Editor’s note: Teachers across the world will find much that is familiar in this report on the state of high-stakes standardized testing, but what is different is the national campaign, backed by a boycott threat, of the UK’s largest teachers union. We welcome other stories from education activists about how their communities and teachers are resisting these tests.  Several articles in the Research Archives address the scholarly case against the tests.

The National Education Union (NEU), a merged union comprised of the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in the UK and Wales,  is currently having its members in primary schools (children aged 4-11) vote on a measure to boycott the government’s high stakes summative testing. Activists have fought for many years to get a ballot and at the first conference of the new union, in April; they won a heated debate and vote. The union is the largest school workers union in Britain organising over 450,000 members.

England has the highest level of testing in schools in Europe. Children in primary schools are tested in Year 1 (age 5-6) for phonics, Year 2 (age 6-7) Standard Attainment Tests (SATs), next year they will test Year 4 (age 8-9) on times tables and Year 6 (age 10-11) SATs. The government also wants to introduce a baseline test in 2020 for reception children (age 4-5). In addition many schools are buying in additional tests to prove their data to the government. This means that it is common for 6 weeks out of the 39-week year to be taken up with testing. These tests are not about children’s learning they are about measuring schools performance. They harm children by placing them under a terrible amount of stress. They harm their learning by narrowing the curriculum. They demoralise teachers and support staff as they forced to carry out these tests, upon which their own performance will be judged, when they know they harm children and their learning.

The voting, an “indicative ballot,” will run from 4th June until the 2nd July. It is “indicative” because the UK’s draconian anti-union laws mean that in the formal ballot the union must have a 50% turnout and 40% of the membership, regardless of whether they vote or not, voting yes. If the indicative ballots are deemed sufficiently strong by the union, the formal ballot or ballots will occur at the end of the year.

The indicative ballot is being run under the slogans ‘Stop toxic testing’ and ‘Trust teachers’. Regardless of whether we can meet the voting thresholds, the campaign is having a rejuvenating effect on the union with many reports of large meetings, representatives from schools that have not been active for many years turning up and a new layer of representatives being recruited in primary schools. Primary has been a historically less well-organised section of the union. The campaign is also feeding in to and running alongside a changing attitude to testing across the country. We believe we have a unique opportunity to change the direction of government policy on education. Stop toxic testing, trust teachers!

By Duncan Morrison, Assistant District Secretary of Lewisham NEU