The Socialist Unity Network

Another school is possible!

Where next for teachers' action on SATs?

Simon Bexley



This weekend saw a conference in London hosted by the Anti SATS Alliance. Entitled ‘Another School is Possible!’ the event was attended by around fifty, mostly members of the NUT’s left groupings. Especially well represented were the Socialist Teachers Alliance, and the SWP faction who have been instrumental in organising the ASA. Up for discussion, the next phase in the struggle between the Government and their least favourite teachers’ union. Round one seemed to have been won by the Government when, in December insufficient numbers of members returned their ballots to meet the union’s stringent criteria to activate industrial action. However, of those who did reply, 85% supported boycotting the tests. The prospect of a new kind of industrial dispute was averted, one in which workers were to take action to support their oppressed sons and daughters. It might have been legally awkward but we knew we could have carried it through.


It feels as though the opponents of our brutal and relentless testing regime won the arguments long ago, it’s hard to find a primary teacher with a kind word to say about the tests. Devolved bodies in Wales, Northern Ireland, Jersey, The Isle of Man are all phasing them out, Scotland never had them in the first place. Yet, still the Government insist that children in England are put through SATs at 7, 11 & 14. Why? In three words, performance related pay. New Labour’s ‘standards agenda’ requires an ongoing effort to keep teachers in check through systems of performance management. As minister David Reynolds was heard to say, without the SATS, “who will control the teachers?” At the heart of this policy lies the notion of measuring teachers’ output. This must be driven up by setting teacher against teacher and school against school in their efforts to achieve the SATs results which will see them scramble to the top of the hated league tables. It’s all about cooking the books to produce the right figures: half of all the appeals launched by privatised school operator Ed-excel were to bring their schools’ SATs results down, in order that they could look like they had achieved relatively better GSCE scores in the new ‘value-added’ league tables.


So, where do we go from here? The conference heard from both teachers and leading academics in the field, all urging the popularisation of alternatives to testing. We need more rigorous research into the benefits of teacher assessment. However, we can’t research our way out of this mess. As Richard Hatcher, leading socialist educator from the University Central England put it, we need research to generate alternatives, then we need to take action to bring those alternatives about. Many practical suggestions were put forward for campaigning strategies. In order to ‘reclaim assessment’ from the Government and its ‘test mania’ we need to press home the message to parents regarding the damage inflicted by SATs both on diversity in the curriculum, and on their children’s health and wellbeing. We need to advise headteachers and parents on ways in which they can circumscribe the law requiring them to ensure their children attend school to take the tests. Currently, there is a culture of intimidation and fear about stepping out of line, and the prospect of fines, even imprisonment for those who do. Who says Stalinism’s dead!


What happens next will depend in part upon the results of the NUT’s election for General Secretary, currently underway, the result to be announced on June 28th.  Socialist Party candidate Martin Powell-Davis attended the Anti-SATs conference and Socialist Teachers Alliance/Campaign for a Democratic Fighting Union candidate Ian Murch sent a message of support. Both of these left wingers are regarded as outsiders in the contest.  However, with so many pressing concerns for teachers looming, pensions and workforce remodelling as well as the SATs issue, now is not the time to start conciliating with the Government.





June 2004


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