Friday 30 April 2010

Parents support the SATs boycott

I spent an encouraging morning ringing Lewisham schools to help build support for the SATs boycott.

One Deputy Head reported that their school had just sent home a newsletter announcing that they were boycotting SATs. Soon after, a parent came into the office demanding to know who had made this decision.

Why? ... "Because I want to shake their hand!"

Saturday 24 April 2010

Year 6 cheer at news that there will be NO SATS

The Headteacher of one Lewisham primary school gathered the Year 6 children for an assembly yesterday afternoon and gave them the news that there would be NO SATS in the school this May. The news was greeted with cheering!

One or two students did later express some disappointment but the Head offered that they could sit an old paper if they really wanted to see how they would have got on. Most of the Year 6, however, were very pleased to take the school newsletter home with the following news on the front page:

UNION ACTION ON SATS: "I am sure many of you will be aware of the recent NUT/NAHT ballot regarding Year 6 SATs ... The majority decision was to boycott KS2 SATs... This will mean that our Year 6 children will NOT be sitting their tests during the week of May 10th. They would have preferred the boycott announcement to have been made earlier in the year but due to trade union legislation ballots can only take place a few weeks before the SATS to be legally valid..."

Wednesday 21 April 2010

NUT and NAHT give go-ahead for SATs boycott

The NUT National Executive has voted to give the go-ahead for a boycott of May’s KS2 SATS.

The April 21st meeting of the NUT Executive voted unanimously to sanction the boycott. This follows the successful ballot of NUT Heads and other Leadership Group members which had returned a 3 to 1 majority in support of action. With the NAHT National Council also voting to take action, the two main unions representing primary school headteachers are jointly calling a boycott of these damaging SATs that have blighted education for far too long.

Our boycott can send a message that we expect an incoming Government to listen to teachers and the clear advice from educational researchers: Ditch SATs and League Tables.

SATS damage education
Let’s seize the opportunity we have to stop:
• Schools and staff in English schools being unfairly compared through League Tables that take no account of the many different challenges facing different schools.
• The ‘fear of failure’ enforcing a narrowing of the curriculum that leads much of Year 6 to be dominated by ‘teaching to the test’ to artificially boost SATs scores.
• Imposed targets being used to bully schools and prescribe what we teach.
• An unreliable assessment system condemned by educational research such as the Cambridge Primary Review.
• The annual waste of £23million which could be so much better spent on schools.

What happens next?

We have to move fast. Over the next few days, headteachers and classroom teachers must work together to build as widespread a boycott as possible.

Reports from around the country show that momentum for action is building. The Executive were given a report from a Heads’ meeting in Calderdale where 44 Heads were going to boycott - only 6 were definitely opposed to action.

• The NUT’s advice is “Don’t open the 2010 Maths and English SATs”
• Class teachers should make clear that they will not invigilate SATs – the Pay and Conditions Document states that teachers should not invigilate exams
• Discuss with other schools to give each other confidence to spread the boycott
• Get a message to parents to explain why your school will be boycotting SATs. The NUT is sending out leaflets and a joint NUT/NAHT text for school letters.

What do we tell Year 6?
Teachers would have preferred the boycott announcement to have come much earlier in the year. But trade union legislation meant that for the NUT and NAHT ballots to be legally valid, they could only take place a few weeks before SATs week.
Don't focus on the wasted effort of this year - think about all the wasted energy we can save in future! If - and only if - we launch a boycott this year, then teachers will at last feel confident to stop 'teaching to the test' with a new Year 6 from next September.

After months of telling Year 6 students that these SATs are so important, it's inevitable that some staff may have mixed feelings about suddenly announcing a boycott. But we won't be letting Year 6 down by boycotting! These tests are no use to them!

What do we report to parents?
It's time that we were honest with children and parents and explained that their education will be better off without SATs.

Many parents are already unhappy about the pressure their children are being put under and will support our action. Schools can explain that they will still be reporting teacher assessments - which will give a much better picture of achievement than one-off SATs tests ever could.

