is unconscionable that we should simply stand by and allow the educational experience of children to be blighted."

Christine Blower, the NUT's acting general secretary, said: "Primary schools' patience in enduring the damage caused by the tests has been stretched to the limit, and beyond. Our deadline for the end of Sats by 2010 is reasonable, and our alternative is one that will enhance teaching and learning. Above all else, the government needs to understand that this year's national curriculum tests will be the last."

Sats tests for 14-year-olds were scrapped in the wake of the collapse of the marking process last year, when thousands of students faced delayed results after an American firm, ETS, contracted to oversee the tests for the first time, failed to deliver.

Sats were introduced in 1991 by the Conservatives, but were boycotted by several teaching unions in 1993. Last year's failures, as well as a report by Cambridge University highlighting the inaccuracy of Sats marking and the stress the tests cause children, has fuelled union opposition.

The threat of a boycott will now hang over a Sats review that was set up by the government when it announced the end of tests at 14. If teachers refuse to conduct tests, ministers will not be able to publish school-by-school results, which are used to create the annual league tables.

Two other unions, the NASUWT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said they would not take the same action. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said the tests were "unreliable, don't reflect pupils' real ability, take up too much school time, and demotivate children and school staff". But she added that the ATL did not support a boycott.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "These tests are important as they allow parents to see how their children and local schools are doing. Any attempt to boycott them could undermine this and risk removing a basic right from parents."

He reiterated the words of the schools secretary, Ed Balls, who said the tests were "not set in stone", adding that there were pilots of alternatives under way.

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