Writing tests to be dropped from Sats

24th June 2011 at 01:00
Bew review urges Government to place assessment in teachers' hands

Writing tests for 11-year-olds should be scrapped, the Government- commissioned inquiry into key stage 2 assessment has recommended.

The review, led by independent academic Lord Bew, calls for pupils' writing to be measured through a process of moderated teacher assessment instead of the controversial formal tests known as Sats.

The review's final report - praised by education secretary Michael Gove as "educationally sound" - concludes that the two maths papers and the reading paper should be left largely as they are.

Sats were the subject of a divisive boycott last year that saw an estimated 25 per cent of primaries refuse to administer them. Many heads say they are too high-stakes, too stressful for pupils and encourage teaching to the test.

The move to abolish the writing test will be welcomed by many of these critics. It has long been considered the least reliable and often the most stressful for pupils.

But other contentious reforms are recommended that, if adopted, will subject pupils to a new external test of punctuation, vocabulary, grammar and spelling skills.

The review report argues that the move to teacher assessment for writing will avoid the "perverse incentives" of the current system. "While maintaining national standards is vital, we do not believe this should come at the expense of promoting creativity," it says.

Last year, 71 per cent of pupils reached the expected level 4 in writing, compared with 60 per cent in 2003.

Lord Bew, professor of politics at Queen's University Belfast, told The TES: "Our key decision was that we want to trust our teachers more.

"That is what the significance of changing writing composition is. That is the fundamental thrust of the report, that this is the work of primary- school teachers and they deserve the extra element of trust."

The writing test, which currently consists of a 45-minute task, a 20- minute task and a spelling test, is the most unpopular of the remaining Sats. Ofqual reports have found it is also the least reliable.

The change to the writing test is the most significant proposed by the review panel.

Reading and maths tests should stay, the report adds, but some of the pressure on schools will be reduced by allowing children who are absent to take the tests up to a week later.

Science assessment was changed in 2010 to a system of teacher assessment alongside sample tests taken by 27,000 pupils. The review said these arrangements should remain for now and be considered again following the national curriculum review.

It also recommended that league tables remain, albeit with additional information designed to make them fairer and more representative.

The report notes that evidence that external school-level accountability drove up standards was compelling.

It states: "We understand that at school and pupil level, this can lead to what can seem like frustrating pressure and an unnecessary `high stakes' system, but we believe holding each school accountable externally is essential."

Last year's boycott was called jointly by the NAHT and NUT unions, who said Sats disrupted the learning process in Year 6 and were misused to compile meaningless league tables. No boycott was called this year, pending the result of the review.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said the union would decide its official response to the review next month, but that his personal view was that the report was a good milestone which had moved the debate on.

He said: "I think there is a lot in there that people will be quite pleased with. I think people will be really pleased with the proposals on writing. The criticism of league tables will be music to many heads' ears, but the fact that some tests remain will disappoint some people.

"We are not against accountability or assessment. We want a model of accountability that holds heads to account for things which they can control."

Tim Sherriff, head of Westfield Community School in Wigan, who was on the review panel, said: "I think it represents a fairer system to hold all schools accountable."

The report said the attainment and achievement tables, although retaining the annual headline measures in attainment and progress, could be made fairer.

For attainment, the report suggests reading and writing results are reported separately, although a combined English score may also be included.

The review panel also wants a three-year rolling average to be included alongside the annual results in league tables.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today