Schools will have lots of existing information. Boycotting SATS does NOT mean having to suddenly do lots of additional assessments or set alternative tests instead.

I would urge schools:
• TRUST your professional judgement and assessments when reporting to parents.
• DON’T set tests in "SATs week" - send a clear message that you are boycotting.
• DON’T use the 2010 SATs papers .
• As the NUT/NAHT posters on their way to schools will say - Make sure that your school is a SATS FREE ZONE.

Building the boycott in London
• Look out for the materials on their way to NUT School reps.
• Call meetings of school staff and sign the model letter encouraging your Head to announce a boycott.
• NUT and NAHT members should meet locally to co-ordinate and build the boycott.
• Plan how you are going to contact parents. Organise leafleting and petitioning in local shopping areas.

London NUT has organised these events specifically for Leadership members:
• Monday 26th April: NUT Headteacher members can join a ‘teleconference’ call to speak with other NUT Heads in London about the boycott. Check with NUT Regional Office.
• Wednesday 28th April: All-London meeting for Leadership Group members, 4.30 to 6.00pm at NUT Head Office, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD (Euston or Kings X tubes).

Sunday 18 April 2010

NUT and NAHT vote to boycott SATs

NUT ballot result: (turnout 33.8%) ‘YES’: 1853 (74.9%) ‘NO’: 622 (25.1%)
NAHT ballot result: (turnout 49.7%) ‘YES’: 5360 (61.3%) ‘NO’: 3386 (38.7%)

The two main unions representing primary headteachers have both returned clear majorities in support of a boycott of this May’s English and Maths Key Stage 2 SATs tests for 11 year-olds.

Worried by recent legal threats against other unions, the NUT followed advice that it should only ballot members of the ‘leadership group’ who have the direct responsibility for administering SATs. The NAHT only represents these staff. So these results show the strength of opposition to the damage that SATs have inflicted on primary education even among school ‘managers’.

Many Heads and Deputies, as well as classroom teachers, will have seen their schools unfairly condemned as ‘failing’ through crude league tables of SATS results that take no account of the many different challenges facing different schools. They will know how this bullying testing regime has enforced a narrowing of the curriculum. Many Year 6 students have to spend much of their final year of primary education preparing for SATs. The administration of the tests also wastes £23 million a year.

NUT and NAHT members now have the opportunity to send a clear message to an incoming Government that this wasteful and unreliable system has to be replaced with an assessment system that properly supports teaching and learning. Heads and classroom teachers must work together to build as widespread a boycott as possible.

Some parents, and perhaps some staff, may feel that it would be wrong to boycott now that so much of the ‘drilling’ in preparation for the SATs has already been done. They are mistaken. If even a partial boycott is launched this year, then teachers will feel more confident to stop ‘teaching to the test’ with a new Year 6 from September.

The decision on whether to use the ballot results to launch a boycott rests with the NAHT National Council meeting on 20 April and the NUT National Executive meeting the following day. They must take the bold step of sanctioning the action that can start to get rid of these useless tests that have been imposed on schools for far too long.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Jersey teachers fight pay freeze

Across Europe, Governments are demanding that teachers and other public sector workers' are made to pay for the bailout of the banks. But European workers have also been resisting those attacks with strikes and demonstrations.

Those battles are moving closer - at least as far as Jersey!

Jersey is reckoned to be the third richest country in the world, per capita. Yet its government is imposing a pay freeze on civil servants, fire fighters, nurses, prison officers and teachers.

Jersey's trade unions are organising a Public Services Defence demonstration and rally on Saturday 24 April.

To find out more and send a message of support, go to

Saturday 10 April 2010

Marching to protect jobs and services

Today, Saturday April 10th, trade unionists, pensioners, health campaigners and others are marching in London to tell all of the would-be Ministers and MPs that the trade union movement is ready to take action to oppose the'savage' cuts that they are planning.

I will be making sure that other marchers that I speak to know that NUT Conference voted to call for co-ordinated ballots for a 24 hour public sector strike.

