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SATs conference: End These Nightmare Tests
WE'VE HAD "tears in the morning" said Socialist Party member Suzanne Muna, speaking from the platform at the 'Stop the SATs' conference in London. "My son is dyslexic but the tests don't take things like that into account. My daughter felt under so much pressure that she used to wake up with nightmares about the tests".
Over 200 teachers and parents from all over the country, plus a handful of school students, met on 28 June to discuss how to stop the SATs. Susanne explained how "children believed that if they didn't do well in tests, they wouldn't go to a good school". But that's not the case. SATs are about league tables "not what is best for children".
Now there are private SATs clubs springing up on Saturdays. "We don't expect adults to work six days a week why should children ? It's dreadful that when children should be letting of steam on a Saturday morning that they have to do even more cramming work".
Alan Gibbons from 'Authors against the SATs' explained how 100 authors, including the author of Postman Pat, were refusing to allow their work to be used in forthcoming SATs. He attacked the "Anally Retentive Curriculum" that squeezed out storytelling, arts and music. "Children can read" he said "but they no longer enjoy it".
Alan explained how this issue could re-energise NUT meetings. He called for mass rallies of teachers and parents and stressed the importance of involving students who had shown in the anti-war movement that they were prepared to come out onto the streets. He also called for regular national bulletins and national demonstrations to help take the campaign forward.
Pressure from below
THE CONFERENCE broke down into workshops to discuss future campaigning. The NUT voted at its national conference in favour of a ballot for a national boycott of SATs. It's likely that an indicative ballot will take place in September followed by a full ballot around the October half term.
Delegates and speakers stressed the need to build from below to ensure that a 'yes' vote is secured and a boycott is successful. The draft programme stated that the campaign "should not seek to substitute ourselves for the NUT but rather aim to drive the campaign along and in doing so keep up pressure on the union".
Suzanne Muna described how a parents' mass boycott could be a "second line of defence" if the government decided to launch a legal challenge against a boycott by teachers. She explained how the parents' campaign in Waltham Forest, which she had helped organise, at its peak had 600 active parents on its database and almost stopped the local education authority from being privatised.
Linda Taaffe, a member of the national executive of the NUT and also a Socialist Party member, echoed Suzanne's points when she introduced a parents workshop. "The government won't take this lying down and will try everything imaginable to denigrate and defeat a SATs boycott. The crucial battleground will be parents and wider public opinion."
In Waltham Forest, 30,000 'Not good for children' anti-SATs leaflets have already been distributed to parents. A campaign meeting has been held and now parents will be approaching governors to organise debates in the schools. Model letters and speakers' notes are also available.
The conference agreed to to set up a steering committee to help organise the campaign nationally.
For model letters and speakers notes contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Conference campaign statement
This conference of parents and teachers expresses its opposition to the SATs.
We believe that:
1) They don't help children to learn
2) They don't help teachers to teach
3) Teachers are put under pressure to 'teach to the test'
4) The tests, not the needs of children, dominate the work and life of schools
5) They are used for league tables which are deceptive, divisive and misleading
We agreed to establish a campaign to abolish the SATs and invite those who share our aim to join with us.
We agree to support all practical measures possible to publicise the case against the SATs.
We agree to support teachers and the unions should they decide to implement a boycott of the tests.
We agree to establish a steering committee from this conference which shall be open to parents, carers, education campaigners and teachers representatives to campaign for these objectives.
In The Socialist 5 July 2003: