Exclusive: Labour could replace Sats with Pisa-style sampling

Teacher assessment, comparative judgement and secondary tests also being considered

Martin George

Pisa-style sampling could be brought in as part of Labour's plans to replace the Sats system of primary testing.

A Labour government could replace Sats with a Pisa-style system of tests sampling schools across England, Tes can reveal.

The party intends to make cutting teacher workload a priority when introducing a new system but has so far had little dialogue with experts on what to do.

Jeremy Corbyn last month announced his party would abolish the tests, which currently take place at the end of key stages 1 and 2.

Speaking at the NEU teaching union’s annual conference, he also said that Labour would scrap government plans to introduce a baseline assessment of pupils in their reception year.

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Mr Corbyn did not say what Labour would bring in as a replacement, instead saying the party would consult teaching unions, parents and experts and “bring forward proposals for a new system that separates the assessment of schools from the assessment of children”.

Tes understands that the proposal to scrap Sats initially came from the Labour leader’s office, and internal party discussions took place over a period of weeks rather than months ahead of the announcement.

Outside experts, such as unions and thinktanks, were not consulted on the abolition plan until two weeks before Mr Corbyn spoke, apparently to ensure Labour was clear about its policy before it talked to external figures.

Tes understands that Labour does not have a preferred alternative to the Sats system, with its consultation described as “genuine”.

A number of options will be considered, including:

  • Sample tests in selected primary schools to understand the nationwide picture. Such a system is used for science at the end of key stage 2, and the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).
  • Teacher assessment. This method is already used to judge writing in the key stage 2 Sats. This could use comparative judgement, where teachers compare two pieces of work at a time to create a ranked order of pupils’ work.
  • Externally set tests sat by pupils at the start of secondary school, rather than the end of primary school.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “There’s a policy intention to replace Sats. It appears we have some time before a general election, and we can get work done on what will be the alternative to Sats.”

In his speech, Mr Corbyn said Labour would raise standards by “freeing up teachers to teach”, and Tes understands that the party wants its alternative to Sats to reduce overall teacher workload, and especially unproductive workload which involves teaching to the test.

Some experts that Labour consulted raised concerns that reliance on teacher assessment could increase teacher workload and introduce unconscious bias against pupils from disadvantaged or BAME background.

However, Dr Bousted said increased CPD could tackle the latter, and dismissed fears about workload, which were expressed by the NASUWT teaching union among others.

She told Tes: “Already, teachers do a huge amount of assessment.

"What we have to ensure, in consultation with the profession, is that the assessment is the assessment that they would do anyhow, because you have to assess in order to plan progression in teaching and learning, so it’s how we use that assessment for a range of purposes, and how do we make that assessment integral to their professional practice.

“It does not need to increase workload. It only increases workload if you do assessment and then you do the national assessment.”

The continuing debate comes as Tracy Brabin, a member of Labour’s parliamentary education team, prepares to address primary heads at the NAHT heads’ conference in Telford on Sunday.

The association's general secretary Paul Whiteman told Tes: “The announcement of a change to high-stakes testing followed by a genuine consultation is welcome.”

Asked whether he was concerned that Labour announced plans to abolish Sats without knowing what would replace them, he added: “There’s an opportunity here for genuine engagement, and we should seize it with both hands, rather than look too closely at how that may have come about.”

Labour is also alive to the complexity of replacing the current Sats system, which involves issues such as what would replace it as the starting point for Progress 8, which measures the progress pupils make in secondary school.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner is due to give an update at Labour’s annual conference in September, but is not expected to outline a fully worked-out alternative.



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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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