NUT delegates back boycott of testing for four and five-year-olds

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers’ conference have backed a motion that could lead to a boycott of planned testing for four and five-year-olds in England.

Ministers claim that the new literacy and numeracy baseline tests will help track children’s progress though primary school.

But many teachers feel strongly that the plan, due to be trialled in schools this September before being introduced nationally the following year, would put unreasonable pressure on children at too young an age.

Members of the NUT passed a motion today (Saturday), at the union’s annual conference in Harrogate, Yorkshire, agreeing to “work towards a boycott of baseline testing”.

The motion added that all teachers should be made “aware of the implications of baseline assessment. The tests are of no value to children, they are solely intended to monitor teachers and schools as pupils pass through the system”.

An NUT spokesperson said: “A ballot among members would be necessary before any boycott took place. However, we would hope that it would not come to that.”

After the motion had been passed, NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “Conference today celebrated something that policy-makers have set aside: education is for children, not for the purposes of accountability.

“Government policy for primary education is on the wrong track. Unless challenged by teachers, it will give pupils a narrow and demotivating education, ill-fitting them for later life.

“Nowhere is this clearer than in the baseline assessment.

“Testing four and five-year-olds has nothing to do with supporting their learning, and everything to do with reinforcing a system which oppresses children and teachers alike with its narrow and rigidly-policed demands.

“If governments continue to constrain children’s learning with inappropriate testing arrangements, the union will step up its campaign, working with parents and the wider world of education to change this system for the benefit of children’s educational experience and learning.”

The motions comes after six approved assessment providers were announced by the government in February — the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring Durham University (CEM), Early Excellence, GL Assessment, Hodder Education, National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and Speech Link.

All providers of the baseline assessment must sign up approximately 1,700 schools before the end of April to retain their approved status.

Children’s author Philip Pulman was among 80 signatories to a letter published in the Guardian on April 1 urging the government to scrap baseline assessments.

The letter referred to calls by campaigners for reception baseline assessments to be stopped because they “are statistically invalid, will formalise a testing culture from the age of four, will be used to judge teachers and schools, and most importantly, will be dangerous for children”.

Professor Rob Coe at the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at Durham University denied that the assessments were statistically invalid or that CEM’s assessment would be “traumatic or harmful in any way”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The reception baselines have been evaluated by the Standards and Testing Agency and the evaluation process involves independent early years experts.

“The reception baselines use a variety of approaches to assessment, for example children sitting one-to-one with a teacher and answering some questions, and schools will be able to choose the approach that most closely aligns with their school practice.”

School reform minister Nick Gibb said: “It’s extraordinary that the teaching unions haven’t said a single positive thing about England’s schools over the past week.”

A Labour party spokesperson confirmed that his party also supported the introduction of baseline testing.

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