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Commentary - A stand-off that looks set to end in court

After all the sabre-rattling and posturing from the unions, Wednesday finally saw the NUT and the NAHT confirm that they would stage a boycott of next month's Sats tests.

Now that the second guessing is out of the way a decision will have to be made by the Government as to their course of action. For Ed Balls, the boycott during a general election campaign is as welcome a distraction as an obese streaker at an FA Cup final. But regardless of its timing, as Schools Secretary the duty to deal with it falls at his feet.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families is understood to have taken legal advice stating that the boycott is illegal because it is being undertaken for political rather than trade reasons.

Unsurprisingly, both the NUT and the NAHT deny this, with NUT general secretary Christine Blower claiming Sats "adversely affect our members' terms and conditions".

The use of league tables - based on the results of the tests - has "negative consequences for the pay, tenure and career progression prospects of our members," Ms Blower said.

With both sides refusing to back down it would seem that the matter will only be resolved in the courts. This could result in the DCSF taking the unions into a legal battle or, which is more likely, an individual local authority taking them to court, as was the case in 1993 when the NASUWT boycotted Sats. Wandsworth Council launched a legal bid but the court ruled in favour of the union.

The Conservatives are keeping a close eye on Mr Balls' actions. If they should come to power on May 7 they could be faced with a trade dispute in their first week of office. It is believed the Tories are taking the view that a boycott would be illegal.

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