Exclusive: 'Why is the law forcing us to label 11-year-olds as failures?'

Requirement on schools to spell out when child has not met expectations can have "profound impact on children", say heads

Helen Ward

Primary pupils sitting Sats tests

The legal requirement to spell out to 11-year-olds that they either have or have not met expectations is "harsh" and "damaging" and should be stopped, say heads.

Primary schools are required to tell parents the results of Sats tests, including whether or not the child has met the expected standard.

But in a wide-ranging review of primary accountability published today, the Association of School and College Leaders says that this should end.

Last September, more than 150,000 pupils began secondary a few weeks after being informed that they had not met the expected standard in at least one of their Sats.

ASCL says it thinks it is important that the results are reported but what it thinks the insistence in law that parents are told if children have effectively passed or failed any of the three external tests – in reading, maths and SPAG (spelling punctuation and grammar) – is “potentially damaging”.

The report states: "The binary nature of the 'met / not met expected standard' judgement can have a profound impact on children's perceptions of themselves as learners."

Julie McCulloch, interim director of policy at ASCL and author of the review, told Tes: “We do think parents should be told their kids’ results. We think parents have a right to know and children have a right to know.

“But there is a big difference between being told you’ve got 96 marks on a test and being told you’ve not met the expected standard.

“That is not something we do to a child at any other stage of education, even at GCSE, if they get a grade 3, they’ve got something, they understand that within a broader context, but the starkness of the phrase ‘not met expectations’ is potentially damaging when kids are at a vulnerable point.

“However much schools play Sats down, kids know it is an important set of tests and then at the end of that to be told they have not met the standard expected is really harsh and damaging.”

Rob Carpenter, chief executive of Inspire Partnership which runs four primary schools in south-east London, said: “I think it’s a disgrace and a damning indictment of our education system that we do this to children.”

“No improving education system in the world labels children in the way we do. They are moving away from labels and still using them. It’s crazy and it does nothing to raise standards.”

The review, Sense and Accountability, was written with the advice of a panel of experts in primary education and assessment which included Dame Reena Keeble, former primary head, Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching and Professor Robert Coe, director of the Centre for Monitoring and Evaluation at Durham University.

It makes a number of recommendations aimed at making the system fairer on schools and better for children.

These include the government rethinking its policy on compulsory academisation, improving key stage 2 writing assessments or scrapping them completely, and calling on Ofsted to ensure inspectors do not place too much focus on Sats results but take into account the wider curriculum.

The Department for Education was contacted for comment.

This is an edited article from the 2 March edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in 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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