Heads threaten reading test boycott
Head teachers could boycott a controversial new reading test for six-year-olds in England if it is used as "a stick to beat schools".
The National Association of Head Teachers said the initiative should only be used as a genuine test to assess pupils, rather than to measure schools.
The NAHT said schools were already proficient in testing pupils' reading.
The Government says it will help identify children who need extra help.
The phonics reading checks will be used for children at the end of Year 1 from June and are expected to take five to 10 minutes.
Children will be asked to read 20 words and 20 "made-up words" such as "zog" or "vot" to their teachers.
The check is aimed at measuring whether pupils have a good understanding of phonics - the sounds of letters and groups of letters - which the government says is the key to helping children to read.
Proposing a motion calling for a "fairer and more purposeful system of assessment", Yorkshire head teacher Jane Gilmour said schools should be able to choose whether to do it, rather than have it imposed.
"We need a balanced approach to teaching reading, not one driven by fear of tests," she said.
"If the intention is to improve reading, let's stop wasting money on a blanket test."
The motion was overwhelmingly carried.
Later, in his address to the NAHT conference in Harrogate, general secretary Russell Hobby said: "We fear that the pass rate for the new phonics screening check will be set at an arbitrary high level in order to fuel headlines about children failing to learn to read.
"There is not yet a robust evidence base for any particular pass rate.
"We don't see the need for this screening check - it is inferior to what most schools do already - but if it is to happen it should be used as a genuine diagnostic test, not a stick to beat schools with.
"And if it is used to attack rather than assess, that will be the end of the screening check as far as the NAHT is concerned.
"And we will happily work with our colleagues in other unions like NUT to frustrate its further application."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "We have been clear that the results for the reading check will not be published in league tables.
"Schools will be required to tell parents their own child's results."
Mr Hobby also told heads that winning the backing of parents was the best way to challenge government policy.
"The hardest lesson I have learned over the last 18 months is that, to put it bluntly, we are talking to the wrong people.
"Traditionally, public sector trade unions have faced off - positively or negatively - towards the government.
"Our target must be public opinion. And, in our existing close relationship with parents and families... we have a massive opportunity.
"In this age of criticism of schools and the people who work in them, we need to blow our own trumpet and talk about the massive achievements we have made.
"Therefore, as you already do in your schools, NAHT itself must listen to and talk to parents and families, to champion their concerns as well as its own; to give them the information they need and treat them as partners - not merely consumers - in education."