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Union backs boycott of baseline tests for four-year-olds

Members of the NUT union have voted to ballot for a boycott of new baseline assessments for four-year-olds.

The tests can be taken from this summer onwards, before being made mandatory in 2016. The literacy and numeracy assessments have been designed to assess how much progress students have made between the ages of four and 11.

Ministers have insisted that the move will help ensure children leave primary school with a good standard of reading, writing and maths.

But a motion unanimously agreed at the union’s annual conference in Harrogate this morning called for members to “work towards a boycott of baseline assessment, as part of a strategy to undermine testing in primary schools”.

It slammed the primary curriculum as already “over-crowded”, and said the “high stakes” assessment would have a “negative impact on children’s education”.

The conference also backed an amendment to the motion, which stated that “schools should not take part in the early trial”, and called on the union to work with other teaching unions and parent groups to “persuade schools not to start the scheme in September 2015”. It agreed to “begin a campaign towards a boycott” in the summer term, with a view to this being in place for the formal introduction of the tests in 2016.

Lambeth teacher Helen Pope told the conference that the NUT should have “nothing to do with” the tests, while Sara Tomlinson said: “Four is too young to test.”

Ms Tomlinson, who also teaches in Lambeth, added. "What we are doing to children is absolutely disgraceful. The stress on our children is just ridiculous, and that stress is clearly on teachers too. We have teachers bursting into tears, children bursting into tears. We cannot continue this kind of education."

Speaking at the NASUWT annual conference in Cardiff this afternoon, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt responded by insisting that the baseline assessment was "important".
"When we face a challenge about school readiness, it’s important to track the progress of pupils but it has to be done in an intelligent way," he said. "I’m always willing to listen to professionals but it’s about intelligent accountability systems. But when teachers say to me they are facing challenges with language skills, motor skills and all sorts of other skills when children are entering schooling, having an understanding of the level at which they are entering is not a bad premise.”
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “We think the principles involved in baseline assessment are fine but, as with a number of policies, it’s how it’s implemented at school level. If it was being done in an extremely workload-intensive way we would seek to get the school to change its processes.”

The NUT conference also heard the exam reforms in the secondary sector had resulted in “excessive workload for teachers and poorer life chances for the students in their care”.

A separate motion criticised GCSE reforms. From 2017, students will be graded from 9-1 instead of A*-G. The move, the conference heard, was “flawed, disingenuous and a clear attempt to encourage an elitist education system which seriously disadvantages some of our most vulnerable students”.

Related stories:

Commission created to help schools assess without levels - 25 February 2015

Tests for four-year-olds to be introduced by 2016 - 27 March 2015

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