Archive for October, 2010

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

I was disappointed to hear Rachel Wolf, of the New Schools Network, talking in what sounded like fairly ideological terms about “accountability” on the Today programme yesterday.

Ms Wolf was being put on the spot about the ability of free schools, which the New Schools Network promotes, to employ teachers who lack Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

It was a brief interview, with frequent interruptions, but I think the thrust of her argument was fairly clear.

First, she said, schools needed the flexibility to decide whom to recruit. I’m not going to discuss that point directly here.

But second, she seemed to be arguing that if there were any problems with teachers recruited without having gained QTS, these would simply show up through “accountability”, which seemed to consist of inspections and test/exam results.

She said: “The way that parents decide about whether teachers are good is by whether the school is doing well, and one of the things about free schools is that they are going to be held strictly accountable through inspections”. Then, as the discussion headed towards a slightly frantic conclusion, she seemed to be talking about test and exam results being the main vehicle.

She said: “I think it’s absolutely key that groups [setting up schools] are able to innovate in the classroom, that they are able to try different things, and that they are held accountable for their results. I think we need to move to a system where people are held accountable for how well they do.”

James Naughtie, the interviewer, then intervened. He said: “If [the teachers] get bad results, it’s too late.”

Ms Wolf replied: “We have to allow people, as they have done in America, as they have done with charter schools, and this is why [President] Obama is pushing charter schools so heavily, to try something different for children who are not getting the results they should.”

I think the argument, then, is clear, and the thinking is entirely akin to the ideology behind the testing/charter school/corporate education model now being pushed very hard across the Atlantic. Charter schools are one of the school reform models being promoted by the New Schools Network and are, as Ms Wolf says, also backed by President Obama.

“Accountability” in the way it has developed through an influential strand of opinion in America, says at its crudest that it doesn’t matter what credentials a teacher might have because they can simply be held to account through their pupils’ test and exam results, with low performers fired. It is a huge debating point in the United States.

Some, including the author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell, have reportedly argued that “anyone with a pulse and a college degree” should be allowed into teaching, with performance data then used to root out underperformers.

Media attempts to put pressure on teachers with poor scores have included the Los Angeles Times publishing value-added test data on thousands of named  elementary school teachers.

The current edition of one of America’s most well-known education magazines, Phi Delta Kappan, for which I write regularly online and which fell through my letterbox this morning, has two lengthy articles debating the problems with this version of accountability, including the assumption that there are legions of great potential teachers waiting to take the place of anyone sacked because their pupils’ test scores are too low.

One* concludes: “A decade of accountability mandates has caused schools to respond in predictable and unproductive ways. One of its effects has been to obscure certain truths about education as actually practiced [sic: US spelling] in the classroom. If schools are to improve, they must abandon the business-orientated rhetoric of the accountability movement and concentrate on what we know will improve student achievement. That is, schools must focus on improving the quality of instruction in all classrooms.”

I have also just been sent a statement to sign, put together by 10 very prominent US educationists which argues against that “even the most sophisticated use of test scores, value added modelling (VAM) is a flawed and inaccurate way to judge whether teachers are effective or ineffective”.

Ranged against them in this debate are prominent media organisations, aggressive reformers – who argue, rightly or wrongly, that drastic change is needed in America’s schools – and corporate sponsors.

But accountability in the simplistic sense that reformers push it promotes, of course, dumbed-down education, narrowing teaching to what can be measured, while there is what seems to me persuasive evidence that it can actually inhibit innovation, in creating a culture of fear among professionals.

I would also wager that if anyone asked Ms Wolf who her own best teachers were, she would not be asking for data on their pupils’ exam results.

For these reasons, actually, I think Rachel Wolf is wrong: I’m sceptical whether accountability actually will take off in this fashion if free schools are really given the freedom that those trying to set them up will hope for. For the middle class parents who seem to have at least a say in the running of these schools (for an example, see this group at Toby Young’s proposed free school) strike me as too smart to let teacher quality be judged on such narrow measures as is being advocated in the States. Teacher quality, I think, if left to parents running schools, would be judged in a more nuanced and qualitative, and less reductive, way, if these parents really have a stake in ensuring the schools promote good teaching.  

Anyone doubting this should consider that the other independent sector over here – in particular, the successful, household name fee-charging schools – as far as I know do not go near anything like this kind of measurement system. I don’t think their reputations would stand it.

