Momentum in a battle to scrap next year's key stage 2 Sats is "gathering pace" as schools are forced to send home more "bubble groups" amid the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners say.
The Department for Education says most of the Year 6 assessments will still go ahead next year, despite it already U-turning on its plans to run KS1 Sats.
However, more headteachers are said to be uniting behind the More than a Score campaign to scrap the assessments in 2021, while one union says running Sats in the middle of a pandemic is potentially "a shameful act of damage".
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More Than A Score campaigners say 60,000 people have signed their petition calling for primary assessments to be cancelled next year, while around 2,000 campaigners have written to their local MPs on the matter.
They also report a "huge surge" in the number of teachers and heads signed up for tomorrow's online rally against the Sats - from just over 100 last week to 770 by last Thursday.
Coronavirus: Sats create 'unnecessary pressure'
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We’re not surprised that there’s a lot of interest in this event, particularly in the wake of the government’s decision last week to press ahead with key stage 2 Sats, regardless of the circumstances of a global pandemic.
“Schools and their pupils need to be able to focus on learning rather than the added and totally unnecessary pressure of a set of statutory tests.”
Campaign supporter and headteacher Mark Chatley, of Palace Wood Primary, in Kent, said: “The momentum has gathered so much pace as the virus is peaking again and as we've gone into another lockdown and bubbles have been increasingly taken out of schools. They [the heads] are seeing that to create any level playing field right now is not going to happen."
Last week, the government U-turned on its plan to press ahead with all primary assessments in 2021, scrapping next summer's Year 2 Sats and a portion of the Year 6 tests. However, the majority of key stage 2 Sats will go ahead, and the DfE says this will help to "understand pupils' lost time in education and support those that need it most".
But Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “However much the government dresses up the purpose of the tests as a means of ‘identifying problems’ so as to offer ‘support,’ their impact will be otherwise.
“Schools are still – it is necessary to remind the DfE – working to mend the holes in the social safety net, to deal with the effects of poverty, to identify learning problems and learning needs, to find creative ways of dealing with the constraints imposed by Covid-19 on their work. In these circumstances, to introduce an emphatic new set of demands, related to tests and the preparation for them, is at best a distraction, at worst a shameful act of damage.”
However, not all heads are against Sats, including Grimsby headteacher Kate Steward, who said it was a matter of “getting on with it”.
She said: “My teachers are very focused on that end goal and that is particularly how they work, so I think they expected them [Sats] to go ahead as normal, and that’s something the children are working towards as well – to get them ready for secondary. So it is what it is. We get one with it. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Oldham deputy head Tim Roach said it was good that the Sats data would not be used for accountability purposes this year and that the Spag test had been dropped this year, but he said a lot of teachers still wanted children to experience Sats. He said: “We kind of felt bad for the children last year that they didn’t get to experience that [the Sats]. It’s part of the whole Year 6 experience.”
A DfE spokesperson said: "Statutory primary assessments will take place for key stage 2 in summer 2021, with schools able to take a flexible approach to their administration.
“We have made this decision as they enable teachers to track pupils’ progress, and will help further target support to those that need it most as a result of the pandemic.”