Britain's two biggest teaching unions - NUT and NAHT - to take action against tests due to be sat by 600,000 children on May 10
Headteachers in England today voted overwhelmingly to boycott national tests for 10- and 11-year-olds on the first day of a new government - a move likely to throw the primary school assessment system into chaos.
The two biggest teaching unions - the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) - balloted headteachers and their deputies over whether to "frustrate the administration" of the maths and English tests, formerly known as Sats. The two unions combined represent headteachers from about 80% of England's 17,000 primary schools.
The tests are due to be sat by 600,000 children in their last year of primary school on May 10 - the first day that a new government would begin office.
Nearly two-thirds - 61% - of the 8,755 NAHT members who voted were in favour of a boycott, while almost three-quarters - 74.9% - of the 2,478 NUT members voted similarly. In total, 11,233 headteachers and deputies voted. Only teachers in senior leadership positions were allowed to vote. The turnout was 49.7% for NAHT members and 33.8% for NUT members.
The teachers were asked: "In order to protect your terms and conditions of employment, are you prepared to take industrial action short of strike action to frustrate the administration of national curriculum tests in English and Mathematics?"
A national ballot of teachers has not been called for a quarter of a century, NAHT said.
Teachers want ministers to abolish the tests because they argue they are used to compile meaningless school league tables. They say the tables unfairly stigmatise schools with the most challenging pupils, and turn children's last year of primary school into a repetitive drill for the tests. They want to see Sats replaced by teacher assessment.
Gordon Brown has made a personal appeal to teachers not to boycott the tests.
Pupils will still attend school, but will not be entered for the Sats tests..
Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT, said: "We would like to see the next government introduce a national sampling system for English and mathematics tests in year 6 (age 10 and 11), which they have already done for science in year 6 and for all subjects in year 9 (age 13 and 14). A sampling system would give a national picture of pupil achievement without identifying individual schools or children."
Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the NAHT, said: "This ballot and the impending action was entirely avoidable. Both the NAHT and NUT put forward a viable alternative for 2010 that would have produced a more accurate summary of a child's learning journey, would have reduced bureaucracy and would have saved the £23m spent on this year's administrative arrangements. This system is a profligate waste of taxpayers' money."
Labour and the Conservatives say they want to keep Sats, but the Tories are considering moving the tests to the first year of secondary school. The Lib Dems have pledged to scale back Sats and use teacher assessment alongside them.
Parent groups defended the boycott and said they trusted teachers to know more about education than the government. Margaret Morrissey, of pressure group Parents Outloud, said she hoped politicians will now listen to the majority voice of parents and teachers.
At the NUT's annual conference earlier this month, teachers from east London said colleagues were leaving the profession because the Sats had turned them into "nothing more than box tickers and exam crammers".
However, another teaching union, the NASUWT, has said abolishing Sats would be "reckless" and would increase teachers' workload.
A survey of 2,000 of the union's members found that the scrapping of the tests for 14-year-olds in 2008 had led to many working longer hours.
In some cases teachers ended up doing at least 10 extra hours per class per year.
Vernon Coaker, until last week the schools minister, has urged teachers not to boycott the tests and to "keep talking to the government about the future of testing" instead.