Fighting the Sats mindset

25th November 2005 at 00:00
A recent survey shows that a majority of primaries are mired in a culture of tests, reports Helen Ward.

Three-quarters of primary schools are still preparing seven-year-olds for tests, despite the introduction of new low-stress Sats this year.

The new arrangements have made little difference to pupils, according to a survey for the National Assessment Agency, although some teachers said preparation was carried out in a more relaxed way.

This year, 85 per cent of seven-year-olds reached the expected level 2 in reading, 82 per cent in writing and 91 per cent in maths.

Primary and infant schools must still test children in Year 2. But the tests are now used to underpin teacher assessments. Only teacher assessments are passed on to local authorities, although parents can request their child's test score as well.

The survey of 681 teachers and headteachers carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research, found that most schools did not change their testing procedure, despite having the flexibility to choose when to test and which tests to use.

One headteacher said: "Year 2 teachers have a Sats mindset which is difficult to change." Between 78 per cent and 84 per cent of schools did the reading, writing and mathematics tests or tasks in the summer term.

Schools were also more likely to use the 2005 papers than the 2004 ones.

But the survey showed a shift in the choice of writing test. Almost half (46 per cent) of the schools who piloted the scheme last year chose to use the 2004 paper this year as did 30 per cent of schools who had the freedoms for the first time in 2005.

The most common reason given for choosing a test was that it matched the interest of children. But there was no consensus on which tests were easy or difficult.

The survey found 16 per cent of heads and 24 per cent of teachers did not think the new regime had a positive effect on teaching and learning in their school.

There were concerns about workload and the fact that formal tests were used at all and about possible inconsistencies between feeder schools.

Chris Davis, head of Queniborough primary, Leicestershire, was involved in the trial. This year, most tests in his school were done in the spring.

"Doing the tests in the spring term means we get it done and can spread them out a bit. It also gives the teacher six months to use the results,"

he said.

John Coe, spokesman for the National Association of Primary Education, said: "It is disappointing that the decline in the way the tests are used isn't sharper, but it is to be expected. The primary profession is in a very depressed and conformist culture at the moment. Teachers are clinging to the familiar in order to buttress their own assessments. But there will be a gradual renewal of confidence in professional judgements in the next two to three years."


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