On the 4 July, headteachers across the country checked the outcomes of their staff and pupils’ hard work in the end of key stage two national tests. Given the shock that many experienced in 2016, schools were understandably wary about what they would find.
The provisional headline news is positive, with 61% of pupils reaching the required standard in reading, writing and mathematics, up eight percentage points from 53% in 2016. Results in reading were the most improved, with 71% of pupils reaching the expected standard. The standards also increased in all other areas, as this graph from the DfE shows:
These results are provisional, with individual school results being published later in the autumn term. As last year, the DfE was quick to congratulate schools for ‘rising to the challenge’ of the demands of the new assessment system, whilst making little mention of the thousands of children who are leaving primary school feeling that they have ‘failed’, at least in the government’s eyes. When questioned, the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb acknowledged that there is still much work to do, but brushed off criticism of the tests, stating that:
“Getting those basics right in primary school, at what is a significantly higher level, sets those children up for success in their later lives.”
Once the results were published, unions and headteachers were quick to point out that these results tell only one small part of the story of a child’s journey at school. The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby remarked:
“Comparisons with last year are inevitable but they are also unwise, as last year’s results were unexpectedly low and pupils were being assessed at a time when the curriculum and assessment methods had changed significantly.”
The tests continue to be divisive, with the government arguing on one hand that schools must be held to account, whilst school staff and parents convey their worries that the current system harms children’s education.
Julie McCulloch of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) likened the tests to “the sword of Damocles” hanging over schools and stated that the ASCL has “grave concerns” over the impact of the testing cycle on the curriculum and children’s experiences of school. This will be of no surprise to parents, many of whom have voiced concerns over children’s anxiety and stress prior to and during the tests.
All schools and parents work to mitigate the negative effects of testing on pupils, however some have gone further than others. Debra Kidd, writing in The Guardian, explained her family’s decision to boycott the SATs:
“I want my child to love learning and to love school. I want him to have his imagination and curiosity fired up; to learn to live in and love the moment. But where SATs are allowed to dictate so much of how our children learn, the importance of these things is being forgotten.”
Ms Kidd is not the only parent or teacher to take decisive action, with some headteachers also boycotting the SATs this year, putting their own jobs at risk for what they feel is far more important – the best education for their pupils.
Ofsted recently announced their intention to conduct a large-scale review of the curriculum, to ensure that schools are keeping it ‘broad and balanced’ irrespective of the current assessment regime. Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Schools, has also made it clear to all that any school that prioritises test results over the curriculum will be penalised. One would hope that the review, alongside the outcomes of the recent assessment consultation, will pave the way for testing to be radically altered and a return to a well-rounded education that teaches children the skills to change the world.
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