Every primary school will be involved in science sample Sats next year under plans to change the way the subject is tested. All schools will be expected to test a sample of their pupils on science; under the previous system, a sample of schools tested their entire cohort.
The original science Sats, taken by every child, were scrapped after a 2009 review found that they bore little relation to how well children performed in science in secondary school. In fact, the key stage 2 English and maths tests were a better predictor of children’s later science results than the science tests.
By way of replacement, the science sample test was introduced in 2010. The test was taken by a representative sample of 27,210 pupils in 747 schools (5 per cent of primaries). The results showed a spectacular fall on the previous year: 81 per cent of pupils reached the expected level 4, compared with 88 per cent in 2009.
This was put down to attention being diverted to the high-stakes English and maths tests that schools are rated on, although some said it revealed that teaching to the test had inflated previous years’ results.
The old sample tests were last held in 2012; this year’s tests were suspended while work continued on the new system.
The new plans have received a guarded response. Annette Smith, chief executive of the Association of Science Education, said: “We were pleased to see an end of the old key stage 2 Sats because they weren’t an accurate measure [of children’s understanding of science]. There was a lot of teaching to the test, and because the tests weren’t particularly good – they weren’t reflective of good teaching and learning – that meant a wasted year in some cases.”
She said that the effect of switching would depend partly on how big the sample was and how headteachers reacted. “It looks like a light-touch sampling process, but that depends on how it works in practice,” she said. “If it is expected that schools select a few children from a range of abilities then that would be fine, but if it ends up with all schools putting all of their children in for a test, that all changes.
“There is enough room in here for this to be highly draconian, or a light, gentle-touch test.”
The changes have been outlined in the Standards and Testing Agency business plan for 2013-14, which also adds that questions from the international Trends in Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) will be embedded in the tests to help understand English pupils' performance in the comparison study.