Australian state school teachers will ban SATS-type tests due to take place on 11-13 May. The federal state school teachers' union, the Australian Education Union, voted on 12 April that it would block the tests "until the federal government stops the results being used to publicly brand students and schools as failures in league tables".
The action will be carried out by the various state teachers' unions affiliated with the federal AEU. The Queensland Teachers' Union, for example, has told its members:
"All action associated with the administration of the 2010 NAPLAN tests should be suspended. The tests when delivered should remain unopened and be returned. Where attempts are made to administer the tests, teachers should refuse to administer the tests.
"In the event that the government attempts to use outside employees or volunteers to administer the tests, teachers and principals should not participate in any way with the recruitment of these people, should not cooperate with the use of school premises for the purposes of administering the tests, and should not cooperate in any way with the administration of the tests, including supervision of students or delivering of students to test sites".
The Labor government's education minister, Julia Gillard, called on parents to break the teachers' union action. Dianne Giblin, president of the Federation of Parents' and Citizens' Associations of New South Wales, responded: "The federation is appalled with the decision by Julia Gillard, or the suggestion at least, for parents to supervise the literacy and numeracy tests".
Literacy and numeracy tests have been done in primary schools for some years, and used for diagnostic purposes, but without lots of "teaching to the test" or publishing of school averages. The new Labor government introduced uniform Australia-wide tests, extended them to years 3, 5, 7, and 9, and published school average results on a website called "My School".
"My School" is supposed not to give "league tables", but only to allow comparisons between individual schools, a category of "similar" schools, and overall averages (see, for example, http://bit.ly/indro).
However, the definition of "similar" schools is very dubious, and data extracted from "My School" has been used "unofficially" to construct full-scale British-style league tables.
The federal union of private school teachers shares the AEU's criticisms of league-tabling, but says it will administer the NAPLAN tests. Private schools are big in Australia, with about 30% of primary students and about 40% of high-school students; but the state-school teachers' unions are strong enough to make league-tabling unworkable. Although in Britain teachers are divided between several trade unions, some opposed to almost any industrial action, state-school teachers in Australia are heavily organised into a single union.
They should get the full support of other unions in Australia, not the hedged response of ACTU president Sharan Burrow, herself a former teacher trade-unionist.