NUT survey: SATs having damaging consequences for both children and schools

25 June 2017

The SATs effect: teachers’ verdict – Summer Term 2017, a survey of 2,300 National Union of Teachers primary members (attached), shows that the vast majority of teachers believe the primary assessment system is broken. The survey shows a widespread lack of confidence in the Government’s system of assessment and accountability as it affects our youngest pupils, as well as a growing conviction that it needs fundamental change with:

  • 94% agreeing with the findings of the House of Commons Education Committee that the ‘high-stakes system does not improve teaching and learning in primary schools’.
  • 96% saying that preparation for SATs does not support children’s access to a broad and balanced curriculum.
  • 93% saying that changes to SATs have significantly increased teacher workload at their school.

In hundreds of written responses, members explained the effects of the primary assessment system:

‘It creates immense pressure on the schools to attain results and this means too much time and effort on preparing for tests. As a consequence the children give too much import to the tests themselves and are under pressure.’

‘The children who have a very low chance of passing the tests are withdrawn from interventions as the year goes on so that the focus is on borderline children. Absolutely disgraceful but senior management are under immense pressure to get the highest percentage of pass rate.’

‘Children are viewed as data. Children not capable of 'making it' are discounted so that resources can be focused on cusp children. Children assessed as 'safe' aren't always given the support to make progress they deserve.’

Teachers are facing up to the deep problems of the system. The same cannot be said of the Department for Education, whose consultation exercise on primary school accountability and assessment in England closed on 22 June. It has recognised there are problems, but not thought deeply enough about them. It has not opened up the necessary debate on the fundamental design of the assessment system, and proposes virtually no change at KS2. It has not understood the toxic connection between its demand for data on school performance – simplified in the form of test scores – and the educationally impoverished condition of schools.

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

“The Government will be left in no doubt from this survey that teachers believe the current assessment and accountability of England’s primary school children is not fit for purpose. 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. It is regrettable that this interest is only palely reflected in the DfE consultation. The Union will continue to work with its coalition partners in More than a Score to set out a positive alternative.”

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