Stop the testing torture!
By Patrick Yarker
Conference against SATs
11.30-3.30, Saturday 28 June
South Camden Community School, Charrington Road, London.
Nearest Tube: King’s Cross/Euston
More: 01727 835554 or firstname.lastname@example.org
See www.teachers.org.uk for NUT anti-SATs material
The conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at Easter voted unanimously to ballot members for a boycott of all SATs. That ballot is expected next term.
Activists are working now to lay the groundwork for a positive vote and to make the national campaign of opposition to SATs as powerful as possible. Links are being made with parents, governors and organisations opposed to national testing. Public meetings are being called with national figures from the NUT on the platform along with parents and teachers.
Scores of authors, including Philip Pullman, Alan Gibson, Jamila Gavin and Beverley Naidoo, recently signed a letter declaring they do not want their work abused by being incorporated in SATs. Some of these writers continue to speak out against SATs and the educational damage SATs cause. Street-stalls using the NUT’s “Not Good for Children” material (downloadable from the front page of the NUT’s website) are keeping the issue alive as the academic year comes to an end.
So what will a SATs boycott in 2004 look like? How will it alter teachers’ planning and preparation? In what ways will it liberate us from certain curricula constraints and what can we do instead of SATs? What are the problems to be overcome in our particular schools and departments in order to ensure that our students never again face the waste and futility of testing at seven, 11 and 14? How will we go about implementing the boycott on the ground?
These are important questions for teachers to be thinking about now. Materials are being put together by activists to address these issues. They will support teachers in taking action against SATs and for genuine education. Leaflets specifically aimed at Science, Maths and English teachers at Key Stage 3 are being written, as is a model letter for parents to use requiring that their child not be subjected to SATs.
Ideas and practical activities to further the boycott will be shared at the Build-the-Boycott Conference on 28 June in London (see below).
As the summer term concludes we should lobby parents in the playground and colleagues in the staffroom. We should call public meetings, write to the local press, keep talking to those who have signed the anti-testing petitions and indicated they want to be involved, and enable as many people as possible to think about what life-after-SATs will be like. In doing so we prepare the ground for the ballot and build the SATs boycott.
The speech Education Secretary Charles Clarke gave at the end of May was widely spun as signalling a relaxation of the tests, targets and League Tables regime New Labour has imposed on state schools.
In fact Charles Clarke was careful to reassert the government’s bottom line: “Targets, tables and testing are here to stay.”
This is actually harming the physical and mental health of some children.
Clarke avoids admitting League Tables are designed to veil vital factors affecting school-performance, chiefly poverty. Child-poverty has increased dramatically in the past 25 years under both Tory and New Labour. In London perhaps one child in two is officially living in poverty now. In the country at large it is one child in three: more than 4.3 million children.
Yet New Labour persists in pretending through the League Tables that schools serving very different populations can be meaningfully compared, and that League Tables themselves help improve educational standards.
Clarke’s claim that tests help teachers “judge children’s abilities” is likewise false. Every teacher knows that tests help teachers judge how good students are at taking that test, and nothing else. As for aiding our planning, the contrary is true: one key function of the tests is to prevent teachers planning in ways we might judge to be best for the needs of our students. Tests are there to make us prepare for and “teach” to the test. They are there to check up on teachers; to ensure we are “teaching” in ways acceptable to the Education Secretary.
Tests for seven-year-olds have been done away with in Wales, and educational standards there have not suffered as a result. Yet Clarke explicitly refuses to do away with “testing for tots”, as he dismissively put it in his speech.
For Clarke, objections to such testing are sentimental. He ignores or belittles the increasing evidence of damage to children in the face of SATs: sleep-loss, eating-disorder, anxiety-attacks. He refuses to act on the established research-evidence that so-called “low-achievers” are demotivated by the constant evidence of their low achievement which the testing-regime supplies.
Clarke’s speech was an attempt to head off the growing movement that would see the abolition of the SATs, and with them the dismantling of League Tables and an overhaul of the whole manic target-setting regime New Labour has imposed on schools in England.
It failed. It will fail.