It’s time for a change – and time for a SATs boycott

Why we need to prepare for a boycott

The system of national testing has existed for over 25 years, and has distorted primary education from the start. The current tests, starting 2016 and based on Michael Gove’s revision of the National Curriculum, have brought it to the point of breakdown.
The revised National Curriculum was supposed to make England a “global winner” in PISA international tests. 100 academics warned publicly that it would be counterproductive.

Facts and Rules – Not thinking and understanding
The proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.

Too Much – Too Young
Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation.
The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.
The Government shrugged off this advice, throwing insults at the academic experts, but the new tests, starting in 2015-16, have indeed led to
• more teaching-to-the-test
• enormous stress on children, along with a fear of failure
• a narrowing of the curriculum
• large numbers of children being labelled failures and moving on to secondary school anxious and demoralised, with extreme effects on disadvantaged students.

Crying out for change
There is massive dissatisfaction among parents, teachers and heads. The House of Commons Education Committee is composed of MPs of different parties including Conservatives but they unanimously agreed a critical report. Unfortunately the Government keep digging a deeper hole, leaving KS2 tests intact and trying to restore a Baseline test for 4-year-olds. They have just finished a “consultation” which asked only about preferences among minor details whilst avoiding consideration of substantial change.

The tests have failed, not the children
The new tests failed almost half of children (47%) in at least one key subject (Reading, Writing, Mathematics). In Reading alone, 1 in 3 were judged to have ‘not met expected standards’. In Maths, 30% were failed.
This was even more disastrous for children growing up in poverty. 2 out of 3 children on free meals were failed in at least one test. 51% were failed in Reading, 46% in Maths, 41% in Writing.
The tests were made a little easier in 2017, and the marking scheme less stringent, but 2 out of 5 children were still deemed to have failed in at least one subject. 3 out of 10 were failed in Reading, and 1 in 4 at Maths.
The 2017 data for FSM is not yet published, but is unlikely to be much better than in 2016.
It is irresponsible to label children like this after 7 years at primary school. This will lead to enduring problems of demoralisation, low self-esteem and defeatism during their secondary education and beyond.
High-stakes testing and social justice
From their beginning in the early 1990s, it was explicit that the key purpose of the tests was not to reward or guide children’s learning but as a mechanism for creating divisions between schools. Parents were encouraged to choose schools with higher test scores, regardless of children’s prior learning and family circumstances (affluence or poverty, different levels of parental education).
An entire ‘high stakes’ system has been built on these scores. Ofsted’s headline judgement is always whether a school is above or below national average. Teachers’ pay is adjusted by “performance”, often judged spuriously. Hundreds of schools have been levered away from local authorities into academy chains.

Those living in poverty put under most pressure
Even though mechanisms such as ‘value-added’ data have been used to adjust raw scores, schools serving the poorest areas have always come under greatest pressure. This is hardly surprising since, in general, children growing up in poverty will tend to make slower progress than more advantaged children.
These schools have been driven hardest into endless test-preparation. Children damaged by poverty are facing the most restricted education and being denied the opportunity of a broad and interesting curriculum involving creativity and problem-solving.
Poorly designed tests
The Standards and Testing Agency do not have a good record. There have been major scandals involving test papers leaked and unreliable marking, but their biggest failing has been designing inappropriate tests.
The 2016 Reading test was completely remote from children’s experience. It began with a passage about two children attending a garden party in a large house. The garden was so big that it contained a lake. The girl asks the boy to row her across to see the statue erected in honour of her ancestor.

