Union boycott is cynical ploy

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
SO the National Union of Teachers grabs the headlines again in its annual conference. This time the rage is over the tests administered to seven, 11 and 14-year-old pupils, with the conference voting unanimously to boycott national tests.

The standard assessment tasks are not a new invention - they have been running for almost 10 years. So why has the NUT decided to vote for a boycott at this particular conference?

Two years ago, the then education secretary, David Blunkett, while speaking at the conference, was heckled continuously. Sensing that the conference is not a forum for a measured, productive debate, Charles Clarke, the present Education Secretary, has imposed his own boycott.

How has the NUT responded? By attacking the tests. A speaker at the conference said the tests were "dangerous for our kids" and "humiliating" for teachers. Dangerous? Humiliating? He was not alone, however, and the motion was carried.

The emotive language used by delegates and the subsequent chants of "No more SATs" continue to cast a bad light on teachers. They are viewed as destructive rather than constructive, reactionary rather than progressive, and rigid rather than dynamic.

As a practising teacher, I find the conference a public-relations disaster.

It never offers a better way or solution to any issue and distances the Government further from teachers.

Moreover, I have found the tests for 14-year-olds a positive learning experience. Yes, the pupils do get nervous beforehand. Yes, they are put under more pressure than in earlier years of secondary school. However, pupils come out of it having had an experience of public examinations which helps prepare them for GCSEs.

The NUT's grievances about the tests would be more credible if they had not been a rehash of a former policy and a cynical exercise in grabbing the media spotlight.

Dean Fox

Flat 2

8 Cornwallis Terrace

Hastings

Sussex

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