The SWP and high-stakes testing

Submitted by martin on 17 February, 2020 - 3:57 Author: Duncan Morrison

For the last four years members of the Socialist Workers’ Party have fought militantly AGAINST the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and then the National Education Union (NEU) balloting its members to boycott SATs and the other high-stakes test in primary schools.

That’s right, they are AGAINST it. We in Workers’ Liberty have written and moved motions at national conference for a boycott in all of those years. Every year the SWP have spoken and voted against those motions. They have argued that the union should continue its work with More Than A Score and other parent campaigns to prepare the ground for some ballot some time in the indefinite future. They have argued that there should be consultations of members to see if there was willingness to boycott but barely raised their voices when they haven’t happened. At every turn, they have, as an organisation, spread concerns and disbelief that a boycott could happen. Not only have they not helped lead the struggle, they have de-facto mobilised to stop it.

Specifically, on conference floor:

  • In 2016 they argued that the union’s focus should be on the upcoming strike to protect teachers’ terms and conditions against the new Conservative policy of blanket academisation of all our schools by 2022 and cuts to funding. Rather than conduct a ballot to boycott, they instead insisted to indicatively ballot primary members to test their reception to the idea. There never was an indicative ballot.
  • In 2017, they deliberately misinterpreted our motion claiming it was against all testing and became the champions of the spelling test. Again they proposed, and conference voted for, an indicative ballot, again there was no indicative ballot.
  • In 2018, they argued that the union should focus its attention on stopping the implementation of Baseline and that if we achieved that then the whole high-stakes testing system would fall apart (no one could explain, how, or indeed why, that would happen)!
  • In 2019, they re-applied the arguments from 2018.

The difference was that in 2019 that conference voted, against the SWP and the leadership of the union, which they had so loyally supported (some might say toadied to), forcing a real indicative ballot. What was Jess Edwards, leading SWPer and NEU Executive member’s response? Through gritted teeth she said to me (I had moved the motion for a boycott) ‘Well, I hope Lewisham can get the vote out’.

In the national indicative ballot that followed, SWP lead districts did fight to mobilise a ‘yes’ vote. Although in districts which weren’t clearly lead by the SWP, their members were often much less enthusiastic. I presume that the shame of the SWP lead districts not doing well in the ballot would have been too much.

The results of the national indicative ballot showed 97% of members across the country wanted to replace SATs and high stakes tests, 59% said they wanted to boycott on a 39% turnout. In London those figures were 97% wanting to replace SATs and high stakes tests, 65% said they wanted to boycott on a 49% turnout and in areas such as Lewisham 97% want to replace the tests, 75% wanted to boycott on a 60% turnout (many of the SWP lead areas had similar results). The SWP’s response to those figure, nothing more could be done! Such revolutionary leadership!

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