Children in England and Wales are some of the most tested in the world. They are also some of the unhappiest.

The ‘Exam Factories?’ report shows the devastating impact that the assessment and accountability regime operating in schools is having on children and young people. Testing of children is being introduced to ever younger children and the stress and pressure that this brings is filtering down to even the youngest children at school.

The NUT believes that testing isn’t teaching. Teachers need time to teach and to engage children in learning and education.



Campaign for the Reform of Primary Assessment in England
The SATs effect: teachers’ verdict – Summer Term 2017, a survey of 2,300 National Union of Teachers primary members, shows that the vast majority of teachers believe the primary assessment system is broken.

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“There is widespread interest among parents, teachers and educationalists about creating a new assessment system which supports pupils’ learning rather than serving as a blunt instrument of school accountability… The Union will continue to work with its coalition partners in More than a Score to set out a positive alternative.”

Click here to find out more about the NUT and More Than a Score primary assessment campaigns.

Campaign against Baseline Assessment
The NUT, as part of the Better Without Baseline campaign, successfully campaigned against the introduction of baseline assessment for school accountability purposes in September 2015.

The policy was withdrawn in April 2016 following the publication of NUT-ATL commissioned research into the impact of the policy on schools (read the full report here), as well as DfE commissioned research that showed the data produced was not reliable.

The DfE is now seeking to reintroduce baseline assessment as a school accountability measure. The DfE’s response to the consultation on primary assessment will be published in the Autumn of 2017.

The Better Without Baseline campaign is working alongside More Than a Score to oppose the reintroduction of baseline assessment and to promote an alternative vision of assessment. Find out more here.

Campaign against standardised testing in Wales
Standardised reading and numeracy tests were introduced in Wales in May 2013. The tests are conducted on children from year 2 until year 9. Data from the tests is collected and analysed nationally, marking an unwelcome return to national testing for the first time since Wales dropped SATs in 2004.

Monitoring the impact of the Donaldson Review in Wales
The Donaldson Review called for wide ranging reform of curriculum and Wales, and a review of assessment and accountability in Welsh schools. NUT Cymru was involved in the development of the Donaldson Review, and is now working to ensure that teachers and schools receive the training and support they need to fully implement these welcomed reforms.

Other Primary Policy Areas:

Learning without Levels

In 2013, the DfE announced that schools should expect to move away from the use of National Curriculum levels as a means of describing pupils’ progress. The new National Curriculum is thus ‘level-less’.

Many primary schools have taken advantage of this policy change to change their style of learning and assessment, so that pupils are not rushed on from one objective to the next, without concern for their ‘deep’ learning.

However, high stakes testing at KS1 and KS2 forces schools to prepare pupils for the narrow demands of the test. Their progress, almost inevitably, comes to be measured in terms that are derived from those tests. In these circumstances, the ‘deep learning’ that is supposed to be enabled by the removal of levels, cannot easily take place. What does this mean for children and their education?

The Year of Assessment, devised by the NUT and the Curriculum Foundation, aims to help teachers develop their expertise and to reclaim professional control over assessment through assessment without levels. The programme explores some of the principles of assessment and provides practical examples of good practice.


Phonetic decoding is one strategy that children use when learning to read, but reading is more than just being able to decode phonic sounds.

The NUT opposes the phonics check. The phonics check places too much emphasis on one aspect of children’s development. It forces teachers and schools to ‘teach to the test’, and to neglect other important aspect of literacy and reading which help children to develop a love of reading and books. The phonics check is particularly harmful to children with special needs and children who speak English as an additional language.

The Department for Education has reported on research evidence that shows a significant correlation between children and adults who enjoy reading and read for pleasure and levels of academic achievement and success. There is no such correlation between understanding phonics and success in literacy or academic achievement more broadly.

Analysis by the Department for Education shows that children meeting the expected standard in phonics at the end of year 1 increased from 58% in 2012 to 77% in 2015. However, children meeting the expected standard in reading at the end of Key Stage 1 only increased from 87% to 90% in the same period. This means that an improvement in phonics scores has not translated into children being more able to read text and to extract meaning from the words they read.

The NUT believes it is vital that the methods we employ when we introduce young children of only five or six years old to reading should bring understanding, reward and pleasure to them. Drilling children to pass a reading test and labelling some of them as failures will be detrimental to their wellbeing and enjoyment of reading and learning.

The NUT produces guidance for early years settings and primary schools on getting everyone reading for pleasure. It is available to download for free from the webpage.

Time to Play: NUT play policy

The importance of play in the Foundation Stage is embedded in its curriculum guidance. However, from the earliest stages of education the emphasis has increasingly been placed on formal learning and assessment, particularly of literacy and numeracy.

This narrow vision of education is squeezing play-based learning out of the curriculum, despite the fact that children are still in their early years of development.

In some of the best education systems in the world, such as Finland, children do not begin formal education until much later than children in England and Wales. Instead they follow a play based, developmentally appropriate broad and balanced curriculum. This allows children, through a combination of child initiated and adult led activities to develop their intellectual, physical, personal, social and emotional skills. Children become curious about the world around them and confident in their abilities as a learner.

Time to Play, the NUT’s play policy, sets out a vision of a play based approach to early years and primary education that should form an integral part of learning. Time to play sets out the NUT’s vision for a holistic, evidence based, and developmentally appropriate play based curriculum in primary school and the early years.

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