Corbyn says Labour would scrap Sats and Reception baseline test

But schools minister condemns plan as a "terrible, retrograde step"

Martin George

Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would scrap Sats.

Labour would abolish Sats and the Reception baseline assessment if it came to power, Jeremy Corbyn pledged today.

The Labour leader’s commitment comes the day after delegates at the NEU teaching union’s annual conference voted to hold a national ballot on boycotting next year’s Sats.

Currently, the progress pupils make between Sats at the end of key stage 1 and the end of key stage 2 is used by the Department for Education to hold primary schools to account.

Quick read: Teachers to be balloted on Sats boycott

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The DfE is replacing KS1 Sats with a baseline assessment taken when pupils start Reception to measure their progress over their entire time at primary school.

There have been concerns that the high-stakes nature of the assessments has increased the strain on teachers and put pressure on pupils.

Addressing the NEU conference this afternoon, Mr Corbyn said: “Sats and the regime of extreme pressure testing are giving young children nightmares and leaving them in floods of tears.

“I meet teachers of all ages and backgrounds who are totally overworked and overstressed. These are dedicated public servants. It’s just wrong.”

The speech moves Labour policy on from its 2017 general election manifesto, which pledged to abandon plans for the baseline assessment, and “launch a commission to look into curriculum and assessment, starting by reviewing KS1 and 2 Sats”.

Labour today said it would consult teachers and parents to develop a “more flexible and practical system of assessment”.

Mr Corbyn said Labour’s alternative would be based on two principles: understanding the learning needs of each child, and encouraging “a broad curriculum aimed at a rounded education”.

But schools minister Nick Gibb condemned Labour's plan, saying: “These tests have been part of school life since the '90s. They have been pivotal in raising standards in our primary schools. That’s why Labour governments led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown supported them. 

“Abolishing these tests would be a terrible, retrograde step. It would enormously damage our education system, and undo decades of improvement in children’s reading and maths."

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said Mr Corbyn “recognises the damage that a test-driven system is doing to children and schools; he understands what needs to change; he sets out ideas for education which will make sense to parents and teachers”.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “[Sats] are far too narrow a way of assessing the learning experience in primary. They boil down to the fact that schools are judged largely on the results of one week of concentrated tests taken by 11-year-olds each May out of seven years of schooling.”

And Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said: “Fewer tests would leave more time and space for a broad range of subjects and activities in the school day so that children’s opportunities are not limited.”

However, Mark Lehain, director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, which campaigns for a “knowledge-rich curriculum”, said externally set and marked Sats are “the fairest way of checking how pupils have done during primary school”.

He added: “Any other method will be a nightmare for teacher workload and increase the unconscious bias against children from deprived backgrounds.”

Yesterday, Lib Dem education spokesperson Layla Moran told the NEU conference that high-stakes testing in primary schools caused “unnecessary stress” for teachers and pupils, and reiterated her party’s policy of scrapping Sats and the reception baseline assessment.

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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