Not a fair test

It’s fair enough to extend children’s horizons through their reading, but to imagine that this was a fair test when a quarter of our children are growing up in poverty?
For children to tackle any of the detailed questions, they needed to imagine themselves into this elite social environment within the first few minutes. The second passage required a similar leap: a girl riding a giraffe in an African game reserve, a smiling warthog! The third required children to understand that volcanoes can occur under the sea and create new islands, and that extinct dodos had suffered from an image problem.
The writing assessment was marked by teachers, but without any trust in our professionalism. Rather than providing adequate training and moderation, rigid criteria were imposed which turned the Writing assessment into an extra test of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. Writing was judged not for ideas and expression but according to whether it displayed use of semi-colons and subjunctives, however inappropriately.
The Government’s lack of trust in our profession results in poor learning.
KS2 tests are part of a package
There are of course problems beyond the KS2 tests.
• The phonics check relates poorly to reading for meaning. National scores have gone up and up without any change in KS1 reading assessments a year later. It is designed to coerce teachers into a single approach to literacy teaching. It is no substitute for proper diagnosis of reading difficulties.
• The proposed new multiplication tables test creates a further distortion. Times tables are no more important in maths than number bonds, place value, different forms of fractions, and so on.
• Baseline testing in Reception is supposed to provide a reliable means of judging each school’s effectiveness. Tests designed by the most experienced provider make incorrect and misleading predictions of 6 out of 10 children. In particular, many summer-born children, boys, children with EAL or SEN or growing up in poverty, will be labelled “low ability” or “limited potential”.
A boycott is long overdue
We are not against assessment, but want assessment that supports children’s learning and development. We need to restore formative and diagnostic assessment, observation, portfolios and challenges.
Persuasion alone will not sway this Government. Change will only come by building a boycott.
We cannot expect parents to go it alone, or fall back on the excuse that it is the head’s responsibility.
This union, and its successor National Education Union, have to take a clear ethical stand. Like the Hippocratic Oath of the medical profession, our starting point should be “First do no harm.” We owe that to the children we teach. After all, the children have no choice but to go to school.
It may not be possible to make a boycott stick in the majority of England’s primary schools, but solid union organisation even in a small minority would be enough to make the system unworkable.

Appendix : extracts from the Primary Charter
Children’s learning
Successful learning and development takes time. Good primary teachers are aware of different children’s ages, developmental levels and learning processes. They pay heed to children’s existing knowledge and understanding and cultural backgrounds.
Learning never takes place in a vacuum. Learning in symbolic forms (abstract language, mathematical symbols, scientific rules etc.) should build upon and work with the child’s experience, use of the senses, and creative and experimental activity. Rote learning without understanding lays a poor foundation.
Children develop an understanding of the world around them through play. It is through imaginative role play that children gain a realisation of possibilities. At play, children are most free to talk.
Children have the right to a broad and balanced curriculum that allows children to develop all their talents. The arts, humanities and physical education are vitally important.
It is through talk that children are most able to deal with problem solving and interpretation of the world around them. It is a central role of schools to help all children become fluent and effective communicators, in speech, writing and other media. Children learn to communicate in an environment based of trust and cooperation, not where there is a fear of failure.
Primary schools should promote values based on human rights, equality, democracy, diversity, environmental viability and peace. They should develop positive attitudes associated with mutual respect and support, personal fulfillment, critical understanding, creativity and hope.
Assessment and data
The quality of education, and the capacity of teachers to relate to children, is distorted by a draconian surveillance system.
The current system of assessment and inspection, performance pay and performance review, must be replaced by staff development networks and learning communities which encourage peer observation, teacher research, critical questioning and collaborative planning.
The time-consuming and expensive system of data collection, designed for punitive purposes, should be dismantled. Data collection and monitoring should be focused around the need to provide support discreetly and respectfully, to pupils, teachers and schools, and particularly to assist disadvantaged young people and others who may be underachieving.




Primary Assessment – URGENT – deadline 5pm Thursday 22nd June
Respond to Government Consultation
With an unexpected snap election over last 7 weeks and a school funding crisis, the issue of baseline and SATs has been overshadowed. However now is the time to act.
There is a live consultation and you can let government know your thoughts. There is guidance on NUT, More than a Score, and Better with Baseline websites.

Here there are thorough guides to responding. Below is a quick guide for a five minute response. All emails received by DFE count as consultation responses. You can respond to one question if you wish. Below we have selected 2 key questions. We do not suggest responses, as copied and pasted ones will not count but hopefully we make it easy to give your views, however you can copy and paste the questions below. If you want to see some suggested guidance on responding go to above websites and for baseline to http://www.betterwithoutbaseline.org.uk/what-you-can-do.html
There is NO specific question that asks about Key Stage 2 SATS and the terrible damage they do. But we suggest that you CAN give your opinions on this as part of your response.
If you only have five minutes….

Email primaryassessment.consultation@education.gov.uk
Subject: Response to Primary Assessment in England Consultation 30th March – 22nd June 2017

Question 10
10. Any form of progress measure requires a starting point. Do you agree that it is best to move to a baseline assessment in reception to cover the time a child is in primary school (reception to key stage 2)? If you agree, then please tell us what you think the key characteristics of a baseline assessment in reception should be. If you do not agree, then please explain why.
My response to this is….

