Dissident head defies union by calling for wider Sats boycott

5th November 2010 at 00:00
Former test marker says other school leaders are being 'weak and cowardly' in following NAHT's plan to go ahead

A dissident headteacher has called upon others to join him in a wildcat boycott of next year's key stage 2 Sats, despite his union's decision to hold off in favour of an independent review of Year 6 testing.

Wayne Howsen, who is also a former test marker, has said too many heads are being "really weak and cowardly" by following the decision by heads' union the NAHT to go ahead with administering the tests next year.

He says he has the backing of his local authority, governors and parents and has no fear that he could be sacked for failing in his statutory duties.

Mr Howsen's decision to act comes weeks after Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, admitted that some heads would be "frustrated" by a decision to trade a national boycott this year with places on a new independent panel charged with reviewing Sats.

Last year, around a quarter, or 4,000 schools, took part in an official national boycott of the tests.

Mr Howsen's local campaign to get schools in Hertfordshire involved in one this year had largely proved a failure so far, he said. Out of 450 schools emailed, he received 62 replies, with only three other schools saying they might be interested.

But this is not enough to dampen his enthusiasm for action - he will go ahead with the boycott, even if his school is on its own.

Mr Howsen, aged 42, who became a headteacher aged just 28 and now runs the 315-pupil St Catherine's CofE Primary School in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, said: "Why has the NAHT chickened out this year? They haven't got the balls to stand up for what they believe in.

"I'm hoping that the outcome of the review is that testing will be moderated teacher assessment, but if that's happening, why are they putting the 2012 Sats out to contract? I want to issue a rallying cry to other heads, I want others to stand up and say: 'I agree with this bloke.'"

Mr Howsen is strongly in favour of APP - assessing pupils' progress - and last year children produced portfolios of work which were assessed by seven or eight teachers to ensure accuracy.

However, other heads who were extremely enthusiastic about last year's boycott have said they want to give the review a chance before taking the action again.

Even in Hartlepool, where all 31 local authority primaries boycotted last year, heads remain open-minded.

John Hardy, head of St John Vianney CofE Primary School said: "We have to trust Michael Gove - if we don't we will never move forward. We're asking the Government to trust us; it's a huge thing we're asking so we will have to trust them.

"But it's a bit like with children, you trust them until they prove they are not worthy of that trust."

Mr Hobby said he was not in a position to give permission with a "nod or a wink" to heads who wanted to boycott Sats this year, but asked anyone considering it to think carefully about the implications of breaching their contracts.

"It's possible for a governing body who supports a head to be pressured from outside," he said.

He added that headteachers he had spoken to since the decision to accept a review had not been "ecstatic" but most understood it was a sensible position to take.

"There are others though, who are upset by the decision," he admitted.

Officials at the NAHT worked with schools minister Nick Gibb to work out the make-up of the review panel. The NAHT has fought for strong representation among its own members.

The independent review panel, which will include four headteachers, is due to report next spring, although it is uncertain if Michael Gove will accept its recommendations.

The NUT has welcomed the concept of a review, but general secretary Christine Blower has expressed concerns about its independence.



180,000: Children who were due to sit the Sats last May but did not because of the boycott.

16,000: approximate number of English primary schools with Year 6 pupils.

4,000: Number of schools which took part in the boycott.

20: Number of local authorities whose results were not published because the schools which took part in tests were not considered representative of schools in the area.

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