Teachers to fight any legal action on boycott

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS boycotting national testing and assessment are confident that they would win a court battle over the legality of their action if it was challenged.

Members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers say they will appeal if heads or governing bodies take out injunctions to stop the boycott. One day this week, they will begin a ban on national testing and assessment in protest against their increased workload.

The boycott will mainly affect next term's tests for 14-year-olds because most of the union's members work in secondary schools, though the union also expects some tests for seven-year-olds to suffer. The Campaign for Real Education - a right-wing pressure group - has urged parents and governors to press for the dismissal of obstructive teachers.

Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, said it had a strong case in law and would appeal against any legal challenge: the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 allowed trades disputes over matters covered by statute.

'If this is not the case, the implications could be enormous for all employees in the public sector and those who work in areas governed by statute. Did the Government really intend that no public-sector worker would have the right to take action? If so, Parliament didn't say so at the time.'

He said it was nonsense to argue that the dispute was a political rather than a trade dispute. 'We are not interested in politics but in the workload of our members.'

In instructions on how to implement the boycott sent to all schools yesterday, the union said pupils' education would not be disrupted if heads and governors took 'a measured approach'. If they do not, however, members are invited to contact union leaders. Head teachers, who are obliged by law to administer the tests, have warned that individual schools may abort them if a significant number of teachers join the boycott. The National Association of Head Teachers also said that its members could not be expected to bring in other staff to cover for those taking action.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, which is threatening a boycott of English tests for 14-year-olds, said yesterday that his members would not cover for colleagues in the NASUWT.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, is determined to press ahead with testing, which he says is necessary to raise standards. He says teachers will set pupils a bad example and confuse parents if they go ahead with the boycott.

As well as refusing to mark and administer national tests, NASUWT members are being asked to carry out only a 'reasonable' amount of national curriculum teacher assessment in class.

They are advised not to prepare pupils for tests, not to set or invigilate them, not to co-operate with test audits and to boycott pilot tests for 11-year-olds. But they must continue to teach the national curriculum, assess pupils and report to parents.