Do you think that any of our proposals could have a disproportionate impact, positive or negative, on specific students, in particular those with ‘relevant protected characteristics’ (including disability, gender, race and religion or belief)? Please provide evidence to support your response.

My response to this is…….


Scrap Baseline – Sign the Petition

Please sign the petition to scrap the baseline assessment

The proposals for baseline assessment programmes to be administered to 4 year olds in the first few weeks of Reception would subject children who are not yet of statutory school age – some barely past their 4th birthday – to assessments in the name of accountability, so that schools can demonstrate the “value” they add between Reception and Year 6.  However, the proposed assessments are not a reliable or valid source of data for this purpose, and so will not improve the quality of schools, and will not benefit children – in fact, for many the process could be harmful.

Early years experts agree that:

  1. the specification for the assessments is flawed and will not produce valid or reliable data, so cannot provide the intended measure of school effectiveness
  2. time spent on the assessments will hinder children’s settling in at the start of their primary education.  For a typical class of 30, a week of a teacher’s time could be spent administering assessments instead of supporting children.
  3. children who perform less well on assessments will be stigmatised and labelled as failing at the start of school, because the tests will not be age-adjusted or reflect that children’s development is not linear, and will therefore discriminate against, among others, summer born children, boys, children with special educational needs.  This will damage the relationship between the school and parents at a crucial early stage, with further harmful effect on the child’s education.

A detailed summary of the problems with the proposals can be found at TACTYC: the Association for Professional Development of Early Years Educators.  Concern about the proposals is expressed by organisations ranging from the joint primary group of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics and The Mathematical Association to the Too Much Too Soon Campaign.

Instead, the government should retain as statutory the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile




Another SATs week – another story of mental anguish

Out campaigning against baseline

This week primary children aged 10 and 11 take their SATs and a report published on the same day showed a range of symptoms of anxiety raised significantly for those pupils. These included

  • smoking
  • not eating breakfast
  • skipping other meals
  • sleep disturbance
  • behaviour difficulties

It is quite shocking that children as young as ten admit to smoking as a result of pressure from SATs. These tests are of no importance to the child. No pupils has ever been asked for their SATs levels later in life and most secondary schools ignore them and re-test as they are so falsely inflated. When they were first introduced, people said that schools would ignore the pressure and teach as they always had and the SATs were merely one week of formality. The reality is that children are closely monitored from Year 1 for their levels, labelled, put into ability groups, given booster lessons, sat for large chunks of their primary education at a table with children of the same ‘ability’ knowing that triangle group is the bottom group and the will never reach the dizzy heights of circle group. Now this threatens to come down into the Early Years, where baseline tests will be reported to the government and data used to judge the performance of a school and a teacher. These tests are of no use to the teacher or parent in assessing children and moving them on.

This is why the following professional associations have opposed it:

The NUT, The Pre-school Learning Alliance, Association for Professional Development in Early Years (TACTYC), Save Childhood Movement (SCM), Early Childhood Forum, National Association for Primary Education (NAPE), Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), Early Childhood Action, National Day Nurseries Association , British Association for Early Childhood Education (Early Education) The ATL, The Charter for Primary Education plus many academics, psychologists and others.

We have been campaigning across the country. Parents are horrified that the testing bug will infect the good practice in Early Years. We advise people to hold public events and widen the support for this campaign.




Primary Charter Coordinates Letter Against Baseline Testing

4 too young badge

Activists from the Primary Charter coordinated a letter to the Guardian signed by 80 activists including Philip Pullman and Michael Rosen:

The new baseline assessment tests being brought in to primary schools will mean pupils are assessed in the first couple of weeks of reception class. Last month, campaigners including professional associations, unions, academics and educationists called for the tests to be stopped because they: are statistically invalid; will formalise a testing culture from the age of four; will be used to judge teachers and schools; and, most importantly, will be dangerous for children.

Teachers in the NUT will be at their union conference over the Easter weekend, and the first motion on the agenda is one which calls for a different vision for primary education. This debate will centre on the baseline assessment.

The NUT will take a vote on a boycott of the tests. The union will also be asking parents to take part in the campaign by telling schools that they do not want their children to be subjected to this damaging experiment. Schools can bring the tests in this September, 2015. They can opt to use one of the six private providers set to make money from selling the tests to schools.

