Testing can undermine children's rights, says teachers' leader

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Children primary schools are being robbed of their human rights by national curriculum tests, a teachers’ leader said today.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said constant testing of pupils was a breach of the UN Convention on the rights of the child which states children have a right to a broad education.

The union, in conjunction with the National Association of Head Teachers, is currently balloting members on boycotting the tests – to be taken by 600,000 11-year-olds in maths and English in the week beginning on 10 May.

Both say the use of tests to compile school league tables has led to too much coaching for the tests with pupils facing “mock” tests.

If agreed, it will mean schools refusing to open the test papers. The ballot closes on 16 April.

Ms Blower, in her address to the union’s conference in Liverpool today, said the boycott was “industrial action with no downside”.

“Children will be taught, teachers will feel less stressed on behalf of themselves and those whom they teach, parents and carers will be told how their children have done for the whole of this year across a whole range of subjects. And, crucially, no-one will be reduced to a level by the tests,” she added.

“Children will be praised and made to feel confident about what they can do, not made a failure for what they can’t.”

Speaking about the UN Convention, she said: “Some of the Articles are about basic human rights. These include the right to be educated in the round not only to pass exams.

“I think that’s pretty high authority on which to rely when we say the SATs (national curriculum test) regime is wrong and it must go.

“The NUT says ‘yes’ to risk taking and exciting approaches to learning and ‘no’ to children as little bundles of measurable outputs.”

The Convention states that all children should be educated to achieve their full potential and develop all their talents.

She praised those who had already voted “yes” in the boycott ballot, saying: “I want to thank you on behalf of all those whose lives be much more fun this summer than they would have been.

“If you still have a ballot paper at home, your first task after conference is to find it and vote ‘yes’.”

The boycott would face an incoming government with its first real test of industrial action.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has said the tests will go ahead but that he is prepared to replace them with internal teacher assessments if they prove “robust” enough.

Conservative schools spokesman Michael Gove has said the tests are “here to stay” but he is floating the idea that they could be moved to the first term of secondary schooling to avoid too much coaching for them in the last year of primary schooling.

Meanwhile, a report by the Commons select committee covering education today reiterated MPs’ concerns that there was too much coaching for the tests in primary schools. The committee first voiced concern in a report last year.