Alternatively, if a system of crude numbers-based accountability is going to be imposed on free schools, then they are likely to be “free” only to the extent that they can guarantee their pupils’ good performance on the tested metrics,  which presumably will be centralised indicators.

Just finally, watching the American debate develop into this incredibly polarised, bitter battle for the future of state education, with corporate donors seeming to have a very strong say in how it is framed and state schools regularly pilloried, I do wonder why anyone over here would look at it and say: “that sounds good to me, let’s have some of that”.

*The US article on accountability which I mention, for which unfortunately I’m unable to provide a link, is “Truths Hidden in Plain View” by Thomas M McCann, Alan C Jones and Gail Aronoff.

- Warwick Mansell

posted on October 27th, 2010


Wednesday, October 20th

So the funding situation for schools is getting a little clearer, after George Osborne’s spending review announcements today. There is still some way to go, though.

Here are a few thoughts.

First, although the funding situation for schools appears at first glance better than many were predicting – and certainly appears better than that facing universities and further education, there are several caveats.

For, although Mr Osborne was able to say that the schools budget for 5- to 16-year-olds would rise in real terms every year for the next four years, this relates to only to a 0.1 per cent real terms increase per year. But more significantly, perhaps, the spending review documents make clear that “underlying per pupil funding will be maintained in cash terms”.

In other words, although the amount of money going into the overall pot, the Government says, will rise just a bit more than it needs to do to keep pace with inflation, funding per pupil is actually going to fall, after taking into account inflation, presumably because pupil numbers are increasing.

The Government might retort here that teachers’ pay – the major element of schools’ budgets, at around 80 per cent – is being frozen over the next two years, so a big part of costs will not increase over that time. But that still leaves the 20 per cent.

But returning to that overall pot, the fact that it will keep pace with inflation at all is in part because the pupil premium, at £2.5 billion, has been factored in to the total.

This, I think is very interesting, as it shows that the pupil premium is not just an addition to the schools budget, as it could have been.

In the Institute for Fiscal Studies policy paper from March, which I reported on in my first blog on the pupil premium, the first scenario modelled was one where the pupil premium was simply added on to existing schools budgets.

The IFS modelled what would happen under this scenario, which would mean that no school would lose out from the advent of the premium, and many schools would gain. This model, it said, was based on a 2009 policy paper from the Liberal Democrats which proposed a pupil premium which would “involve extra money for schools”.

I cannot see how this scenario survives under what has been proposed today, since it would seem to imply preserving baseline real terms funding to schools before the pupil premium is added. But the pupil premium is being added only to bring funding up to real terms parity.

Because the overall 5-16 schools budget is being held roughly equal, in real terms, then, even after taking into account the pupil premium, there are going to be winners and there are going to be losers from this settlement. In fact, given that per-pupil funding is only being held constant, in cash terms, it may be hard to find many schools whose budgets are going to go up, in real terms, as a result of this settlement.

And what will be the effect of the premium itself? Well, it seems to me there are only two scenarios, here.

Because the schools budget is to increase only roughly at the pace of inflation, this is a “standstill” budget, in real terms. If the effect of the pupil premium is to direct more money towards pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, this must come at the expense of non-disadvantaged homes (ie they will lose out, in real terms, because the pot is not large enough to ensure that no-one loses).

On the other hand, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies argues in its March pamphlet, in reality in recent years there has already a large amount of money going to schools educating disadvantaged pupils (through an implicit pupil premium). Given this, it may be that the pupil premium does not end up directing more money to disadvantaged pupils, on average, than was already the case under Labour. In that case, non-disadvantaged pupils would not lose out but it would hard to see how the politicians could claim the pupil premium had really gone a long way towards tackling disadvantage.

There is still much detail to work out, including how direct grants to schools are allocated. These are significant because, according to the IFS, they accounted for 15 per cent of primary school funding, and 16 per cent of secondary school funding, in 2008-9.The Government has said it will take grants including the Schools Standards Grant, specialist schools funding and money for one-to-one tuition, into account when calculating schools’ budgets, implying that these grants are going to be maintained but with “ringfencing” removed so that heads can decide how they want to spend the money.

However, does this mean that each school receives the same amount of grant as they did in the past, or simply that the money goes into a general national pot to be redistributed?

The other thing that has not been factored into any of this, I believe, is the effect of any cuts in local authority support services, which will have an impact in schools.

