Teachers threaten to strike if SATs are axed

Just a few days ago members of the National Union of Teachers voted to take industrial action if the Government kept tests for 11-year-olds.

Yesterday, the Schools Secretary Ed Balls was told that schools could face industrial action from another teachers' union if he abolishes them.

Small wonder, then, that he admitted he felt he was "between a rock and a hard place" when he visited the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference in Bournemouth.

Delegates said they would be faced with an increase in their workload if the tests were replaced with time-consuming internal assessments of their pupils and that they could take industrial action as a result.

The decision puts them at complete odds with the rival National Union of Teachers over the tests in English, maths and science, which 600,000 pupils are due to take.

Suzanne Nantcurvis, a Welsh executive member, said that in Wales, the tests had been scrapped but replaced by a "bureaucratically burdensome" assessment system. One delegate, Stephen Levy, from Nuneaton, called on Mr Balls to bring back the tests for 14-year-olds which were scrapped last November after last summer's marking fiasco in which the results were delayed for months.

"I, for one, am rather distressed by the abolition of Key Stage Three [14-year-old] tests because they gave a rigorous and independent measure of pupil attainment which was invaluable," he said, adding many schools had ordered the tests and planned to do them voluntarily this summer.

"The Key Stage Three tests had no negative consequences. We should re-establish the tests – when you make a mistake, rub it out and put it back."

One delegate, Stuart Merry, from Kirklees, opposed the union's plan, arguing that scrapping the tests for 11-year-olds would help children "regain their right to childhood".

"Children, particularly in Years Five and Six at primary school, aren't receiving the broad and balanced curriculum they're entitled to.

"There's little point in having been told how to spell correctly and use complex sentence structure and grammar if you've got nothing to say."

His remarks echoed the reservations of the National Union of Teachers, which claims too much time is spent coaching for the tests so that schools do well in the primary school league tables. The National Association of Head Teachers is also to call for a ballot on the boycott of the tests at its conference early next month.

Mr Balls has set up an "expert group" to review testing and assessment arrangements in schools which is expected to report early next month.

He has indicated a preference for moving towards testing pupils when their teachers believe they are ready, rather than continuing with the testing of all 11-year-olds on the same day.

Dying teacher mounts asbestos campaign

Children are at risk of dying from cancer in adulthood because they have been exposed to asbestos in schools, teachers warn. More than 170 teachers have died from mesothelioma, a disease caused by asbestos. Carole Hagedorn, 58, had taught for 30 years when she was told she had terminal mesothelioma. Campaigning for asbestos to be removed from schools, she said: "It's too late for me, but it's not too late for somebody else."