‘Chaotic’ primary tests trigger boycott warning

26th August 2016 at 00:00
High jump: heads warn the new Sats have raised the bar too high for primary assessment
Urgent changes are needed if the 2017 assessments are to go ahead, leaders say

Heads are warning ministers that they could boycott Sats next year unless significant changes to primary assessment begin in the next few weeks.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, has been outspoken about the “chaos and confusion” of this year’s tougher key stage 2 tests. Now he wants the Department for Education to take action on the following key issues before half-term:

  • Rethink proposals for resits in Year 7.
  • Redesign the reading test – which, unusually, had a lower pass rate than writing and maths this year.
  • Address concerns about the use of “secure fit” rather than “best fit” on the writing assessment, and the inconsistencies between local authorities on how writing is moderated.

Mr Hobby said: “The long-term picture is to sit down and discuss a more coherent strategy for assessment that could take years to come to fruition. But in the short term there are very serious concerns. A boycott remains a possibility for 2017 if discussions with the government are not fruitful.”

His warning comes as the government is preparing to publish further details on Thursday of how pupils performed in the controversial reading, maths, and Spag tests.

'The current regime is not fair, valid or reliable'

The new, tougher tests were taken by more than half-a-million 10- and 11-year-olds in May. Teachers also had to submit their assessments of pupils’ writing based on a new framework.

Initial results, published in July, revealed that just 53 per cent of pupils had reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths compared with 80 per cent of pupils who achieved the expected level 4 last year.

The government has said that the writing assessment system will stay in place for the coming school year, to give it time to “engage” with teachers before making changes.

But Mr Hobby said that reforms were needed now as the system was “not usable in its current format”. He added: “There is a limit to how much you can do in one year without causing turmoil. But there is enough you could do to make it less chaotic than it was this year.”

The problems surrounding this year’s Sats included delays and confusion over teacher assessment, leaked papers and a reading paper that left pupils in tears (see graphic). But calls for an overhaul of the system have so far gone unheeded.

The NAHT’s position is being backed by other teaching unions. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: “The current regime is not fair, valid or reliable. We would be prepared to look at a boycott.

“The KS2 tests last year were a shambles. The government could see reason, they could accept they have made a pig’s ear of the new testing arrangements. Ministers can carry on ignoring it or do something about it, but the profession is no longer prepared to put up with this nonsense.”

Mr Hobby said that the issue was the “top priority” for NAHT members. “Funding, recruitment, forced [academy] conversion all matter, but assessment chaos makes teaching harder in every school,” he said.

Unions united

The NAHT had been clear with the DfE about the risk of a boycott but had received “no response as yet”, Mr Hobby said. “Obviously, we hope to discuss things with the government, and reach a sensible resolution. But if we are unable to solve the serious flaws from this year, [a boycott] does remain a possibility for us.”

The NAHT, NUT and ATL unions have all previously urged change. This week, NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The NUT, alongside other unions, is calling for the government to listen to teachers’ deep and ongoing concerns about primary assessment.

“The system isn’t fit for purpose and teachers don’t want a rerun in 2016-17 because of the negative impact on seven- and 11-year-olds.

“If the DfE is unwilling to make the changes needed, the NUT is prepared to work with other unions in order to enable the profession to boycott KS1 and KS2 Sats in summer 2017.”

Meanwhile a petition calling for the government to suspend both the Year 2 and Year 6 tests in 2017 has gathered 12,965 signatures.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The improvements that we have made to the primary curriculum and assessments will raise educational standards and help ensure all children leave primary school having mastered the basics they need to succeed.”

They added that the DfE was “ working constructively with teaching unions” to “ensure this is done effectively”.


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