Despite this lack of detail, if I were a betting man, I would wager that schools in relatively well-off areas with large numbers of disadvantaged pupils would emerge as the relative winners from this settlement, and those educating lots of disadvantaged pupils in poorer areas as relative losers.

I’ve got a couple of reasons for believing this. First, the Government’s consultation on the pupil premium, published over the summer and discussed in my last blog, does not envisage the pupil premium being a single figure per disadvantaged pupil for the whole country. Rather, schools educating disadvantaged pupils in relatively poorly funded areas (which tend to be outside the poorest inner cities) will get a higher pupil premium, and those in well-funded areas, a lower. The effect of this, I think, will be to redistribute funding towards schools in less disadvantaged, rural areas, as the IFS paper from earlier this month suggests.

The Liberal Democrats, in their pupil premium paper from last year, say that funding for disadvantage is not “targeted” effectively enough at the moment, with schools in different parts of the country funded very differently (up to £1,000 per pupil) even when they have “very similar levels of need”. It implies that Labour grants targeted at areas of deprivation, rather than particular pupils, miss out on supporting many disadvantaged children. Expect redistribution to reflect this, then.

The other reason to believe that the change could work this way is pure politics. Unsurprisingly, figures for children eligible for free school meals tend to show that more are concentrated in Labour-supporting areas. In a tight budget overall, the coalition would be brave to allow the pupil premium to move funds for deprivation further towards Labour-supporting areas, at the expense of schools in areas which have Liberal Democrat or Conservative MPs. Political realism would suggest the formula has not been engineered to make this happen. Perhaps the politicians will be bold enough to allow schools in “their own” areas to take the hit for this new funding system. But, as I say, I think it would be a brave person who bets on it.

- Warwick Mansell

posted on October 20th, 2010


Tuesday, October 19th

Since I wrote my article on the Pupil Premium for Education Journal back in May, there have been some developments which give clues to some of the questions posed in that piece.

Specifically, there is more information available in relation to a central dilemma referred to there: whether or not the pupil premium is to be paid for by cuts to Labour’s existing grant schemes, which went directly from government to schools and which have had the effect, according to the IFS’s paper which was published in May, of helping to provide much greater funding for children from deprived backgrounds.

On page 23 of the Government’s consultation on the pupil premium, published in late July, there is part of an answer. The paper says that the Government intends to “mainstream” relevant grants into its calculation of schools’ “core” budgets, provided through what is called the Dedicated Schools Grant. The relevant grants likely to be bound up into the Dedicated Schools Grant include the School Development Grant, the School Standards Grant and the School Standards Grant (Personalisation).

On first reading this, it seemed to me that this meant that the coalition was simply scrapping the money that goes with these grants. But that does not seem correct, on reflection. The recommendation would seem to imply, instead, that schools might continue to receive similar amounts as they did last year under these direct grants, only all bound together as part of their core budgets.

If true, this would go some way to alleviating worries in the IFS’s paper that the money for the pupil premium would come from scrapping existing direct funding which applied under Labour completely. However, we don’t know yet if all of the grants are to be transferred in full to schools’ core budgets. And just to make things more confusing, the paper stresses that the “mainstreaming” of these grants is subject to a final decision at the review.

The consultation paper is also interesting in setting out a methodology for the calculation of the pupil premium which is already proving controversial. The method proposed is not the obvious one that one might assume: that the Government sets a simple amount of funding per pupil – possibly adjusted in certain parts of the country to reflect a higher or lower cost of living – and adds that figure to schools’ core budgets for every child categorised as “disadvantaged”.

No, instead the method proposed is that the pupil premium should vary according to how well- or poorly-funded councils already are in terms of their mainstream budgets (ie the amount they receive through Dedicated Schools Grant, plus the “mainstreamed” grants). Those in poorly-funded areas would receive a higher pupil premium than those in better-funded areas, so that the total amount allocated per deprived pupil would be broadly similar across the country.

A second paper from the IFS, published only this month, underlines the fact that pupils from disadvantaged homes in relatively well-off areas will therefore gain a higher “pupil premium”, under this system, than disadvantaged pupils in relatively poor areas. The effect of this, I think, will be to equalise funding for disadvantaged pupils across different local authorities. Schools educating disadvantaged pupils in more well-off areas will gain more than those in poorer places.

