Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/298/13877
SATS - Labour's Giant Measuring Machine
Delegates to the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference voted unanimously last week to boycott SATS - the government's system of testing children at ages seven, eleven and fourteen. Linda Taaffe, a member of the NUT's national executive, spoke to the socialist about why teachers are so opposed to this system.
THIS TYPE of rigid testing is not good for children, certainly not good for teachers and therefore not good for education. When tests were first introduced just over a decade ago, we said as a union that it would lead to a narrowing of the curriculum. Teachers have now concluded that they're not doing real teaching, just training for the test.
One example of the effects of this was given in a recent OECD report. This showed children in Britain reading as well if not better than their European counterparts but being much less likely to pick up a book for pleasure. If you're educating someone they should want to read and find out things but now they're only reading when the teacher tells them.
This narrowing of the curriculum has happened. Creativity is being squeezed out in favour of uninspiring programmes of reading, writing, maths and science.
All the creative arts have been emasculated, like music, dance and sport, because of the intense pressure around the '3Rs'. And the way children are supposed to be taught science is not 'hands on', so creativity there is being squeezed.
Teachers know this is not right so we are standing up against it. Children feel a lot of anxiety about the tests. Childline has reported an increase in calls because of this stress. And there has been a rise in mental heath problems amongst children. Tests are only a part of that but they are a contributing factor.
We're not against tests themselves, teachers have always administered tests. What we're opposed to is the continual testing, not really for the children but to fulfil government targets. The government put pressure on us and we pass the pressure on to the children. We're not going to do that any more.
Testing is the nuts and bolts which hold the government's education agenda together. All the data from testing feeds into the targets and the league tables and in some cases teachers' pay.
"Back to basics"
This giant measuring system was started by the Tories as part of their 'back to basics' campaign and New Labour have tightened the screws.
Now even the most conservative teachers are totally opposed to the SATS system. It demotivates teachers because all we're doing is delivering a curriculum. In some instances like the literacy hour, the lessons are so proscribed they even tell you what to say. You can download some lesson plans off the internet and deliver them to the children.
This all fits in very neatly with their plans for using classroom assistants instead of teachers. If all you're doing is delivering a pre-prepared lesson plan why do you need someone who has trained for years?
The 2003 SATS tests are coming up during May. We will be getting as much publicity as we can across to parents about why the NUT is opposed. We'll be inviting parents and governors, other education workers and teachers in other unions and students to join with us in the campaign.
We have to be prepared to counter the government propaganda over the next year, so come January 2004, teachers will be doing real teaching not just preparing children for SATS.
We're urging teachers in every area to call a meeting as soon as possible to get the campaign kicked off. A number of NUT associations (branches) will be calling a national meeting soon to prepare the campaign for the beginning of the autumn term.
We particularly want parents to join in. We urge anyone involved in any way in education to contact us - parents, governors and school students, to join the campaign.
For more information, see the website:
What are your views on SATS? If you are a school student, parent or teacher, contact us if you want to get involved in the campaign.
Ring: 020 8988 8777 or email:
Soft on Blair, soft on the causes of Blair...
THE AMERICAN writer Frank Herbert defined democracy as: "A system in which the people do not trust the government" and it sure felt like that at the NUT conference over Easter.
Members were fed up with the executive being soft on Blair and soft on the causes of Blair. They enthusiastically applauded one delegate (Socialist Party member Jane Nellist) who came to the rostrum after listening to executive members and began: "Don't trust them!"
The Executive members were promising all sorts of (unspecified) radical action so long as conference rejected the specific calls for action proposed by the Left and endorsed by the overwhelming majority of delegates.
We have set up a website, found at: http://satsmustgo.tripod.com which will pursue the policy endorsed by conference of opposing SATS and organising parents, governors and pupils as well as teachers to ditch these pointless tests.
We cannot rely on the feeble leadership of the union to lead this fight without unrelenting pressure for improvement.
For A One-Day Strike
A GROUP of NUT members were telling me about their workload. One teacher explained: "We are all in school at seven. We don't really get a break. We stay until five and then after supper we have at least two more hours to do. Plus I work all day on Sunday. Sunday is like a working day for me."
Robin Pye, St Helens NUT
A younger teacher looked around sheepishly and added: "I only wanted to say that I work Saturday mornings as well."
The teachers were divided into two groups. You had the younger teachers who could not see how they could continue to balance work and home and were trying to find out whether they should just leave that particular school or leave the profession as a whole.
But there is another group of older teachers who are not confident they could get a job elsewhere and who are worried that they may succumb to stress-related illness, forcing them to retire early.
But more and more teachers are finding that they do not qualify for a sickness pension. Teachers are being tossed on the scrap heap while their colleagues look on and wonder if they will be next.
The NUT has refused to sign up to the remodelling agreement, which contains no commitment to reduce teachers' hours.
This agreement is simply an attempt to get more children minded by assistants who are not trained or paid to teach and disguise this cost-cutting exercise as a move to reduce teachers' workload.
We should announce that we will ballot our members for strike action in any school where duties properly carried out by a trained teacher are done by somebody else.
The government is refusing to set a limit on our hours, then union action must be extended so that we can set a limit ourselves. This should include:
- A union veto over new demands on teacher working time.
- Not preparing work to allow unqualified staff to take classes.
- Refusal to cover for absent teachers beyond the first day of absence. If appropriate cover isn't available, classes should be sent home or supervised by school management, not support staff.
- A union limit to the amount of assessment and marking that has to be completed each week.
- Support requests for strike ballots in schools where unqualified staff are being used to teach classes.
- Build for a one-day national strike.
Extracted from the Socialist Party teachers' bulletin, produced for NUT conference
Teachers Ready For Action
THE NATIONAL Union of Teachers (NUT) conference clearly showed that delegates were ready for action to defend teachers and education. Delegates voted, amongst many other issues, for a ballot to boycott SATS at all Key Stages and for action to oppose "remodelling" and on workload.
The union's national leadership hardly managed to win a significant vote. The right spoke throughout the conference using very weak and desperate arguments.
Many of the votes against the executive were from a broad layer of delegates who do not trust the leadership and are becoming more militant due to New Labour's attacks.
Socialist Party members played a key role in exposing their arguments. Linda Taaffe spoke at the anti-SATS meeting pointing out that, even after the conference victory, members had to build the boycott from below to make sure the action happened.
Hugo Pierre from UNISON was also a platform speaker at a fringe meeting against 'remodelling' and modernisation.
He was the only speaker to mention socialism and the need for a new mass workers' party and was well received.
Martin Powell-Davies seconded the key amendment on workload.
Several people joined the Socialist Party or expressed an interest in joining. One not only joined but donated £100 to the Party.
THE GOVERNMENT'S education "remodelling" proposals are a thinly veiled attempt to solve the problems of teacher shortages by getting teaching assistants to provide education on-the-cheap.
Martin Powell-Davies, Lewisham NUT
They will do little to improve teacher workload but a great deal to further undermine comprehensive education.
As part of the package, teachers have already had an effective pay cut imposed on us this April. As with the firefighters, New Labour hope to push aside any opposition and implement 'modernisation' at the expense of public services and those who work for them. Trade union action, backed up with public support, can make them think again.
The NUT must stand for real modernisation - reduced class sizes, genuine non-contact time, an end to teacher shortages - for a properly funded education system where schools have sufficient qualified teachers to staff every class and to provide release for cover and non-contact time as well.
We also seek the recruitment of more properly-paid support staff - but not to be taken from their proper roles to now act as cheap substitutes for qualified teaching staff.
In The Socialist 3 May 2003: