Will Norwich schools boycott SATs?

Sarah HallCouncil bosses will be writing to hundreds of Norfolk schools today to discover how many of them will be boycotting the controversial Sats tests.Sarah Hall

Council bosses will be writing to hundreds of Norfolk schools today to discover how many of them will be boycotting the controversial Sats tests.

Thousands of pupils in their final year of primary school have been preparing for the tests - but many will not sit them next month, because two unions have voted to boycott them.

The National Association of Headteachers and the National Union of Teachers have both voted to boycott the tests, which Year 6 children are due to take in English and mathematics from May 10.

Many teachers object to the use of results from the national curriculum tests to create league tables, while some argue the pressure to get good results comes at the expense of a broader range of teaching.

When the Evening News called every primary school in Norwich to ask to speak to heads about whether they would be taking part in the boycott, they were reluctant to discuss the issue.

But a clearer picture of where the Sats will be sat will emerge in the next few days, because Norfolk County Council is writing to schools to ascertain where the boycott will bite.

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A spokeswoman said: 'We are writing to schools today asking them to let us know if they are taking part in the boycott.'

However, from our calls, it seems a number of schools said they were consulting with parents before making a decision, but some schools plan to ignore the boycott and push ahead with the tests.

But that decision to hold the tests was, in some cases, being made with a heavy heart on the part of head teachers.

The head teacher of one city school said: 'We will be having the tests. It's not because I want to, but, because we had a poor set of results last year, so we can't afford to boycott them.'

Tim Lawes, head teacher of Catton Grove Primary School, was one of the few heads prepared to talk about why his school would be boycotting the tests.

He said: 'We are definitely boycotting the tests. The concerns we have are not with the Sats themselves, which are a useful benchmark against which we can ascertain achievement of children, but with what happens to the results afterwards.

'The results are in the public domain and people can use them as they wish, but that has resulted in so-called league tables being produced.

'For a lot of schools, the most concerning issue is the importance [school watchdog] Ofsted places on them is determining the success or otherwise of a school.

'The danger is the schools which serve disadvantaged areas are often ranked in the bottom third because they find it incredibly hard to get kids to the required levels, when they come from such a low base to begin with.'

He added the school would still be reporting its own assessments of pupils' progress to the local council and that the information would be available to high schools, while children would be taught as normal during what would have been Sats week.

Mr Lawes said he had informed parents by letter and received support for the boycott, but he added: 'The kids are disappointed because they usually get doughnuts in Sats week and they'll be missing out on them this year!'

Kendra Deacon, divisional secretary for the NUT in Norfolk, said she was confident the majority of schools would take part in the boycott.

She said: 'I have heard good things about the numbers planning to take part. Obviously there will be some which do them, but I think that shows how pressured they feel about getting results.

'Some schools are worried, especially if they had a weak cohort last year and the reflection it would have on Ofsted if they boycott these tests.

'But I have spoken to others and one head teacher told me she hopes this will get rid of Sats for good. I have not found anyone who thinks Sats are a good idea.'

The government is looking at the possibility of a legal challenge, while all three party education spokesmen are hoping to hold talks with the NUT and NAHT once the election is over - and before the planned boycott.

Are you a primary school head teacher who does want to have their say on the Sats boycott? Call Evening News reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk