Exclusive: 'Uneasy peace' breaks out as heads back proposed Sats reforms

Survey suggests leaders support test changes for infants. But concerns remain over key stage 2

Helen Ward

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Rank-and-file heads broadly support the latest government proposals on primary assessment, findings from a survey of members of the NAHT headteachers’ union suggest.

After years of boycotts and reviews, and, in 2016, one of the most fraught summers since Sats began, the survey shows that some degree of consensus between government and primary heads on a way forward may finally be emerging.

The headline-grabbing proposal to sacrifice statutory key stage 1 tests in favour of a Reception baseline assessment – used to measure progress between the start of school and Year 6 – is backed by 81 per cent of headteachers who expressed a view.

After the furore surrounding last year’s writing assessments, the government’s proposed U-turn on the current “secure fit” method – which requires pupils to meet every criteria to be awarded the expected standard in writing – and return to a “best fit” approach, is something that 96 per cent of respondents agreed with.

But the times-tables tests – which the government has said will be introduced in 2018-19 – are extremely unpopular. Just 17 per cent of heads who expressed an opinion in the NAHT survey supported them.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, senses a change in mood among primary heads. “There is almost an uneasy peace,” he said. “A temporary détente.

“There is a lot in the proposals that people are comfortable with; we have found a number of areas that we can put behind us. But there are still some areas that are not even touched by the consultation, which need to be addressed – [such as] fundamentally what the data is used for.”

The government’s consultation which began in March, was prompted by the chaos surrounding the introduction of the new Sats last summer. It was known that the tests would be harder, but teachers were shocked by just how tough. When the results came out, 53 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with 80 per cent reaching the previously expected level 4 in 2015.

The union’s most committed activists could still voice hostility to the new reforms when they meet for the NAHT annual conference in Telford this weekend.

But no motions on the agenda suggest outright opposition and Mr Hobby expects delegates to stay broadly on board.

“I don’t think they’ll override it but I think we’ll have both positions [represented],” he said. “I think they’ll be pleased with our progress, but not satisfied with it, and they will be looking to see that their association hasn’t said ‘job done, let’s move on to something else’.”

The reception from classroom teacher unions is another matter. Two of the big three have already expressed serious reservations.

This is an edited version of an article in the 28 April edition of Tes. Subscribers can view the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here


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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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