It also looks, from the Government’s consultation, that the pupil premium will be phased in over four years, with increases to gradually bring it up to a roughly equivalent figure for disadvantaged pupils from all areas over that time. I’m reluctant to write more than this, however, at least until after we see the detail of the spending review tomorrow.

- Warwick Mansell

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posted on October 19th, 2010

Monday, October 18th, 2010

With Wednesday’s Comprehensive Spending Review due to include an announcement on the new “Pupil Premium”, I thought I’d post here a piece I wrote on this shortly after the general election in May. It is based on an impressively detailed paper on the Pupil Premium by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. I originally wrote it for Education Journal, for whom I write a monthly article.

I intend to do another blog – possibly shorter! - by tomorrow updating the position on the pupil premium based on what has been announced since May.

My Education Journal piece follows below:

It was reportedly one of the key points of convergence between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats during their negotiations over the formation of the new government.

Accordingly, it was one of only five education policies mentioned in the “coalition agreement” signed between those parties and published during one of the most momentous weeks in British politics for many years.

But what exactly is the “pupil premium”? And will its introduction, advocated for at least two years now by both of the former opposition parties, really bring about the transformation in funding and achievement among poorer pupils that they hope?

For all the warm feelings and positive sentiment that this policy would appear to generate, I am not sure that its introduction will be quite as unproblematic as those backing it might hope.

The concept behind the pupil premium is relatively simple. During the calculation of schools’ budgets, children from poorer backgrounds are allocated extra funding, compared to those from better-off homes. This allocation then follows the child to whichever school they attend. So a school with many disadvantaged pupils will be better funded than one educating primarily better-off children.

The motivation for introducing it is also clear. All parties want to address the achievement gap between children from poorer homes and the rest. The presence of this chasm is constantly underlined through research, with children eligible for free school meals – to choose the most commonly-used measure of deprivation – well behind their peers from wealthier families, on average, on any metric of achievement.

Although both back it, the two coalition parties have come at the pupil premium from slightly different perspectives. This, at least, is the view of an impressively analytical recent report published in the spring by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

For the Liberal Democrats, the idea is that targeting extra money at disadvantaged children will have a direct reward: with more investment, it would be expected that their education improves and, by extension, that their academic results also rise.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Conservatives see the premium more in terms of its effect on the “market” of school places. With poorer children attracting more cash, schools will have an incentive to chase their “business”, and thus any tendency in the current system to incentivise schools not to take on poor – or what could be seen as harder-to-educate – children could be negated.

So where are the difficulties? Well, I think there are potentially many.

Most fundamentally, to hear the way this policy is put across, one might expect that poorer children have actually been getting a very raw deal, in terms of funding, under the arrangements which have operated under Labour. But this really does not seem to be the case. The IFS paper makes clear that poorer pupils are already well-supported financially, relative to others within the state system, and that the money allocated to those eligible for free school meals (FSM) in particular has increased dramatically in recent years.

 The IFS statisticians looked at the data on funding for each school in England. School budgets consist of a core element, received from local authorities. This is then topped up by specific grants to schools from central government. The statisticians then looked at the number of pupils eligible for free school meals in each school. They found that schools with many FSM pupils were much better off, all other things being equal, than those without them.

There was, then, extra cash, or an implicit premium, for schools educating FSM pupils, even though this was not spelt out nationally through a particular formula. This was in part because of the increasing amount of direct funding targeted at schools serving disadvantaged areas.

The IFS paper then works out that, on average, in 2008-9 this premium amounted to £2,460 for each primary FSM pupil, and £3,370 for each secondary FSM pupil. In other words, in practice these children have been bringing a great deal of extra cash for their schools.

By comparison, average total per-pupil funding overall equates to £5,580 for 2010-11 in the IFS paper.

Moreover, the current implicit premium given to FSM pupils has been growing sharply in recent years, rising in real terms by 69 per cent in primary schools and 53 per cent in secondaries over only four years, the paper says, compared to only 17 per cent for the overall real terms growth in spending for all pupils since 2006.

The upshot, then, is that any new pupil premium giving “extra” money to children from disadvantaged homes does not start from a neutral position, in which the poorest children are now funded only on a par with the richest within the state system. There already is extra funding, and the new system will have to do better than this if it is to achieve its aim of further redistributing cash.

This, then, is the crux. Will the overall effect of the pupil premium be to add to the amount directed at disadvantaged pupils? Or will it leave things broadly unchanged, or even take money away?

