‘We can’t carry on as normal’ - calls for change to school SATs exams

Questions are being asked about next year's SATS exams Picture: DIEGO CERVO/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Questions are being asked about next year's SATS exams Picture: DIEGO CERVO/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Parents and education leaders in Suffolk have called for changes to be made to SATs exams following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton Picture: GREGG BROWN

Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

This year all SATs for Key Stages 1 and 2 were cancelled because of the virus.

The tests, taken by pupils in Years 2 and 6 are used to show the progress they have made whilst in education, as well as help the government to rank schools in league tables.

However, while those pupils currently in Year 1 who will take their first SATs next year have been able to return to school, those in Year 5 have not - raising questions about what should be done for next year’s exams.

Bec Jasper from Parents and Carers Together Picture: BEC JASPER

Bec Jasper from Parents and Carers Together Picture: BEC JASPER - Credit: Bec Jasper

‘Entirely inappropriate for accountability measures to continue as usual’

Former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton, who is now the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that while the exams were helpful for schools, carrying on as normal would not be appropriate.

“There is clearly a major question mark over whether it would be sensible to proceed with Key Stage 2 tests next year given the disruption to children’s learning because of the coronavirus emergency, and the fact that we need to give schools space and time to focus on catch-up programmes,” said Mr Barton.

Graham White, Suffolk spokesman for the NEU Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Graham White, Suffolk spokesman for the NEU Picture: ANDY ABBOTT - Credit: Andy Abbott

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“These tests perform a number of functions, including measuring how well schools help children to progress, and as an assessment of a child’s learning before they head to secondary school.

“Our view is that it would be entirely inappropriate for accountability measures to continue as usual next year.

“We are discussing with our members what form of assessment primary schools think would be appropriate next year, to recognise children’s achievements and to support their transition to secondary school.

“In the longer term, the way that Key Stage 2 tests are used needs to be reformed to make them less high stakes than is currently the case.”

‘Any data collected by these tests will be invalid’

The idea of schools needing time to recover is one which resonates with More Than A Score, a group of parents and teachers that has been campaigning for SATS to be scrapped.

“The next school year will be extremely challenging for schools,” said a spokesman for the group.

“Schools will look and feel very different and it’s likely that teachers and pupils will still have to maintain social distancing.

“In these difficult new circumstances, the mental health and well-being of pupils must be the first priority. It is the bedrock of good learning and a happy experience at school.

“The vast majority of children will have missed almost half a year of school but five out of seven school years will still face formal government tests.

“Schools will be judged by the results and teachers, heads and pupils will once again be under pressure to perform.

“The only way to avoid the additional stress of teachers and pupils cramming for government tests is to drop them altogether in 2021.

“After surviving a national crisis, the last thing our children should face when they return is the prospect of high-pressure tests. Cramming for tests does not equate to high-standard, high-quality education. It is a barrier to learning.

“Any data collected by these tests will be invalid because of the disruption experienced in the current school year and the unknown challenges ahead in the next school year.”

‘SATS are not the answer’

“SATs are stressful for schools, staff, pupils and parents,” said Graham White, National Education Union spokesman for Suffolk.

“SATs are used to measure schools so a comparison can be made and then rank schools in a league table.

“Schools with good SATs usually get a good or outstanding rating from Ofsted. Schools in more deprived areas tend to get lower SATS scores than schools in more affluent areas.

“That is not a reflection on how well schools are doing or how hard teachers and pupils are working.

“SATs do not tell teachers anything they did not know already about individual pupils. SATS do not tell parents anything that could not be achieved by talking to their child’s teacher.

“SATs are not the answer to any educational question.

“If we care about pupils, then we should abolish SATs now. They serve no useful function in any educational sense.”

‘During this period of uncertainty... why would you increase pressure’

“I think their comments pretty much sum things up,” said Bec Jasper, co director of Parents and Carers Together (PACT).

“SATs cause an extremely high level of anxiety during Year 6 for some children and this even appears during Year 5 now as they start preparations. They are for the benefit of the primary schools and not the child.

“They are streamed again usually during Year 7 once informal assessments have been undertaken we believe.

“During this period of uncertainty and anxiety, why would you increase pressure by the expectation of schools and children to sit SATs? This wouldn’t benefit anyone.”

Parents from PACT have also given their views on the exams.

“My daughter took them years ago (she’s now 15) but they were hugely stressful for her and therefore me,” said one parent.

“I’m really not sure they do much good for our children but are more of a reporting tool for schools.

“I don’t pretend to have all the facts about them and what they do and do not achieve, but from a purely parental perspective, I question the need to put children through it.”

“My son is 12 and autistic. He took his sats last year,” said another parent.

“Personally I don’t see why our children have to be put through it when it doesn’t affect their transition to high school.

“It’s an exercise for the primaries only. I think the time could be better spent on helping the children to adjust to the next phase in their lives.

“It stressed out my son.”

“My son summed up SATs perfectly when he did them. ‘Stupid Annoying TestS’.

“I think they are utterly pointless and i hate that some schools chuck a (vaguely) balanced curriculum out of the window to hothouse kids into ‘passing’ them.”

‘We will do everything to make sure no child falls behind’

The government says it remains committed to helping pupils get through the challenges posed by the virus.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We will do everything possible to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.

“We are working with partners to develop a long-term package of support for children to catch up on lost learning as a result of coronavirus, building upon the £100 million of support already made available to help children learn from home.”