Teacher Resistance in the United Kingdom

By Nick Grant

The testing regime Melissa Schieble so accurately captures was opposed by teacher unions at its outset — but only in terms of workload, not in terms of pedagogy or the removal of professional choice that it has brought. So once Margaret Thatcher’s government conceded that external markers would grade the national Standard Assessment Tests (SATs), union opposition fell away.

Since then, the tyranny of the national tests has undeniably damaged teaching and learning. This prompted a ballot to boycott the national tests by members of the National Union of Teachers in primary schools in late 2003 — this time in a direct political rather than workplace confrontation.

Sadly, our ballot was insufficient according to internal union rules, though it met legal minimal requirements of participation and consent. Those who voted were almost unanimously in favor, but around 70 percent abstained. An “Anti-SATs Alliance” of educators and parents had not won the case. Bullying principals were a large factor in the abstention rate.

But we now have a surprising yet very welcome development. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), organizing almost all primary sector and many secondary sector school principals, has called on parents to boycott next year’s SATs by keeping their kids at home for the mornings in May that they are to be taken.

NAHT is being careful because as SATs are statutory, refusal to administer them is technically a crime.

NAHT leader Mick Brookes said, “League tables [media rankings of schools based on government test data] just demoralize schools every year. When schools have been working hard to raise standards, it demoralizes them when they are down at the bottom of the league tables.”

Let’s hope teachers, principals, parents, and students can unite to rid us of these tests in 2007. Melissa Scheible — and others — watch this space!

Nick Grant is co-founder of Rethinking Education (www.rethinkinged.org.uk) and a branch secretary for the National Union of Teachers in Ealing, West London.