Teachers are threatening to boycott officially prescribed tests for primary pupils – warning that they have turned classrooms into little more than “exam factories”.
Delegates at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference in Brighton voted overwhelmingly in favour of calling on the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, to cancel all of this year’s tests.
They are particularly incensed because they say changes to the exams – including new spelling, grammar and punctuation tests for seven- and 11-year-olds – have been introduced too hastily, giving inadequate time to prepare pupils.
The tests have also been made harder and there is concern that too many children as young as seven will believe themselves to have been written off as failures .
The tests are imposed in England. Wales has abolished its requirement to hold primary school tests, while Scotland never introduced them.
If Ms Morgan refuses to cancel the tests, the union will consider moving to a ballot on boycotting the exams next year. Children are due to sit the tests for seven- and 11-year-olds in early May. A new baseline test – taken by four-year-olds when they start school – will be introduced in September. There is also a phonics test taken by six-year-olds at the end of the summer term.
One delegate, Samantha Lane, told the conference: “I just want to beg you to boycott the tests. I don’t want my children to go through this.”
Proposing the motion, Amanda Martin, of the union’s executive, said the tests “brand children as cattle and turn them off learning for life”.
She added: “Growing numbers of pupils who are four, seven and 11 are made to feel failures as a result of these tests.”
Charles Thomas, from Birmingham, added: “They [children] want to learn what’s going on out there in the world – they don’t want to be tested all the time. Children want to learn to be real people, not robots.
Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT, said: “Teachers are angry and dismayed at the primary tests, which they believe are age-inappropriate. Far from improving outcomes for 11-year-olds, this endless high-stakes testing could easily switch children off from learning, increase their anxiety levels and harm their self-confidence – a vital ingredient for successful learning.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said parents “rightly” expected their children to be taught to be literate and numerate by the time they left primary school.
“We are always willing to listen to the views of teaching unions and are in regular discussion with them, working with them to ensure that this transition year goes smoothly,” he added. “It is disappointing to see that the NUT are taking this approach, which would disrupt children’s education, rather than working with us constructively.”
The motion warned ministers: “This system reduces the breadth and depth of the curriculum while making demands on children that are inappropriate to their age, interests and needs.”