The answer may depend on whether the new government adopts the Liberal Democrat proposal to fund the premium with an extra £2.5 billion taken from outside the schools budget, or goes with Conservative plans, which have not so far set out how the premium is to be funded. At the time of writing, all that was being made public about the government’s plans was a statement in the coalition agreement which said: “We will fund a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere”.

So extra money is to be found. But how much?

The Liberal Democrats were upfront before the election with their proposed £2.5 billion figure, funded in part by cutting tax credits to families with above-average incomes. The IFS paper models how injecting this amount of extra cash, on top of all current spending, might affect schools’ budgets if it were targeted at disadvantaged children. The effects could be dramatic, one in five secondary schools and one in three primaries receiving a rise in their budgets of at least 10 per cent as a result.

Crucially, because the cash would simply come on top of all existing spending programmes, no school would be worse off. However, this is not the only model set out by the paper. There would be two other options for an incoming government, it said.

First, it could fund the pupil premium partially by scrapping existing direct grants which the government now makes to schools, which include cash targeted specifically at those serving disadvantaged areas.

Second, it could overhaul the entire funding system, changing today’s arrangements whereby the cash for schools’ core budgets goes from central to local government, with councils free to supplement this before passing the money on to schools. Instead, a national funding formula would be introduced, with all schools receiving a set amount for each pupil they educate directly from the government, with an extra figure allocated for disadvantaged children.

Unsurprisingly, these latter two models produce less clear gains for schools educating disadvantaged pupils. Under the first option, which would scrap the government grants, up to 70 per cent of primary schools and 67 per cent of secondaries would either be worse off or broadly unchanged. The other option, the new national funding formula, would again produce winners and losers, with around half of schools gaining cash and half losing it.

And, amazingly in one version of this change modelled by the IFS, among the losers would be the 10 per cent of secondary schools which have the highest number of deprived pupils. For them, the introduction of the national funding formula, with its explicit premium for disadvantaged children, would not compensate for the loss of direct grants they currently receive from Whitehall for tackling disadvantage, all of which would go to pay for it.

The key in all of this, then, both politically and in terms of its effects on individual schools, will be how many of Labour’s existing programmes to tackle deprivation get retained, if any, and, of course, how much extra cash overall is devoted to the pupil premium.

There are reasons to fear for existing direct funding in particular.

First, it seems unlikely that the new government will want to keep all of Labour’s central funding programme for schools, simply because it will have its own priorities.

Second, a 2008 paper from Policy Exchange, the think tank with close links to the Conservartives, proposes paying for a national funding formula for schools by scrapping Labour schemes including the standards fund, education maintenance allowances and the National Challenge, which targets schools with low results.

As ever, the devil as to whether this policy actually does achieve its ambitious goal of improving the lot of disadvantaged pupils will be in the detail of how it works. And there is an awful lot of detail.

The IFS paper, “Pupil Premium: Assessing the Options”, can be viewed at:

- Warwick Mansell

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posted on October 18th, 2010

 Warwick Mansell

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

What are the feelings in schools over the decision by the NAHT’s national council not to boycott Sats tests for a second year in 2011?

If the reception the move received at a meeting of heads which I addressed on Friday is anything to go by, there is a lot of anguish, and anger, out there.

The meeting, for heads in a London borough, was a regular chance to discuss issues of current interest. I was there to talk about the evidence on testing and accountability, but the heads were keener after I spoke to discuss the union’s move to go ahead with the tests in 2011.

As an aside, this is the second time in the last few months I have come away from a meeting struck by the strength and depth of feeling among heads against the current test-driven accountability regime – the first was at NAHT’s annual conference itself – and I would challenge any defender of hyper-accountability to spend some time at such events and still be of the opinion that there is nothing to these views beyond professional self-interest.

Anyway, as readers no doubt know, the NAHT’s council overwhelmingly voted 10 days ago not to repeat last year’s boycott, as Michael Gove, the Education secretary, announced details of a review of Sats testing. Next year’s tests will be unaffected by the review.

At the London meeting, one head, who boycotted the tests in May, spoke first. She said: “I am feeling totally let down by the NAHT. Last summer, I put my head on the line for something I felt very strongly about. Ofsted criticised me for not having done the Sats. This is the first opportunity we have had for decades to say what we feel strongly about, and now it’s gone.”

