Parents enter war on tests

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Union boosted by poll showing public believes children are over-tested in primaries. William Stewart reports

The battle over national tests intensified this week as the largest teachers' union predicted its boycott would prompt a burst of creativity in primary schools while ministers warned that pupils' education would be damaged.

The National Union of Teachers decided to ballot members on a boycott of tests for seven and 11-year-olds in England last week, as a poll revealed that parents believed pupils were being over-tested.

Writing in this week's TES, David Miliband, schools minister, says he understands their concerns but that three tests in nine years are not excessive.

He says the tests set standards, tackle low expectations and play a "vital role in making English school improvement one of the success stories of international education policy".

Ballot papers asking whether NUT members are prepared to boycott the tests in protest at the extra workload and constraints on professional judgment they impose were sent out this week. The result is due on December 15.

The union is confident of a "yes" vote following last month's survey when 82.3 per cent of primary members who responded backed a ballot for a boycott of key stage 1 tests and 69.9 per cent backed a KS2 ballot.

To go ahead with the boycott next term, the NUT needs a two-thirds majority of voters and more than 50 per cent of all those eligible to vote.

Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said no child's education would be disrupted. It was likely members would refuse to coach pupils, hold mock tests, set test-result targets or take part in any training for the tests, he said.

John Bangs, NUT head of education, said: "This could change the mood in primaries. There could be a greater sense of creativity. In Year 6 you could introduce art or music because you are not preparing for tests."

The unanimous decision to ballot was taken by the NUT's 42-strong executive as the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations published the results of a survey of 3,605 parents in primaries in London and the South-east. It showed that 78.5 per cent believed that children were over-tested, 83 per cent thought test preparation restricted other lessons and 60.4 per cent thought they should be replaced by teacher assessment.

Tests for seven-year-olds were too stressful according to 78.8 per cent, 47 per cent said the same for 11-year-old tests, but only 42.7 per cent supported a teachers' boycott of the tests in primaries.

An NUT ballot on boycotting KS3 tests has been delayed so that a fresh members' survey can gauge the impact of last week's government announcement of league tables for 14-year-olds.

David Miliband, Platform 19

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