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Teachers raise prospect of primary school testing boycott

Teachers have raised the prospect of a boycott of primary school testing, just weeks after the Government axed one of the key tests.

Delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' (ATL) annual conference in Liverpool overwhelmingly passed a resolution raising concerns at the "increasing pressure that comes from national tests", amid calls to "put a nail in the coffin of testing".

They called on the ATL's leadership to explore a possible boycott of primary level testing and to hold discussions with other unions about the action.

It comes after Education Secretary Justine Greening announced plans to scrap national curriculum tests - known as SATs - for seven-year-olds, a move aimed at "reducing the burden" of assessment on teachers and pupils.

But the conference heard that there are still concerns about testing for youngsters, including a proposed new "baseline" assessment for four and five-year-olds, and existing SATs tests for 11-year-olds (at the end of what is known as Key Stage 2).

Proposing the resolution, which was passed with 96% in favour, Jean Roberts, from Brent, north-west London, said: "Where is the mention of KS2 SATs? Those will stay in place, with the curriculum narrowed for so many pupils, as schools work to reach an ever-rising bar. Which means they are not deemed to what is called 'below the floor' and labelled as failing."

She said: "This motion talks about exploring options and a possible boycott and talking to other unions about this, particularly the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

"A successful boycott, if agreed, needs teachers, head teachers and parents supporting it.

"We have heard passionate speeches about the need to get active and actually do something.

"The time has passed for moaning about the tests. The time has come to put the nail in the coffin of testing. Our children deserve better. So, conference, I urge you to support this motion."

Michael Catty, a delegate from Hertfordshire, said: "Education in this country is in a pit and it is a pit that will get deeper and deeper. It has been dug by the twin evils of testing and league tables. Combine those two together and education doesn't count.

"We can't do anything about league tables. But we can do something about testing. Nobody wants it, the children don't want it, the parents don't want it, the teachers don't want it. Let's get rid of it. We can do it."

SATs tests in reading, writing and maths are held in May and it is understood that no national action by the union will take place this year.

The ATL is due to merge with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) later this year, and the NUT's conference, due to be held in Cardiff this weekend, is likely to be closely watched to see if it takes a similar stance on primary testing.

The NUT has a motion listed for debate which calls for a ballot of members to boycott all primary school testing in the next academic year (2017/18).

Any formal industrial action is likely to need a formal ballot of members.

Under the Government's plans, which are open for consultation, the Key Stage 1 tests which are taken by more than half a million youngsters each year will no longer be statutory.

Instead, there will be a new teacher assessment of four and five-year-olds when they start infant school.

The results will be used as a marker of children's abilities at the start of their schooling and be used to measure the progress youngsters have made by age 11, at the end of primary school.

Primary school testing - and in particular SATs - has long been controversial.

Last year there was a campaign to keep children off school during SATs week, with organisers arguing that there is more focus on testing, results and league tables than children's happiness.

There has previously been an official boycott of SATs tests.

In 2010, the NAHT and NUT led action against the tests, after school leaders voted for a boycott.

Around a quarter of primaries in England were affected, with tens of thousands of youngsters missing the tests.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: "The profession is having to live through the chaos that was wished upon them last year and is continuing to have to live through that. So it's not surprising that teachers have very little trust in the Government and its ability to reform assessment adequately.

"I would say that I think Justine Greening has taken this issue seriously, and has conducted a review of primary assessment. That contains some good proposals - taking away testing at seven, Key Stage 1 and looking at new ways of marking."

It is a serious attempt to engage with the profession, she said.

"The problem is, and the suspicion is among our members, that it doesn't go far enough. We're not going to be agreeing to a quid pro quo that you take away the Key Stage 1 SATs and you reintroduce baseline testing."

She added: "Although there is a serious attempt to engage, the Government is giving out mixed messages about testing and therefore it's not surprising that teachers say, 'we want the option, if we don't get significant, serious progress, we want the option of a boycott'."

The ATL and the NUT will begin their merger to become the National Education Union later this year, and it will be complete by 2019. Both would need the same policy on primary testing to take action, such as a ballot, for a boycott.

A DfE spokeswoman said: "We want a long-term, stable and proportionate system for primary assessment that measures the progress that children make throughout their time at primary school fairly and accurately, one that recognises teachers' professionalism in assessing their pupils, and which does not impose a disproportionate burden.

"We have worked with the teaching profession on how best to establish this and we are currently consulting on a number of proposals."

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