'The futures of schools and teachers will be determined by 2016's flawed Sats. This is not right or sustainable'

We need to take tests out of the hands of ministers. They have become political tools, not teaching tools: changed for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way, writes one heads' leader

Russell Hobby

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When the education secretary Nicky Morgan warned us last night that we could not compare this year's Sats results with previous years, it gave us an early warning that something was amiss. We were not even sure that you could compare results this year between schools, given inconsistencies in interpretation and moderation.

We now know that just over half of pupils (53 per cent) have reached the expected standard. Nearly half of pupils are deemed by their government to have failed. 

Ms Morgan says you can't compare results, but the government has gone and done just that. It has decided to apply the same floor standard as last year – 65 per cent. The floor standard defines unacceptably low performance. The government has decided to set this above the average level of performance. In my view, this makes a total mockery of floor standards. They mean nothing in this climate. Despite this, people will draw conclusions on the basis of these standards. 

It is not even fair to say that the results are useful but lower. Heads are reporting that the reading results in particular bear no relation to the comparative abilities of children. The expected standard is set at 21 out of 50 and the scale maxes out at 44 out of 50. This suggests a flawed design, which has not given every pupil the chance to demonstrate their progress. 

On such poor practices are the futures of schools and teachers determined. This cannot be right. This is not a sustainable situation. Tests are useful tools. This misuse devalues and discredits tests. 

In the short-term, the government must abandon the floor standards for 2016. It cannot describe a majority of schools as delivering unacceptable performance while claiming credit for how much better the education system has become. 

In the medium term, it needs to look again at secure fit and the unsustainable processes for moderation of writing. 

In the long term, we need to take tests out of the hands of ministers. They have become political tools, not teaching tools: changed for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way, producing ripples of chaos throughout the system and distracting schools from teaching and learning. We need a coherent vision for assessment, a clear purpose for every test and we need it owned by an agency at arms length from interference. 

Russell Hobby is general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union

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Russell Hobby

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