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Teachers vow to finish SATS

WORKERS, MAY 2009 ISSUE

In the recent past, our schoolchildren have become the most tested pupils in the world. As a result of opposition right across the educational spectrum, Key Stage 3 SATs for 14-year-olds have been dropped. Now the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has joined forces with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) to call for a boycott of Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs in primary schools, which are taken by 1.2 million children. A joint conference was organised in February and a joint NAHT/NUT lobby of parliament was held on 28 April.

Schools are pressured into “teaching to the test” to boost their position in government league tables. Many pupils spend hours sitting practice papers and brushing up on exam techniques, severely restricting the amount of time available for doing PE, art, drama, history and geography. There is less creativity and more dull conformity, adversely affecting both children and teachers. It is no accident that teachers are not trusted to assess their own children’s learning; the exorbitant system of staged SATs exams was a deliberate stratagem to remove and undermine teachers’ professional control of the education service.

Now there are signs that teachers are growing in confidence and beginning to reclaim a greater control of the curriculum. At its Easter Conference, the NUT voted to boycott the SATs exams next year and the NAHT, representing a majority of primary heads, looks likely to follow suit at the end of April. If the leadership of both organisations is accurately reflecting members’ opinions, then it is unlikely that next year’s tests could go ahead in the schools. The government may bluster and threaten, but it would be wise for it to take stock, recognise the tide has turned and withdraw the unpopular tests, which have skewed resources and have tended to emphasise spurious “failure” rather than success.

If this joint endeavour is successful, then teachers will be able to breathe in a more creative, experimental environment. They must not fearfully cling to mechanical formats encouraged by forces alien to education. These have ceded control of much of our school life simply via external testing and terror of league tables. Without the tests, teachers will enjoy their work far more and students will start to think in and outside the box. When people are convinced and united, they can have a tremendous effect.

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