A second head said that more of his colleagues were committed locally to boycotting the tests this year, and expressed his feeling in strong terms that no attempt had been made to measure the feeling of heads towards supporting a further boycott before the decision was taken.

He said: “I think the commitment to take this further forward was there. I think it’s appalling that the NAHT did not measure that. We were looking at a 100 per cent boycott [in this borough] next year. I’m very disappointed with the NAHT, and considering my membership as a result.”

Another spoke of “great disappointment”. “Sometimes you have to do something because it is the right thing to do.”

Another spoke of the unfairness of a testing system which, she said, could put great pressure on schools to get children to come in to sit the assessments even if they were not in the right frame of mind to take the tests. The school had had a pupil who was unwell last year, while another had just experienced a bereavement. Yet if they had not taken the tests, they would be counted as failing them and the school’s results would suffer by nine percentage points. The often unjustified pressures, then, on schools as a result were “horrific”.

It was argued on several occasions that, where schools had boycotted the tests, there had been no protests from parents, while it seemed that heads had also not found their pay docked, despite warnings at the time. A couple had, though, had a tough time at the hands of their governing bodies.

The meeting also saw several speakers analysing the content of Mr Gove’s letter to Russell Hobby, the NAHT’s general secretary, in which he outlined the terms of the review. In my speech I had also analysed the letter, along similar lines as my blog a few days ago on this subject. The heads who spoke were not convinced the letter provided evidence the government was really about to change its position and listen to the profession on high-stakes testing.

There were also comments that the momentum behind the NAHT’s campaigning on this issue – the boycott having followed several years of building the intellectual case against the current test-based accountability apparatus – had now been lost. 

If there were any dissenters to the sense of bewilderment and frustration at the decision, they were not heard at this meeting, although one head seemed to argue that the deeper problem was that the union had never fully recognised that teacher assessment arrangements being proposed as an alternative to testing would still create problems for schools if the results it generated were then published in league tables.

As I understand it, there were several factors behind the NAHT’s decision. As Mr Hobby told the TES last week, elements within the coalition government are known to be strongly in favour of testing and league tables, and the worry in the union was that continuing with the action might make it more likely that the government’s position would harden. This way, it is clearly felt, there is a chance to influence change with the government.

There have also been concerns about a possible legal challenge. This did not happen in the spring, but the timing may have helped with that, with the politicians’ minds on the general election which took place just before Sats week. A Conservative-led government may have had even fewer qualms than Labour about trying to quash a boycott through the courts, it was thought.

Of course, the union’s decision on Sats cannot be considered in isolation from other issues. Part of the calculation will inevitably have been that a confrontational approach here would have removed its ability to wield influence over ministers over other aspects of the education agenda. Having been outside the “social partnership” arrangements between unions and the Labour government for a period, only to return, the union must be conscious of the dangers of being left out in the cold

These are reasonable points, and I am certainly no union strategist. But I do wonder if the power balance between the government and head teachers is quite as one-sided, in favour of the government, as these calculations might suggest.

I cannot see that many schools that boycotted the tests in May would not have done so again, given that frankly the world did not end for those which refused to run the tests in the conventional way, with pupils and parents still receiving information on their child’s overall level of performance.

Would more schools have joined in in 2011? Of course, it is impossible to know, but I’d hazard a guess that some would have observed what happened this year and jumped this time. Some will also say that the precedent set in May meant that heads would have had time to prepare for the boycott by not preparing for the tests with their children this time (one of the reasons widely cited in favour of doing the Sats even by those who hate the system), although one source who boycotted the tests this year was scathing of this view, arguing that it was clear throughout last academic year that the NAHT was likely to push for the boycott. Therefore, it was argued, heads had no reason not to boycott them this year.

This source argued firmly that those complaining about the NAHT’s decision now who did not boycott the tests this year really had no case: they should have supported the boycott this year and therefore put the union in a stronger position.

Nevertheless, I think a government faced with a boycott of more than the 26 per cent of schools which took part in the action this year – with, say, even a third to half of heads avoiding administering the tests – would have had a serious problem on its hands. Head teachers are hardly seen by the general public, I would venture, as the most militant of people.

But we will now never know how ministers would have reacted to this pressure. As I say, if the reaction in this room was representative of the country as a whole, there is a great deal of disappointment in many English primary schools now.

- Warwick Mansell

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posted on October 6th, 2010