NEU conference and ballots 2019

End high-stakes testing in primary schools: build the boycott ballot!

NEU conference 2019

NEU conference 2019   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

James Kerr, NEU conference delegate (personal capacity)

National Education Union (NEU) members in primary schools will vote in an online indicative ballot from 4 June, towards a boycott of all high-stakes ‘summative’ testing for 2019-20.

These tests include the hated ‘Sats’, but also phonics screening, statutory times-table tests, and other pressurised end-of-term exams.

This culture of testing has come to dominate primaries, partly fuelled by the major edu-businesses’ attempts to cash in on public services, selling schools packages of tests and accompanying study materials.

The increased stress for staff and students, increased workload for teachers, and a narrowing curriculum as schools teach to the test, have made this a burning issue in our primary schools.

The ballot came from a motion at NEU conference this Easter after years of ferocious debate on the conference floor. The leadership’s lack of a clear strategy in recent years had stored up anger among delegates and that exploded in the debate.


The union president, in the chair, originally called the hand-raising vote for boycotts as lost. But an eruption from delegates forced a digital vote, with 58% shown to back the motion.

Now the whole union must turn to building the indicative ballot, with meetings of reps happening in the next week, phone-banking and, most importantly, workplace meetings to vote collectively and build the turnout. After this indicative ballot, the union will need to carry out a second, statutory ballot, before it can legally call industrial action.

NEU conference had also voted for policy on pay, with an indicative ballot planned for the Autumn term if the government offer is as derisory as everyone expects it to be.

The key amendment on pay which mapped out what needs to be done was moved by Socialist Party and NEU national executive committee member Nicky Downes. The recent pay victory of the Scottish teachers’ union EIS was raised as an example showing bold, combative campaigning can gain results.

Socialist Party member Jane Nellist spoke to a motion in support of the youth climate strikes. And the conference was one of the most open in recent years, with no organisation controlling proceedings to the exclusion of others.

It’s time to learn the lessons of the past, avoid repeating the union leadership’s mistakes that have brought us to this point, and build a massive turnout in the primary assessment ballot. Speak to every NEU member you know, at the school gates and in your communities, and encourage them to vote Yes!