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Teachers back boycott of new tests

Published 04/04/2015

The NUT is to debate a possible boycott of literacy and numeracy tests for four-year-olds
The NUT is to debate a possible boycott of literacy and numeracy tests for four-year-olds

Teachers have backed a boycott of new literacy and numeracy checks for infants, warning that "four is too young to test".

Children are being subjected to "death by testing", the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference in Harrogate was told.

Delegates passed a resolution calling for a campaign of action as the first step to "undermining the basis of testing in primary schools".

Proposer Sara Tomlinson, an NUT member from Lambeth, south London, said: "We have got a chance to stop these tests and we need to step up this campaign and we need to act pretty urgently as a trade union to make sure we stop these tests becoming part of the school routine.

"The first reason is that four is too young to test."

Under the outgoing government's reforms, from September 2016, infants will undergo literacy and numeracy checks just weeks after they start in reception. The results will be used to chart children's progress throughout primary school.

Ministers have insisted that the move will help ensure children leave primary school with a good standard of reading, writing and maths.

There were loud cheers in the conference hall during the hour-long debate, as delegates took to the stage to voice their opposition to the assessments and make strong calls for action.

Ben Cox from Denbighshire said: "There seems to be no logic or rational thinking behind any of these policies and if we don't fight now we will soon have an education system based on testing, not teaching, churning out robots to pass tests without the vital life skills that we as teachers value so much more highly than test results."

Ms Tomlinson told the conference that at her school, pupils can sit optional tests during the year to practice for end of year tests and national curriculum tests - often known as Sats.

"It's absolutely death by testing," she said.

One example question for the baseline assessments is to ask a child to say "parrot", and then ask them to say it without the "p", Ms Tomlinson.

"What skill is it to be able to say 'arrot'?" she said. "This is the craziness of the test."

Claire Gray, from Hackney, east London, warned: "One of the consequences of these proposals is that children would be deprived of a childhood, as parents would feel obliged to increase educational input, including seeking private tuition."

The resolution argues that the primary curriculum is overcrowded and restrictive and that a focus on "high-stakes testing" is having a negative impact on children's education.

It calls on the union's executive to take action, including "work towards a boycott of baseline assessments as the first step in undermining the basis of testing in primary schools".

An amendment, which was also approved, said: "Conference agrees to begin a campaign towards a boycott in the summer term 2015, in time for members to be able to boycott the baseline assessments in the summer of 2016."

NUT officials said later that they are seeking a national u-turn over the assessments, and will begin the campaign by urging policy makers to re-consider the evidence on the value of the tests, as well as highlighting the issues to parents and calling on schools not to opt into the pilot assessments this September.

If that fails, there would be a move towards a ballot for a boycott in the summer of 2016.

Helen Pope, a newly qualified reception teacher from Lambeth received loud cheers as she told the conference that she would be refusing to do the tests at her school this September.

"In September, when my fellow NQTs and I welcome our second classes of reception children, instead of having time to observe the children playing, instead of observing them dressing up, building, singing, drawing, instead of supporting them in building the relationships and friendships which will go on to colour their whole school careers, instead of taking time to work out makes each individual child tick and what each child struggles with, we are going to have to take children off individually to weigh them and measure them against a pre-determined content domain," she said.

"It's no wonder that four in ten new teachers leave within their first year of teaching when our principles are attacked on this grand scale.

"But unfortunately for whoever takes over as education secretary, I am one of the 60% of new teachers who will be staying. I will be going back to my school in September and welcoming my new class and with the backing of this union I refuse to do your tests."

Jennifer Harper, from Wandsworth, south London, said her four-year-old niece will be four years and two weeks old when she is expected to take the new checks.

"The thought of her jumping along to school with her new book bag in hand, her brand new school uniform on ready for play, paint, to explore the world and start her love of learning should be what we are looking forward to. Instead I know she will be puzzled by being asked lots of questions about parrots or sat in front of a computer that she will not have much experience of because she prefers making and doing. This is not the start of her education and learning that anyone can be proud of."

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