The NEU teaching union is set to ballot all primary school members on a boycott of high-stakes summative testing.
The decision was made today in dramatic scenes at the NEU's annual conference in Liverpool, despite the teaching union's executive trying to block the ballot with an amendment calling for a longer-term strategic campaign against testing.
While the motion was originally lost by what appeared to be a narrow margin, emotional pleas for a digital recount resulted in it being passed by 56 per cent against 43 per cent of the vote.
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Duncan Morrison, of the NEU’s Lewisham branch, who moved the motion, said a boycott would “help members instantly gain control of their working lives”.
He said calls for a boycott had been “manipulated” at previous conferences and the battle had been lost because “it didn’t have the right strategy or leadership”.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said members had asserted their conviction that assessment must support learners and must be a matter of teachers’ professional judgment.
He added: “The resolution reflects the deep unhappiness of primary teachers in England with their current, Sats-based system of assessment. There can be no lasting solution to problems of children’s wellbeing, teacher workload, curriculum narrowness and teaching to the test unless our assessment system changes.”
The union's executive had argued that a boycott was not "currently the most appropriate tactic" and instead suggested a focus on ensuring the Reception baseline test for four-year-olds did not go ahead in 2019-20.
Supporting this strategy, Year 2 teacher Jenny Jones told the conference that schools would simply bring in other staff to carry out the tests in Sats week if teachers were unwilling to do it, and also said there was a need to identify which assessments were working.
Also supporting the executive, Louise Regan, of the NEU’s Wandsworth branch, recognised that the tests “caused harm” but said she didn’t believe the union could currently win a boycott ballot and called instead for “a mass campaign of engagement to ensure there is a union rep in every school”.
But the executive's amendment was voted down.
Speaking in favour of the boycott, Darlington teaching assistant Tracy McGuire said the Sats had “knocked the stuffing” out of her 12-year-old son. She added: “They knocked the creativity and love for learning out of him.”
Merike Williams, of NEU’s Stockton branch, also called for a ban on “toxic tests” and said there was a fear of a parental backlash if tests were banned. But she said: “So let’s work alongside parents to show them why these tests are toxic and why we oppose them. We need parents and carers on board.”
William Conway, of the NEU's Nottinghamshire branch, said: “Sats destroy the education process, damage kids' mental health and the evidence for that is overwhelming.”
The overall motion for a boycott was also initially ruled to have been voted down by delegates in what appeared to be an even floor.
Delegates began calling for a “digi vote” resulting in joint president Kiri Tunks asking them to be quiet. Some complained officers hadn’t been able to see a show of hands because of poor lighting while a disabled member accused officers of discrimination because she said she hadn’t been able to stand to make herself seen in the count.
There was cheering in the hall when the digi-vote result was announced in favour of a boycott.