Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Teachers, Tell Us What's Wrong with New Sats

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Teachers, Tell Us What's Wrong with New Sats

Article excerpt

The profession has a chance to speak up over how primary assessment should be done, as the Commons education committee runs the rule over the effects of reform

Primary assessment is a topic that inevitably triggers alarm among teachers. Few working in education will be surprised to learn that concerns about testing, the accountability system and the narrowing of the curriculum have been at the heart of many evidence submissions to the education committee, as part of our primary assessment inquiry.

Michael Tidd wrote in these pages recently to urge the profession to engage with this inquiry, and I'm pleased so many teachers and schools heeded his words and got in touch with the committee to let us know their views. Our inquiry looks at the implementation of Sats, its impact on teaching and learning in schools, and also examines wider issues around what primary assessment is for. As a committee, we are determined to put the evidence from teachers, school leaders and others to the test in our public hearings over the coming months.

On Wednesday next week, we kick off the first public hearing with a panel of teachers, including Michael Tidd, school leaders and union representatives, as we quiz them on how the new Sats have affected teaching in their schools, the wellbeing of pupils and staff, and "life after levels". Over future sessions in the new year, we will be looking at issues such as the accountability system and the delivery and quality assurance of tests, as well as questioning academics, subject leaders and school standards minister Nick Gibb.

Results shock

This summer saw the introduction of arguably the biggest reforms in primary assessment since external assessment was introduced 25 years ago. In many ways, the primary sector had been seen as a success story and this year's Sats have been a jolt to the system. The fact that the figure for pupils meeting the expected standard in maths, reading and writing tumbled from 80 per cent to 53 per cent was undeniably a shock.

These results would have prompted many teachers and parents to question how fair a picture they represented of the quality of their pupils' education or of the hard work that children had put in during the year. We must recognise, though, that when almost half of pupils in England fail to meet new tough standards in reading, writing and maths, then there are unresolved issues that need to be addressed if we are to prepare our children for secondary school and help them reach their full potential.

Almost all of the responses to our call for evidence, including those from the NAHT headteachers' union, organisations such as Education Datalab, and from teachers, indicate widespread agreement that primary assessment is an essential part of teaching and learning. The consensus from the written evidence is that there needs to be a balance of formative and summative assessment that supports pupil progress.

Primary assessment is, of course, used for school accountability measures. One of the main themes of our written evidence is that this factor makes the tests incredibly high-stakes, encouraging "teaching to the test", as well as creating a high-pressure environment for pupils and teachers. Several submissions point to teacher and parental concerns about children's wellbeing due to the pressured nature of the tests.

One of the areas I want our inquiry to examine is how the most recent reforms have affected teaching and learning. …

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