Hundreds of families in Lancaster and Morecambe took part in a day of action against “unfair” testing in schools.
The action was described as a turning point by parents and the teaching union, while one eight-year-old boy described Prime Minister David Cameron as “an idiot”.
An organised event in Williamson Park attracted hundreds of people, as well as camera crews from national news outlets, with workshops, activities and fun creating a lively and positive atmosphere.
Parents chose to take their children out of school for the day on Tuesday May 3, as headteachers from the district prepare to go to the Houses of Parliament tomorrow, May 4, to speak to MPs about their concerns.
Thousands of others across the country also ensured their voices were heard by taking part in creative learning outside the classroom.
Many parents who could not take their children out of school offered support by writing to their schools.
Parents have now had enough, and are seeing the effects that this is having on their childrenCounty Coun Gina Dowding
One parent said Shakespeare would not have flourished if he had been reared on SATs, while another said the new SATs tests were “ridiculously hard” and were turning children off education from a very young age.
A teacher from Chicago attended the event, and warned that the privatisation of schools in her city started with new testing structures and academisation.
Her sentiments were echoed by the Lancaster and Morecambe National Union of Teachers (NUT), who said the end goal for the government was that we “will end up with a privatised system that’s there as a business, and the sole point is to make profit for shareholders”.
One parent whose child attends Halton St Wilfrid’s School, said: “There are two issues.
“One that they’ve made the tests ridiculously hard, and two that they’ve said it’s to improve outcomes.
“You can’t just make tests harder and expect kids to get it right.
“The way to improve things is to improve the education system, teach better, and not teach boring stuff that even as an adult our children are never going to use.
“I think people are missing the bigger picture.
“It’s not just about the tests, it’s about the education system as a whole. It’s turning children off education from a very young age.”
Another parent, identifying himself as an allied health professional, said: “The event today was well organised in a short space of time by an ever growing group of concerned parents.
“It was lovely to see and be a part of. We visited the Butterfly House and musuem and my children have learnt, developed and grown today.
“Yet we would never have the word butterfly without Shakespeare and he would not have flourished under this new way of learning.
“He played with language and that wouldn’t be allowed or celebrated if he had been reared on SATs.”
Leon Seward, aged eight, said: “David Cameron is an idiot. He’s making schools unfair.”
Misti Lawton, nine, from Willow Lane Primary School in Lancaster said: “Stop the SATs! If we stop them then children will stop worrying about them.
“I’m worried about them. I’m worried about if I get it wrong. My teachers have said it’s okay, but I still worry.
“I’d rather be having fun, enjoying nature. I love art and I enjoy school, but the SATs just make me worried.”
Not everyone shared the sentiments of those who chose to keep their children off school however.
Jase14 commented on the Lancaster Guardian website: “I wonder how many of these “scared and sad” children are picking up on their mother’s anger and anxiety. “Theirs a lot of comparing children in the school yard at 3.00pm, every mother likes to think or hope their child is fantastic at everything and doesn’t want to be proved otherwise. I can just imagine mothers horror when little johnny fails and mum becomes the talk of the school yard click.
“Children are super resilient, they will have forgot all about failing or passing these tests by next-week so long as mother stops banging on about it! I was at the meeting some of the mothers behavior was bordering on ridiculous. Shut up whingeing and help your child to pass! teachers need to assesses children’s progress in school no matter what their age. If they fail, good.. failure is key to learning, they will pass eventually or gain the extra help they might need.”
Education secretary Nicky Morgan had previously told the National Association of Head Teachers that those organising events should reconsider their actions.
She said: “...To those who say we should let our children be creative, imaginative, and happy - of course I agree, both as a parent and as the Education Secretary. But I would ask them this - how creative can a child be if they struggle to understand the words on the page in front of them - they certainly can’t enjoy them? What are the limits placed on a child’s imagination, when they cannot write down their ideas for others to read?
“That is why the campaign being led by some of those who do not think we should set high expectations, who want to ‘keep their children home for a day’ next week, is so damaging.
