SOME 175 teachers, parents and school governors launched a national campaign against SATs tests at a conference in London last Saturday. John Illingworth, a primary school head teacher from Nottinghamshire and a former president of the NUT union, summed up the confident mood of the day. He told the conference, ‘I have never felt as optimistic as I do now that we can get rid of these national damaging tests imposed on children. ‘East Midlands TV did a phone poll and found 95 percent of respondents against the SATs. We know the government will hit back hard to maintain SATs. But we should be confident that this is a campaign we can win.’
After a unanimous vote at its conference, the NUT is moving to a boycott of the tests next year. There is due to be an indicative vote in September followed by a ballot in the autumn for a boycott. The campaign is already under way in many areas and is far wider than NUT members.
The conference focused on drawing together ideas and there was a unanimous feeling that the momentum needs to be built now. Jon Berry is the secretary of Hertfordshire NUT, which called the conference. He said, ‘Parents and students are critical to the success of the campaign. It’s their involvement that will boost the confidence of teachers to say no to the tests. And it is building a popular campaign that will make it more difficult for the government to outlaw any boycott or pressure the union to call it off.’
Simon Makinde, an 11 year old pupil at Fairlands primary school in Stevenage, demonstrated the bitterness of school students at the tests. Publicity He opened the conference saying, ‘Some people are brighter than me, some are not as bright. But still some of us started to panic when we heard we had to do the tests.’
He said it was totally unfair that some children would get the advantage of extra help at home while others didn’t. Most of the day was taken up with workshops which maximised discussion. The dozens of ideas thrown up will appear in a campaign booklet. They range from getting schools to survey parents through to street stalls and publicity stunts.
The overall message was to get the campaign up and running now and not to wait on the NUT’s timetable. Award winning children’s author Alan Gibbons described how education secretary Charles Clarke had announced an inadequate retreat over tests for seven year olds.
Then he added a few weeks later that testing would be extended to more subjects for 14 year olds. ‘These are signs of a weak but nasty government,’ Alan said. ‘The anti-war movement showed us children can come out onto the streets. There is a huge feeling against the SATs. This can re-energise union branches. Every area should have a mass rally against the SATs. I’d like to see a national demonstration in the autumn. We can win.’
Many delegates to Saturday’s conference remembered how a boycott of Sats when they came in 11 years ago was called off. There was a determination not to let the opportunity to end these damaging tests slip by again.
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