Brown defends SATs amid union boycott fears

PM argues need for accountability to guarantee schools' performance

Tests for 11-year-olds are just as important as GCSEs and A-levels in holding schools to account, Gordon Brown declared yesterday.

His intervention in the row over national curriculum SATs tests comes just as heads and teachers prepare to ballot on a boycott of them next year.

The stand-off between the two sides makes it likely that the row over tests will be the Government's next major confrontation with trade unions following the post office workers' strike.

Writing in The Times Educational Supplement, Mr Brown said: "I'm not willing to accept excuses for under-performance. Every school should be doing the best by all its pupils. But progress relies on the need to retain clear accountability through testing. This means at the end of primary school as much as at the end of secondary school."

He added: "We must do all we can to ensure children have mastered the basics by the end of primary school. Even in the most challenging economic times, schools must continue to transform the prospects of every pupil, particularly those from modest backgrounds, by responding to their personal needs."

His comments come just days before the two unions that voted for a ballot on a boycott of the 2010 tests earlier this year – the National Union of Teachers and National Association of Head Teachers – embark on the next stage of their campaign against them. The NUT is to hold an indicative ballot to test the mood of its members before going ahead with a full-scale ballot on a boycott next year. The NAHT will also be sounding out its members next month.

Both Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, and Christine Blower, the NUT leader, have declared that "the end is nigh" for SATs tests in the wake of their conference votes in favour of a boycott ballot. They argue a boycott will free teachers from having to "teach to the test" to ensure a good showing in exam league tables – and therefore provide pupils with a broader and more balanced curriculum.

The tests next year will be sat by 600,000 children at the beginning of May – thus potentially presenting an incoming government with its first major challenge.

The latest Mr Brown can call an election is in May – which theoretically could mean the campaign will not end until the beginning of June.

A successful boycott – the NAHT and the NUT between them represent the majority of teachers and heads in primary schools – would still leave a new administration having to sort out the problem even if the election is delayed until June.

One idea floated by Michael Gove, the Conservatives' education spokesman, is to transfer the tests – in English and maths – to the start of secondary schooling. The results could still be traced back to the feeder primary schools to produce league tables – but Mr Gove believes that, by switching them to secondary schools, it will cut down on teaching to the test. It would call for no more work than secondary schools already do as most heads distrust the SATs results, believing they are not a true reflection of children's ability.

In his article, Mr Brown also confirmed government plans to produce a School Report Card for every school – which would list schools' achievements in a range of areas. Ministers have said they believe this would give parents more information than tables concentrating on raw test scores. However, they will not scrap the tables.

Consensus on tests is needed


The stand-off over national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds between teachers and the Government shows no sign of abating.

On one side there is the Prime Minister, who insists they are just as important for holding primary schools to account as A-levels are for secondary schools. On the other, there are the heads and the teachers who want to mount a boycott of them and declare that their end is nigh.What needs to happen is for both sides to explore areas where there can be agreement.

It should be possible to convince ministers, for instance, that, if there is a School Report Card that covers a wider range of topics than just the tests, there is no need to continue with the league tables. That would remove the need – as seen in some schools – to teach to the test.

Apart from that, the most interesting solution on the table is Conservative education spokesman Michael Gove's suggestion that the tests should be taken in the first term of secondary school.

A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Supply Teachers Needed in Bungay

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Year 6 Teacher

£111 - £163 per day + £111 - £163 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The posi...

Experienced Creche Assistant - Lambeth - September 2014

£64 - £69 per day + Competitive London rates of pay : Randstad Education Group...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star