“Keeping children home - even for a day - is harmful to their education and I think it undermines how hard you as heads are working. I urge those running these campaigns to reconsider their actions.”
But Sam Ud-din Lancashire NUT division secretary said he had been a teacher was 34 years, and the strength of feeling from parents was unprecedented.
He said: “What we’re hearing about the turnout across the district is that there are several schools where half the children in KS1, aged six, and KS2, aged ten, have not attended school.
“There have been events going on at Happy Mount Park in Morecambe and Fairfield Park in Lancaster as well as here at Williamson Park.
“The issue here is how we assess our children. Not should we - but how should we.
“The answer should be that we trust our teachers as professionals capable of making a judgement, not that we frighten our children into performing well in a written test, as if being able to perform in a test is somehow teaching them resilience in their future lives in business.
“There will always be some pupils who like the challenge of a written test.
“To then impose that on every child doesn’t treat them as individuals but as cogs in a machine.
“It underestimates children that achieve through art, sport, music, performance, which is not measurable.”
“This is a turning point I think, where parents have realised that there’s an issue they need to address, and that they are using their power to address it.
“To be told by Nicky Morgan that parent governors don’t have the skills to be governors any more, to be told by the Department for Education that they’re the only ones who can say what education should be like.
“The end goal for the government from my point of view is that we’ll end up with a privatised system that’s there as a business, and the sole point is to make profit for shareholders.”
Tara Stamps, a teacher from Jenner Academy of Arts in Chicago, and Matthew Luskin, an organiser for Chicago Teacher’s Union, were invited to England by Stockport National Union of Teachers (NUT) to talk to teachers about Charter Schools in the US.
They attended the event at Williamson Park.
Tara said: “Teachers and parents organised and we were able to save my school from becoming a Charter School, but the push towards privatisation continues.
“It’s been happening since the late 1990s, but it took people a while to understand what was happening.
“In 2008 we started noticing a change. The funding for the Charter Schools increased, they were able to expand, and more state schools closed.
“Since then there’s been a real alliance built between educators and parents.”
Matt said: “We’re seeing the way the testing has been used in Chicago, and the same is happening here.
“It’s not a concidence. It led to privatisations, and labelling of our schools as failures.
“They’ve used the testing to penalise the teachers and schools.
“The biggest charter school chain - UNO - have ended up in a big funding scandal, with schools effectively being run as real estate companies.”
Tara added: “It’s an attack on working class people, on public education.
“It’s the over utilisation of tests to drive the closing of schools, and putting education into the hands of companies like Pearson whose pockets are busting at the seams.
“The difference I see is a lack of joy. Schools are supposed to provide a joy for learning.
“Children from Charter Schools are no smarter. The research shows they’re not doing nearly as good, and sometimes worse.
“They’re playing with the numbers in all kinds of ways. They’re failing our children.
“What we need to do is change the conversation.
“This kind of action is critical. The partnerships between parents and teachers is critical. It’s all about trust. When we’re one, some huge amazing things can happen.”
County Coun Gina Dowding, who represents Lancaster Central, said: “It’s fantastic to see so many people turn up today.
“The tide is turning. Parents are realising that they can exert their own voice.
“Parents have now had enough, and are seeing the effects that this is having on their children.
“This action is going to give confidence to take things further. The county council have got a meeting towards the end of this month.
“As a county council we need to express a voice. We all need to protect the future of our children and let kids be kids and encourage creativity.
“I think the government seems intent on making schools places of instruction rather than education. Their curiosity is being stifled.”
Janet Regan, one of the organisers of the event, and a parent who helped set up Lancaster district parents 3 May Strike Facebook page, said: “Today has shown how strong the feeling is.
“A lot of these people aren’t the usual suspects who would normally go on strike.
“They’re not activists, they’re parents who have had enough.
“For most people it’s a very extreme form of action, but that just shows how strongly they feel.
“The national coverage has been way beyond what we expected. We’ve got something good going on in Lancaster.
“The teachers unions are now balloting on strikes, and even the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), normally quite conservative, are getting involved.
“Now we’ve got this movement we can take it further. The next battle is the academisation.”