High-stakes Sats 'harming pupil wellbeing and learning'

Damning report from cross-party committee calls for end of publication of Sats results from single cohorts

Charlotte Santry

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The way that primary schools are held to account for Sats results is harming children's learning and teacher and pupil wellbeing, MPs have warned.

The current high-stakes system can lead to "teaching to the test" and a narrowing of the curriculum due to a focus on English and Maths, a report published today by the House of Commons Education Select Committee says.

It calls for the scrapping of publication of results from a single cohort, and suggests  that a rolling three year average of key stage 2 results should be published instead.

The report also argues that the pressure schools are under to achieve results at key stage 2 – particularly since the new higher expected standard was introduced last year – can "affect pupil and staff wellbeing".

The Department for Education and the Standards and Testing Agency did not oversee the move to the tougher assessments effectively, leading to guidance being delayed and test papers being leaked online, and causing "significant disruption in primary schools", according to the committee.

The MPs are also concerned about "the emphasis on technical aspects of writing and the diminished focus on composition and creativity at primary school", and highlighted the difficulties faced by children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The report recommends that the government makes spelling, punctuation and grammar tests non-statutory at key stage 2, but still available for schools to internally monitor pupil performance.

Last month, the government released two consultations on changes to primary assessments, including proposals to scrap key stage 1 assessments and introduce a new baseline test at Reception.

For future reforms, schools must be given at least a year to implement changes, today's report recommends. It also urges the government to be cautious about introducing a baseline measure.

The MPs say: "The committee recommends that the primary purpose of a measure of children at age 4 should be as a diagnostic tool which helps teachers to identify individual pupil needs. This measure should only be carried out through teacher assessment."

'A narrowing of the curriculum'

National curriculum levels, as a measure of pupil performance, were removed last year, leaving schools with the flexibility to design their own assessment systems.

However, the report says that school leaders and teachers were not given enough advice, guidance or training to design and implement effective systems, resulting in many schools using "low quality commercial solutions". The committee recommends that the government provides better advice and guidance.

Neil Carmichael, committee chair, said: “Many of the negative effects of assessment in primary schools are caused by the use of results in the accountability system, rather than the assessment system itself.

"The resulting high-stakes system has led to a narrowing of the curriculum with a focus on English and maths at the expense of other subjects like science, humanities and the arts. It is right that schools are held to account for their performance but the government should act to lower the stakes and help teachers to deliver a broad, balanced and fulfilling curriculum for primary school children.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We will consider the recommendations of this report carefully and respond in due course. A consultation relating to primary assessment is ongoing.”

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