Britain's biggest teachers' union challenged the Government on two fronts last night – by unanimously backing strike action and calling for a boycott of national curriculum tests taken by two million pupils at the age of seven, 11 and 14.
The decisions taken by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at its annual conference in Harrogate yesterday put it on a dangerous collision course with the Government. The strikes, over threatened teacher redundancies, are likely to take place next month.
Union leaders are also confident of support for a boycott of the tests next year. They would be halted in primary schools, where the NUT is the strongest union.
In a debate on testing, Liam Conway, a delegate from Nottinghamshire, claimed that the tests were a form of "child abuse'', which led to poor behaviour and young people losing self-esteem.
Hilary Bills, a primary headteacher from Sandwell, West Midlands, added: "I don't run a primary school. I run an archery club – with targets everywhere.''
Delegates cheered and chanted "no more Sats'' (standard assessment tests) when the motion calling for a boycott was passed unanimously. The union will now contact parents' organisations and school governors to try and mount a joint campaign to persuade ministers to abandon the tests and accompanying primary league tables. It will also seek to persuade other unions to join the boycott.
But Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, insisted last night: "If we have to go it alone, we will go it alone.
"I'd expect overwhelming support from the ballot. The action will be totally effective at key stage one [tests for seven-year-olds] and almost completely effective at key stage two [11-year-olds] because of our strength in membership in primary schools. It is at the secondary schools where you will have a divide.
"This is not a boycott because of workload ... the issue that is at the heart of our concern is educational.''
The union's decision to back strike action over redundancies came as leaders of the country's 150 local education authorities demanded an inquiry into what happened to this year's school budgets.
Councils demand inquiry into funding shortfall, page 8
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