Heads threaten to boycott tests for 11-year-olds

Unions argue that planned grammar, spelling and punctuation tests are unnecessary

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The Independent Online

Headteachers are threatening to boycott the new compulsory grammar, spelling and punctuation test for 600,000 11-year-olds.

The threat comes as schools face the prospect of an unprecedented number of disputes over the next 12 months.

The test is to be introduced as part of the Government's reforms of national curriculum testing next summer.

But a union leader argues that it is in danger of turning the clock back to the days of pupils being coached for the test and increasing the pressure on teachers to ensure their schools perform well in league tables.

In an interview with The Independent, Steve Iredale, the new president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he believed there was a danger the new test "will take us back to the position we were in before the boycott [of national curriculum tests]".

"I'm now speaking personally but I'd be willing to support a ballot for not doing these tests," he added.

His stance is likely to be echoed at the NAHT's annual conference next weekend, with heads calling on the union's executive to consider all means to ensure the tests do not take place.

The debate comes after an Easter conference season in which strikes or boycotts were threatened in six other areas – pay; pensions; forcing schools to become academies; cutting the summer holidays to introduce a five-term year; increased workload; and the new reading test for six-year-olds to be introduced this summer.

Mr Iredale said he thought children's spelling, grammar and punctuation would form part of the existing writing test for 11-year-olds – and that the new test was unnecessary.

Two years ago the NAHT and National Union of Teachers voted to boycott national curriculum tests in maths and English for 11-year-olds. Teachers' leaders said the "high stakes" tests were putting too much pressure on teachers and pupils.

As a result of their concerns, the Education Secretary Michael Gove ordered a review of national curriculum testing, which was carried out by Lord Bew.

It recommended that the writing test – which teachers argued was their main concern – should no longer be externally marked but be based on teachers' assessments of their pupils' work.

In the review, Lord Bew argued that replacing the externally marked creative writing test would "allow for more creativity" and mean "less emphasis on drilling and teaching to the test".

It was enough to persuade the unions to call off their boycott but they are worried about the impact of the new test.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said there might be a case for revisiting the idea of action over the tests.

Lord Bew's report also suggested a new compulsory test to cover spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary, where there were "clear right or wrong answers".

Mr Gove said: "These changes represent an educationally sound approach and substantial reform. The system in future will be fairer for teachers and pupils. It will give parents the vital information they need and will hold schools accountable."

Strike! A year of discontent

April Strikes in Nottingham over attempt to cut short the summer holiday. Could spread.

June NUT planning one-day national strike over threat to teachers' pensions.

Summer NUT balloting on strike at Downhills primary school in Haringey, north London, over attempts by Education Secretary Michael Gove to force it to become an academy.

Autumn/winter Warning of strike action on attempts to scrap national pay scales, threats to pensions and increased workloads.

Next year Possible boycott of new reading test for six-year-olds if results are used to rank schools.

In the pipeline Possible policy of non-co-operation with Ofsted inspections.