We do not want these tests to become part of the school routine as it will then be harder to get rid of them. We have the most overtested children in the developed world already, and the addition of the new baseline assessment will drive this test culture to an even younger age. We should not let that happen.
Sara Tomlinson Lambeth NUT and Primary Charter




NUT Conference votes to boycott baseline tests

Primary charter 4 too young

Teachers have voted to ballot for a boycott on tests for four-year-olds in England, calling them “disgraceful”.

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers’ conference backed a campaign to abolish the tests which are coming to many schools in September.

Teachers warn the literacy and numeracy tests would stress young pupils.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said it was “extraordinary” that teachers’ unions could not say “a single positive thing about England’s schools”.

These “baseline tests” in reading, writing and maths, to be carried out when pupils begin school, are intended to provide a starting point to measure progress against through primary school.

Ministers have argued that the assessments will help to make sure pupils leave primary school having made good progress in these basic skills.

The Labour party also supports the introduction of the baseline tests for reception pupils.

The Liberal Democrats support the tests and reject the way they have been characterised at the teachers’ union conference.

Too young to test

But Sara Tomlinson, calling for a boycott at the NUT annual conference in Harrogate, said: “We actually have the chance to stop these tests. We need to step up this campaign and act promptly as a trade union.

Making an emotional plea against the tests she said: “Four is too young to test,” adding that experts had denounced the tests.

“We have seen the reports on child mental health. What we are doing to children is absolutely disgraceful.”

She described the situation in her school where children were tested so frequently it was like “death by testing”.

The tests would be used by the Department for Education to track how much progress a child had made, she said, claiming that this would be used to decide whether the child’s teacher gets a pay rise or goes into a capability procedure.

Alex Kenny, a union executive member, said the NUT was not opposed in principle to assessing children, but it opposed these baseline tests and how they will be used.

The tests are being introduced formally in September 2016 but schools are being invited to start the testing early this September. Schools and teachers will be encouraged by the NUT to opt out of these.

‘Narrow skills’

The motion called for the union’s executive to take action, including “work towards a boycott of baseline assessments as the first step in undermining the basis of testing in primary schools”.

NUT deputy general secretary John Dixon said a ballot on a boycott would be a last resort, which would follow a campaign of persuasion.

Michael Davern, a teacher from Southwark, said members should “sink the ship before it sails” and urged parents to join in any boycott and opt out of testing.

Christine Blower, NUT general secretary said: “Government policy for primary education is on the wrong track. Unless challenged by teachers, it will give pupils a narrow and demotivating education, ill-fitting them for later life.

“Nowhere is this clearer than in the baseline assessment. Testing four and five year olds has nothing to do with supporting their learning, and everything to do with reinforcing a system which oppresses children and teachers alike with its narrow and rigidly-policed demands.”

The opposition to the tests was supported by the Pre-school Learning Alliance, with chief executive Neil Leitch saying the early years organisation “fully supports” the union’s decision.

“Early years policy must always, without exception, have the needs of the child at its centre – but with baseline tests, this is simply not the case,” said Mr Leitch, who warned that he remained “extremely concerned that the proposed tests focus so heavily on the narrow skills of language, literacy and numeracy”.



Reasons to say No to baseline testing … Parents, hand this postcard in to your child’s school…order here…

PrimaryCharter_baselinetests_postcard_A6_2pp_final Please complete order form and pay p&p via PayPal to have postcards sent to you…




Creating a manifesto for primary and early years education

Ikids in playground LIn the run up to the general election, there will be a big debate around education and what it should look like in this country.

The National Union of Teachers’ has launched a fantastic manifesto for education that can be downloaded here.
We would like to follow this example with a manifesto that looks in detail at the changes we would like to see made to early years and primary education.

We are therefor inviting as many people as possible to attend our “creating a manifesto for early years and primary education” meeting on Saturday 8th November, 11am – 2pm at SOAS, central London (room number tbc). Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the NUT will be attending this meeting to talk about how the NUT created their manifesto.

At this event, we will also discuss how we can move towards a boycott of “baseline” tests for four year olds.

Please email primarycharter@yahoo.co.uk if you want to attend.


Week of activity to campaign for LEA funded nursery places.

We have received this request for support from the Campaign for Real Nursery Education. Please download information about their campaign week here.