I also joined a group of supply teachers marching in London yeterday (April 9th) to protect the jobs and conditions of supply teachers. Organised through the internet, they had come from across England to support each other. The NUT must give full support to their initiatives.

NUT Conference calls for united action against cuts

My platform in the NUT Executive election concentrated on two key issues – the need for a national ballot to combat excessive workload and united public sector action to defend jobs, pay and pensions from Government cuts. NUT Conference 2010 agreed important steps towards implementing both of these demands.

Conference debate opened with a discussion on workload. The key amendment, jointly drafted by Left NUT Associations, was carried unanimously. It confirmed the need for the Union to fight for a National Contract for teachers that sets clear limits to class sizes, teaching hours and the overall working week for teachers. Crucially, it also laid out an action campaign to win such a Contract.

In speaking for the amendment, I pointed out how the delay in implementing previous Conference decisions to call a national ballot over workload had left teachers without the protection they needed. Now we needed to prepare a programme of action that would draw teachers together across England and Wales. It should include both strike action and non-strike action, giving NUT members the power to refuse excessive workload together.

While it had not been possible to agree amongst the Left an exact timescale for such a ballot to start, the agreed policy made clear that preparation for the ballot should begin immediately. Unlike the delay following last year’s Conference decision to ballot on a boycott of SATs, the Union needed to organise from the start of this summer term in consulting and encouraging with members on what the action programme should include.

Unfortunately, as delegates have found for the previous two years, passing policy calling for a national ballot doesn’t mean it will be carried out. This year, the National Union had already produced postcards for members asking for their views on what should be ‘included in a National Contract’. But I’ll be pointing out on the Executive that the consultation agreed was about the action needed to win it!

As the policy agreed at Conference states, if a new Government fails to agree a satisfactory National Contract, then the national ballot must be held. A lively ‘Classroom Teacher’ fringe meeting held after the debate encouraged delegates to go back to schools and build for the ballot.

On Bank Holiday Monday, Conference debate centred on how the union can stand up to the cuts threatened by all the main parties. Delegates instructed the Executive to organise co-ordinated ballots for industrial action to defend our pensions before unanimously agreeing a priority motion from the Executive opposing cuts in services and public sector pay freezes. Further amendments confirmed our opposition to the BNP, condemned the use of the anti-trade union laws against UNITE and RMT and gave support to both the ‘Right to Work’ Conference on 22nd May and the NSSN Conference on 26th June.

Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary also addressed Conference, describing Gordon Brown’s government as the “worst” that trade unionists had ever known. He called on unions to act together as we had done in 2005 over pensions.

A further motion clearly putting the blame for the current economic crisis “on the chase for profit that lies at the heart of the global capitalist system” also called for nationalisation of firms which threatened major job cuts.

I proposed an amendment from Lewisham NUT that clearly spelt out the action that we now needed to prepare. I pointed out that it was not enough to congratulate our European colleagues for taking united strike action in countries like Portugal and Greece. We needed to make sure that an incoming Government knew that British trade unions were ready to do the same.

Conference supported our call for building locally and nationally across public sector unions, including calling a national demonstration to warn an incoming Government of our determination to defend jobs, pay, pensions and services. Above all, NUT Conference agreed that we should approach “other national trade unions to join with us in organising a co-ordinated ballot for a 24 hour public sector national strike as a swift response to any attempt by an incoming Government to impose a programme of public spending cuts”.

Conference debated many other issues, condemning OFSTED, the undermining of qualified supply teachers and the continued expansion of Academy, Trust and now “Free” Schools. Teachers spoke out against bullying, particularly against black and LGBT teachers. Delegates supported the campaign for “reading for pleasure”, applauding attacks from authors Alan Gibbons and Michael Rosen on the damage caused by SATs.

It is now the Executive’s responsibility to turn NUT Conference’s united support for action to defend teachers’ jobs and conditions into reality. I hope that I can ensure that, this year, policy is put into practice.