Schools dispute shows effect of anti-union laws

Submitted by AWL on 18 September, 2019 - 9:25 Author: Duncan Morrison (assistant NEU secretary, Lewisham, in personal capacity)
right to strike

What effect have the anti-union laws had on the campaign to boycott high-stakes testing in primary schools?

As the mover of the successful motion at National Education Union (NEU) conference which called for the union to ballot for a boycott of high-stakes testing in primary schools, I was invited to the national working group on the indicative ballot.

At the first meeting of the working group, we had a session addressed by the union lawyer. She pointed out that we could not ballot our members to boycott the tests on the grounds that they do harm to children. That would make the action political and thus illegal.

Fortunately, there were issues over workload and professionalism around the tests which meant that we could get a legal ballot. But it is astonishing that we are not allowed as a union to get our members to collectively stop inflicting harm on children. We know the tests harm children but that is not, according to the law, a legitimate reason to boycott!

The anti-union laws have cut across and hindered our campaign in other ways. Before even thinking of an actual legally-valid ballot on whether to boycott, the union organised an “indicative” ballot on the issue. The motivation was to ensure that we can get through the thresholds introduced by the last tranche of anti-union laws in 2016 in any formal ballot.

Those thresholds are as follows. A majority of the members you are balloting must vote. In schools, because we are considered an important public service, we have to get “yes” votes not just from a majority of those voting, but also from 40% of members balloted to vote “yes”.

To call action we need more of a mandate than any government in recent history has achieved.

In addition, because of the time frames imposed by the 2016 anti-union laws, the union felt that to ensure we could boycott the most significant tests in May we had to ballot in December and early January to give us a live ballot at the right time.

All those factors added up to hamstring school workers who wanted to stop doing something about what was causing a huge amount of suffering and distress to many of our children.

We must insist that a Labour Government scrap not only the SATs, but also all high stakes testing in primary schools, and all the anti-union laws.

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