Unions boycott national curriculum tests

Vote puts examinations due to be sat by 600,000 11-year-olds in jeopardy

Two of Britain's largest teachers' unions have voted in favour of boycotting this year's national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds.

The decision threatens to scupper the tests – due to be taken by 600,000 11-year-olds in maths and English – in thousands of schools next month.

The move, which also puts this year's primary school league tables in peril, will present the incoming government with its first significant challenge as the tests are due to begin on 10 May, only four days after the general election.

Both the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), who collectively account for 85 per cent of the heads in primary schools, registered votes in favour of a boycott in ballot results declared yesterday.

In the NUT's case, there was a 74 per cent vote in favour of a boycott. However, the turnout was only 33 per cent, allowing Schools Minister Vernon Coaker the opportunity to claim that most heads and deputies do not support the boycott. In the NAHT's case, the turnout was higher at 49 per cent, with 61 per cent voting in favour of a boycott.

Both unions claim the "high stakes" nature of the tests – which are used to compile primary school league tables – have led to too many primary schools teaching to the test in the final year of primary school, making lessons dull for pupils.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "This is a significant result for the NAHT. We have not conducted a national ballot in a quarter of a century." He described the tests – known as SATs – as "a profligate waste of taxpayers' money" and indicated that between 6,000 and 7,000 schools would have to cancel them as a result of the vote.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, added: "We would like to see the next government introduce a national sampling system for English and maths tests [for 11-year-olds]. A sampling system would give a national picture of pupil achievement without identifying individual schools or children.

"Parents would still find out how their child is progressing. Reports to parents would come from teacher assessment, as is currently done in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland."

Last night, parents put their support behind the teachers' claims that the tests led to increasingly boring lessons for their children. Caroline Morgan from Dorchester, whose 12-year-old daughter Isabella did the tests last year, said: "She is a pretty academic child but she had a really dull year. All they did was work towards the Sats exam.

Now she's in her first year of secondary school, she's really learning again. It's fantastic. I would be delighted if William – my nine-year-old – didn't have to do them."

Laura Warren, from Maidstone in Kent, is a parent governor of a primary school and has a 12-year-old daughter. She said: "I think a boycott makes it feel a bit strong. But I don't think the tests add anything for children in the final year of primary school."

Leaders of both unions will meet early next week to decide what action to take. If they sanction the boycott, as is almost certain, the heads will refuse to open the test papers and pass them on to pupils.

Mr Coaker urged the two unions' executives to "think hard over the next few days and to decide not to disrupt children's testing and learning".

"Heads and teachers don't just have a statutory duty to make sure tests go ahead but a professional responsibility to their pupils and parents," he added. "A boycott of this year's tests would not be in children's best interests,"

Conservative schools spokesman Michael Gove has said that the tests would be "here to stay" under a Tory government.

Explainer: What the vote means

Q. Does this mean my child's test will be cancelled?

A. Not necessarily. The NUT and NAHT only account for about 85 per cent of primary school heads. Those who voted against the boycott may feel obliged to carry out the tests. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 of the 16,000 schools involved will scrap them.

Q. Will my child's future be affected if they don't sit the tests and pupils at neighbouring schools do?

A. No. The tests are used to rank schools rather than children. Secondary schools already re-test pupils when they arrive in September because they do not trust the SATs results. These tests will determine what set your child goes into upon arrival at secondary school.

Q. Will the boycott definitely go ahead?

A. The two unions meet to decide what action to take early next week. Given the result of the ballots, it is almost certain they will sanction a boycott. The only other event which could halt it is legal action. Last year, the Department for Children, Schools and Families said such a boycott was illegal because it was a head's statutory duty to carry out the tests. But in the middle of an election campaign it is hard to see this happening.

Q. So what will be the effect of a boycott?

A. If between 6,000 and 7,000 schools are affected, it will almost certainly scupper the primary school league tables. There would be no point in running them with 7,000 schools' names missing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Pre School Practitioner

£6 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, they are loo...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development & Relationship Manager

£45000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development & Relati...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant - Startup

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Personal Assistant is require...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific