'Primary Sats are a cancerous growth on our education system. It is time to cut this growth out'

There is another way to do primary assessment: one that involves trusting teachers to measure pupil progress and then work together to improve the whole education system, writes one celebrated head

Colin Harris

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And so the dreaded Sats are over for another year. Over yes, but we are no closer to seeing them ditched forever.

Isn't it time for us to realise that there is a better way to find out what our children know? Primary Sats have become a cancerous growth on our education system, gradually poisoning each part of it. It is time to cut this growth out.

Why? They don’t improve education or raise standards at cohort-level, they actually have a negative impact on some pupils’ learning, they narrow the primary curriculum and they affect pupil wellbeing.

Surely we can do better. We need an assessment system that supports children in their learning as well as identifying their attainment and future learning needs. This is not obtained from Sats in their current formulation.

We need to look at the whole individual, recognising all their strengths and, of course, their weakness, and then find an appropriate way of matching to the pupil’s educational development.

If we were to propose wholesale reform, would there really be a national clamour saying that we can't do without the Sats?

Will the whole education system break down? I know this system has been in place a long time, but some of us can remember a time before Sats. Schools did not break down, but they were creative and enjoyable places.

Of course, we need some kind of assessment system. But what would it look like?

It should:

  • Support all aspects of a pupil's learning
  • Look at all aspects of a pupil's development
  • Be geared up to the way pupils learn
  • Be designed to enable a dialogue between school and parents
  • Enable schools to continually improve to further meet the needs of their pupils.

So how can this be achieved?

'Put teachers at the centre'

First of all, we need to put teachers at the very centre of the system, rather than having them as the bit-part players they are now. There will need to be an approach based on both summative and formative assessment. The input of teachers and their thoughts are as important as any tests the pupil might do.

We must trust teachers once again to observe pupils in their classrooms and provide the summative assessments at the appropriate times in their development. There is no doubt in my mind that we can make this detailed and rigorous but, importantly, supportive.

This system should be externally moderated, of course. This process should involve teachers coming together to compare, share and enjoy their practice. They can revel in the way their school has developed their practice to ensure children enjoy school once again.

And the consequences of such a system?

Teachers could once again be inventive and show intuition about the education needs of their pupils.

We would see an end to the negative high-stakes testing culture.

It would also form a basis for a new accountability system for Ofsted: one that combines the schools' self-evaluation and individuality with external validation.

All of this could be predicated on high-level educational discussion between teaching peers aiming to improve outcomes for all pupils and all schools.

Of course, there is more to this debate than I have space for here, but I am adamant that there is a desperate need for change and the time for that change is NOW.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsteds were 'outstanding' across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue 

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Colin Harris

Colin Harris

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were “outstanding” across all categories.

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