Teachers to boycott national testing: Union says ballot underlines the great strength of feeling against government juggernaut 'careering out of control'

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The Independent Online
NATIONAL TESTS for 14-year-olds this summer will be disrupted after members of the second largest teachers' union voted overwhelmingly for a boycott of all national curriculum testing and assessment.

More than 52,000 members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers - 88 per cent of those voting in a ballot - supported the boycott in protest against the workload imposed by testing and assessment. Fifty-seven per cent of those eligible voted.

National testing, which began two years ago for seven-year-olds, is being phased in at 11 and 14. Teachers have to mark the tests and carry out assessments during class, which may involve ticking off thousands of items on a list.

After the ballot result, union members will refuse to prepare, administer or mark tests for both seven- and 14-year-olds. They will also refuse to carry out during class those assessments which they feel impose an unreasonable burden on teachers. The union's executive is expected to ratify the decision on Friday and action will begin before Easter.

The National Union of Teachers, which will ballot its members next term, is expected to support a boycott of English tests for 14-year-olds due also to be tested in maths, science and technology.

The union action is likely to bring chaos to the introduction of national testing. This year's tests for seven-year-olds have already started and will continue in some schools until the middle of next term. Tests for 11-year-olds are due to be piloted in a few hundred schools this May and the head teachers' union has advised schools to boycott this.

The National Association of Head Teachers said yesterday its members would have to decide whether the tests should be aborted as the extent of teachers' action in individual schools became clear. David Hart, the association's general secretary, said: 'The Government has not appreciated that this action could have a considerable impact on schools. Ministers are placing such emphasis on the publication of test results and league tables that heads are bound to think twice before allowing assessments to go forward which do not give a fair indication of a school's performance.'

The teachers' boycott will mostly affect secondary schools, where 80 per cent of the union's 190,000 members teach. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary, said members would continue to teach their full timetable. 'Teachers will be released from the bureaucratic nightmare imposed by the Government's hopelessly overprescriptive system for testing and assessment. Somebody somewhere has to call a halt to the Government testing and assessment juggernaut which is careering out of control.'

Not a minute of pupils' education would be disrupted, he said. Instead, they would be relieved of the damaging overkill on assessment and testing imposed by the Government. The union, which says it is not opposed to 'sensible' testing, wants Ministers to rethink the entire testing and assessment system.

Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, said: 'This is totally unprofessional and will only serve to damage and disrupt children's education. At a time when parents and communities are looking to teachers to provide a responsible lead and a stable environment for children the NAS is proposing to destabilise and disrupt.'

Local authorities and governing bodies will decide whether to discipline teachers who take action but Mr Hart said heads felt disciplinary action would be counterproductive. 'Many heads understand and share the strong feelings generated by testing.'

The union may face a legal challenge to its action either from the Government, a local authority or a governing body who might argue that the dispute was political or that teachers were under a contractual obligation to assess children. Mr de Gruchy said teachers were required by statute to teach the national curriculum and assess children but were allowed to take part in a trade dispute.