Headteachers have voted to boycott the hated Sats tests for 11 year olds, which 600,000 students are scheduled to take from 10 May.
The boycott will come just days after the general election, marking a serious political challenge to the incoming government and its approach to education.
Sats tests and league tables write off working class children as “failures”. The results are used by the government to justify school closures and turning schools into academies.
Sats turn children off education by drilling them repeatedly with practice tests.
They also distract from the role that poverty and under-funding play in damaging children’s education by blaming individual teachers and children for low scores.
The NUT and NAHT unions jointly balloted headteachers and some deputy headteachers for a boycott.
Over 61 percent of NAHT members voting backed a boycott as did 75 percent of NUT members.
This week the unions are finalising the details of the action they will take.
For the NAHT, a boycott will be the first industrial action in the union’s history. This reflects the deep anger that exists at the highest levels in schools.
The vote for a boycott has won support from many people.
“This is great news,” children’s author and education campaigner Michael Rosen told Socialist Worker.
“Education has been blighted by Sats, which force a rigid, dull way of learning on teachers and children in the name of ‘levering up standards’.
“I’m a parent of school-age children. The boycott means that teachers at parents’ evenings won’t feel obliged to tell me about Sats scores, potential Sats scores, disappointing Sats scores, excellent Sats scores and the like.
“Instead we can have a conversation about how my children are talking, writing, learning and getting on with other children.”
Dr Terry Wrigley, who edits the journal Improving Schools, also agrees with the headteachers’ vote.
“There is ample evidence that, far from improving quality, Sats serve to limit children’s education,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Teachers working in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are made to feel inadequate because their results are not as good as the more privileged school up the road.
“Children are put under intolerable pressure and many feel they are failures.
“At last the teaching profession is organising to end this absurdity. Now education can move forward.
“Teachers can motivate their students to improve their skills so that they can understand the world—not so they can pass tests.”
Alan Gibbons is the organiser of Authors Against the Sats and The Campaign for the Book. “The votes are very significant,” he told Socialist Worker. “Sats
have been the cornerstone of the tracking and testing regime in school.
“These pointless tests have bored children to distraction and put some under extreme stress. They have weakened the place of creativity, exploration, curiosity and reading for pleasure in our schools.
“The mainstream political parties can no longer maintain the fiction that ‘there is no alternative’ to Sats. There are no Sats in Scotland or Wales. There are many other ways to assess children.”
The campaign to win a yes vote in the ballots has pulled teachers into activity and sparked questions about what education should look like.
“Our joint campaign against Sats in Wakefield and the surrounding area began long before the national campaign,” Sally Kincaid, divisional secretary of the NUT union in the area, told Socialist Worker.
“The NUT and NAHT held several joint meetings across the district during the ballot.
Secondary school teachers sent messages of support. We organised a swim against Sats and, during last year’s Sats week, ran a poetry competition on the subject of Sats.
“Now teachers are suggesting that we hold a ‘praising achievement week’ instead of the Sats, where we recognise the talents of all our students.”
Everyone can do something to aid the boycott. Headteachers in primary schools can hold meetings for teachers, parents and students to come and hear the case against Sats.
Teachers in primary schools can organise to support those boycotting the tests.
Parents can get others to sign a statement in support of the boycott and take it to their local primary school to show their support for the action.
Teachers in secondary schools can twin with the nearest primary school to support them.
A Sats boycott will be a major challenge to the mainstream parties’ neoliberal approach to education and the harm this does to working class kids.
Parents, trade unionists and students should support it.