School worker activists in the National Education Union (NEU) are busily preparing for the consultative ballot about boycotting high stakes summative testing in primary schools. The ballot was decided at the union's conference in April.
The NEU says: "There can be no lasting solution to problems of children’s well-being, teacher workload, curriculum narrowness and teaching to the test unless our assessment system changes.
"NEU members have asserted their conviction that assessment must be supportive of learners and must be a matter of teachers’ professional judgment. The days of universal standardised testing, designed more to make judgments about school performance than about pupil learning, are numbered".
The ballot opens on 4 June and will run until at least 12 July. The union is organising district meetings, representatives’ meetings, and school group meetings, and speaking to members. All reports so far suggest the response of members is positive. Generally, the union leadership do seem to be preparing to make a serious effort to win the ballot, despite having opposed it at conference. However, some around the leadership seem keen to amplify and embellish the honest concerns of the membership about the ballot: finding problems rather than solving them.
Rather than worrying about the exact implementation of the boycott, we should point out that school groups and members emboldened by a big "yes" vote and a vigorous campaign, will understand how to implement it. Activists in the other school unions, in particular GMB and Unison, should be demanding that they join the boycott. If this is not successful then we must ensure their members do not carry out the work we are boycotting.
The motion passed at conference doesn’t demand a boycott of preparation for tests. When we have won a significant vote for boycott, school groups (and indeed leaderships) will decide whether preparation for tests that won’t happen is a sensible use of resources. When asked what will replace the test, we respond that school workers constantly assess what children can do and what they need to learn. That is how most assessment was done in Primary school (outside Year 2 and Year 6) up until very recently and still is in many schools.
Every Year 2 and Year 6 practitioner I have ever met can tell you in detail what the children they work with can do and what they need to work on, they don’t need tests. We need to focus on the liberatory opportunity to rid children and school workers of these loathed tests, to regain the possibility of teaching what our children need and at a pace appropriate to them, to reclaim control of our work and to stop harming children.
The slogan the national union is pushing is "Too Much Testing!" I would add: "Learning not Labelling".