Schools call for overhaul of primary school testing

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Senior teachers want a 'complete review' of the way pupils are assessed as they say the current regime is ineffective and puts unnecessary stress on children.

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The majority of teachers surveyed agreed that tests don't provide a fair representation of a pupil's capabilities

Findings from a survey of 230 headteachers, deputy heads and primary school leaders reveal their frustrations with the Government’s ‘increasingly pressurised assessment regime’.

The YouGov survey, which was carried out on behalf of the campaign group More than a Score, shows that 93 per cent of respondents think the Government should review the current system of standardised assessment. The same number believe that policy is decided without sufficient consultation with heads or other experts.

More than eight in ten said that politicians don’t listen to the views of headteachers when making education policy.

Andy Richbell, a headteacher from Portslade, said, ‘I should be held accountable for the taxpayers’ money I spend in my school but testing each individual child isn’t an effective way of holding me to account.’

More Than A Score points out that, from next year, primary school pupils will be tested in reception, year 1, year 2, year 4 and year 6, despite opposition from teachers and academic experts.

Baseline assessment

Earlier findings from the same survey, reported by Nursery World last month, highlighted senior primary school teachers’ opposition to the introduction of a baseline assessment in Reception, coming in from September 2020.

Almost four in five (79 per cent) school leaders said they believe testing pupils in Reception is an inefficient way to measure future progress.

Key Stage 2 SATs

On SATs, taken by children at the end of primary school in Year 6, the majority of survey respondents agreed that the tests place both teachers and pupils under unnecessary pressure.

Rebecca Loader, a headteacher from Suffolk, said, ‘Teaching is a great job. What isn’t great is the pressure from external sources to reach unattainable, unrealistic goals.’

A total of 96 per cent of survey respondents expressed concerns about the effects of the tests on the well-being of children.

More than nine in ten said they have been contacted by parents raising concerns about their children in the run-up to KS2 SATs.

The majority of senior teachers also agreed that the tests don’t provide a fair representation of a pupil’s capabilities.

Helen Longton-Howorth, a head in Brighton, commented, ‘ Over one-third of Year 6 children failed SATs last year. That’s a group of 11-year-olds being sent to secondary feeling that they haven’t achieved. The system of accountability means children are part of a machine. They’re a number, a percentage. Perhaps they’ll think that education isn’t for them.’

She added, ‘I’d like the Government to really listen to us and stop tinkering with education. Stop continually introducing new initiatives and changes to assessment and overhaul the whole system.’

Comments

Clare Campbell from the campaign group, said, ‘Our research highlights the top-to-bottom unfairness of the system. At the behest of the Government, our children must sit high-pressure tests under exam conditions. Their teachers and schools are judged on the resulting data which can’t possibly provide an overall assessment of all that they are capable of, and these results then follow them all the way to GCSE level. 

‘The Government insists that our pupils sit these tests, so it is the Government who should be held responsible for these negative effects on the curriculum and the unnecessary pressure placed on our children and teachers.

‘Heads and teachers know our children best. It’s time for a complete review of the ways we assess primary school children.’ 

The National Education Union (NEU) said the survey findings demonstrated that the assessment system is neither liked nor trusted by school leaders.

Joint general secretary Mary Bousted said, ‘We hear continually from the Department for Education and from Ofsted that they want to improve the quality of primary education and lessen the stress on pupils and teachers. But, as long as Government clings on to the discredited SATs-based system, significant change will not be possible. Teachers want to work in schools where pupils are challenged, delighted, supported and engaged by their learning – it is a scandal and a tragedy that Government policy frustrates these aspirations.’

Government response

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'The Key Stage 2 tests ensure that children leave primary school having acquired a secure grasp of the fundamentals of reading, writing and maths, which lay the foundation for success at secondary school and beyond.

The Education Secretary has been clear he does not want Key Stage 2 tests to be a source of stress for either pupils or teachers and we trust teachers to administer these tests in an appropriate way that does not put undue pressure on pupils.

'Accountability is important so that we can continue to drive up standards in our schools.'

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