The traditional teaching union annual conference season over Easter always seems to open old wounds and sees a re-drawing of ‘battle lines.’ This year’s NEU conference proved to be no exception. In fact, the union appears to have hardened its stance more than ever on the issue of the SATs exams.

The NEU conference voted to ballot its members over a boycott of the SATs. It’s a move that has been put forward as a motion before at previous conferences, but such motions have always failed to pass until this year.

Indeed, it was far from a straightforward matter at the recent conference either. The motion initially appeared to have been lost. However, a recount was called and the motion was passed with a majority of 13%.

The issue was complicated further still as the NEU’s executive attempted to block the ballot. The union’s executive put forward an amendment calling for a more strategic and long-term plan against testing, as an alternative to the boycott action proposed by the motion.

However, it seems that the union’s executive perhaps misjudged the strength and depth of feeling within the union’s membership against the SATs. It shows that large numbers of primary school teachers believe that the only way a lasting solution can possibly be found to the most pressing concerns of teachers – workload, children’s mental health, and the narrow and inappropriate curriculum – is if the current system of assessment and SATs testing is changed.

Boycotts and strikes divide opinion

Nothing in education will ever divide opinion more than the issue of boycotts or strikes. For some within the profession, such tactics will always be viewed as a step too far. Some even believe that, as a matter of principle, teachers should not ever take such action because of the disruption it causes to pupils and parents alike.

On the other hand, there are many within the profession that either see such action as the only way to bring about change. What’s more a considerable number of teachers simply feel they have been pushed too far and that enough is now absolutely enough.

Many parents share teachers’ concerns

Typically, parental support and that of the general public, tends to erode whenever teachers take any form of industrial action. Indeed, during periods of strike action it is not uncommon to hear some of those old and tired arguments trotted out: ‘Look at all the holidays teachers get!’ or ‘Our taxes pay your wages!’

Of course, strike days do can cause considerable inconvenience and disruption for parents. However, any SATs boycott would not be as disruptive, and it’s likely that many parents would supportive of such action. Parent groups such as Let Our Kids Be Kids have been vocal in their opposition of the current regime of testing, and parents have boycotted the tests before by keeping their children off school on the days the tests were supposed to be taken.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next weeks as primary school children prepare to sit the tests. And, whatever happens then, it’s likely that this is a debate and an argument that will just rumble on and on.

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