The system of testing in our schools is a form of state-sponsored child abuse. The process of testing which begins in year one destroys a love of learning, humiliates children and stifles developing minds. English school children are now among the most tested in the world. Motion 16, ‘Boycott High Stakes Testing’, gives us the opportunity to confront the tests.
End the Testing Culture:
National Education Union members agree on the damage high-stakes summative testing does to our students. The SATs have spawned a termly and half-termly testing regime in many schools. Where schools carry out half-termly SATs-like tests in ‘assessment weeks’ they lose close to a half-term of teaching time to testing. The year 1 phonics test has pushed ability-group-based teaching in to early years. Baseline testing in reception threatens a further extension of the testing culture. Secondary school teachers have to make sense of year 6 SATs results that in no way represent the depth and complexity of newly-arrived year 7 students. The preparation for and administration of this testing regime is a major contributor to teacher workload. Alongside the futility of the whole operation it is a major factor in the mental health crisis faced by both staff and students. The situation is clear. The tests must be scrapped. We must organise a boycott of all high-stakes summative testing in primary schools.
Since the implementation of the current SATs programme in 2016 members of Workers’ Liberty, alongside Education Solidarity Network (ESN) activists have fought, first in the National Union of Teachers and now in the NEU, for our union to take a serious position in opposition to testing. We have argued consistently for a meaningful boycott. Successive union leaderships have ducked the issue, obfuscated, promised the most limited form of action over testing, and then failed to deliver on even that. The record so far is worth re-telling.
The Executive’s Record So Far:
In 2016 opponents of a boycott successfully steered the debate from a ballot to boycott the 2016 SATs in to a loose commitment to consider a boycott in 2017. The NUT called on the government to abandon the 2016 SATs. The 2016 tests went ahead, and a ballot was never called for 2017. At the 2017 conference in Cardiff opponents of a boycott fought to continue the confusion, calling for an internal ballot of primary and head teacher members in Autumn 2017, to ascertain support for a possible boycott in 2018. The indicative ballot was never conducted, the 2018 SATs went ahead unimpeded.
Unsatisfied with seriously debating the question of a SATs boycott, at the 2018 Brighton conference the executive manoeuvred to gut a motion calling for a boycott of all high-stakes summative testing in primary schools. A previous motion was taken as setting the union’s policy on testing; it called for an indicative survey of members in primary and infant schools over industrial action against baseline testing. When asked, the president of the union Kiri Tunks refused to clarify whether or not the motion would rule out of order parts of the other, stronger, pro-boycott motion. When the weaker motion was passed the substantive sections of the stronger motion were removed. The executive never organised the indicative survey over baseline testing that this policy had required of them.
Why a Boycott of All Summative Testing?
Arguments against a boycott have ranged from the non-sensical ‘I won’t be able to do a spelling test’ or ‘we must stop baseline testing first’ through to the half-way honest ‘we can’t win a ballot for a boycott.’ Let’s be clear, both about what Workers’ Liberty and ESN activists are calling for and the challenges of organising a boycott. We are for a boycott of SATs-like, high-stakes summative testing in schools. This would be categorically different from the last SATs boycott the NUT organised in 2010, which relied heavily on head teachers to refuse to implement the tests and meant organising a ballot in either Spring or Summer term when most of the damage had already been done in terms of time lost to test preparation. A ballot for a boycott of all SATs-like tests and related activity could be carried out in Autumn term and could apply to all primary teachers, as to some degree or another everyone in a school is involved in, or can be called on to help with, administering or preparing children for tests. A ballot of all teachers would create greater solidarity and would not rest on the courage, or lack-there-of, of individual head teachers.
What about winning a ballot? A wrecking amendment to motion 16, brought by the executive, argues that ‘the union could not currently win a ballot of all primary teachers to boycott summative testing.’ This argument is a cowardly dodge. The case for boycotting the tests is irrefutable, if the union is not in a position to win a ballot it is the duty of the union’s leadership to campaign among members to prepare for such a ballot. The last three years of dodging the question have disoriented the campaign against testing. Only a clear strategy of fighting for a boycott can put that campaign back on track and provide meaningful opposition to testing.
Vote for motion 16 unamended and start the serious industrial fight against testing in our primary schools.