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Education: SATS tests
Clarke Fails To Stem Opposition
ONLY FIVE weeks after the National Union of Teachers' (NUT) unanimous decision to boycott SATS, and nearly a year before pupils next sit these iniquitous tests in 2004, Charles Clarke has announced changes to the primary curriculum. It's a vain attempt to stem the tide of opposition.
In a document "Excellence and Enjoyment" Clarke has decreed that children WILL enjoy school - but - tests, targets and tables are here to stay!
He will make changes to next year's tests for seven year olds, but won't do away with tests. He will enable schools to set their own "robust" targets for 11 year olds (rather than the LEA) but retain the system of targets. He will make some alterations to how league tables are formulated, but leave the tables in place.
This cuts no ice with teachers. As long as scores are generated, whether by class teachers, examiners or even electronic markers, there will still remain numbers to be crunched.
What happened to using "words" to describe a child's progress? Why does everything have to be converted into numbers? Teachers feel this narrow test data is being turned back on them and their schools in many negative ways from OFSTED inspections to performance related pay.
The children suffer as well. At NUT Conference many delegates declared themselves no longer prepared to pass this pressure on to children they teach. This review won't make that pressure go away.
Nothing less than the abolition of testing will do. However, NUT members got a modest ripple of gratification that this government has revealed just a glimpse of the jitters, all due to their collective decision.
The NUT National Executive welcomed Clarke's acknowledgement that there's a problem, but reaffirmed its commitment to boycott SATS. Plans are now being drawn up to get the campaign underway.
This campaign could create a huge problem for Blair. It has already drawn wide support from parents, support staff, academics, authors and even some of the media. Parents might be prepared to withdraw their children from these tests as part of a mass action if teachers are threatened with legal action over a boycott.
A community campaign linked with a major trade union could see the dismantling of tests, which are the nuts and bolts of the whole edifice of targets and tables.
A victory in education could have implications for hospitals, also bedevilled by the same number-crunching regimes. In fact New Labour's approach to the management of workers is under attack.
That's the real reason why Clarke made these changes. Teachers and parents should now press home their advantage.
School support staff lobby
SCHOOL SUPPORT staff who are only paid during term time will be holding a protest rally and lobbying parliament on 5 June.
These workers, members of UNISON, GMB and TGWU, are low-paid and often aren't able to claim Job Seekers' Allowance during the school holidays. Access to sick pay and other employment rights are often denied them.
The unions are submitting a joint national claim to the employers, calling for term-time working to be used only on a voluntary basis.
Further details on www.unison.co.uk
STUDENTS AND teachers at Greenford High School, west London spoke to the socialist about SATS.
- "What the government is doing is wrong. You shouldn't have to do exams at seven and eleven. At 14, people don't mind doing tests too much but they get called exams and teachers get put under a lot of pressure, which they pass on to the students. Last year, when we did them, our teachers told us we had to revise hard for the SATS 'exams' and then when they were over they went back to calling them 'tests'." Christina
- "There's too many tests and when you're seven and eleven years old you shouldn't be put through public exams." Two teachers
- "What's the point of SATS? The teachers are assessing us anyway, why do you need more tests?" Naghmen
Teachers, support assistants, parents, school students and anyone else interested in this campaign is invited to a meeting on 28 June, 11am-3.30pm.
Meet at South Camden School, Charrington Street, London WC1 (10 minutes from Euston and Kings Cross.) Information from http://satsmustgo.tripod.com
In The Socialist 31 May 2003: