Heads will be lost over Sats results, union warns

8th July 2016 at 00:00
School leaders feel the pressure amid sense of failure at new tests

Headteachers are considering resigning following this week’s Sats results, which revealed that almost half of Year 6 children had failed to meet the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, a heads’ union leader has said.

Headteachers have said that they will have to have difficult conversations with pupils, parents and governors, despite the government saying that the results cannot be compared with previous years because the tests are so different.

Schools have also been told that they will be measured against the floor standards in which 65 per cent of pupils must reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, or make expected progress in all three of these areas.

“A lot of people are saying they have failed and might as well write their resignations now,” said Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union. “I’m saying to people, the floor has not been decided until you see the progress measures. And no one can intervene until we know what the progress measures are. But the government has to abandon the floor standards.

“It is simply not credible to set a floor standard – which measures what is unacceptably low – that is above the average score.”

The Department for Education has said that it will cap the number of schools that can be below the floor standard at one percentage point more than last year, when 5 per cent – 676 primary schools – did not reach the floor. A rise in the proportion of schools missing the floor standard, to 6 per cent, would mean around 149 extra schools being judged as failures.

‘High-stakes’ tests

Brian Walton, headteacher of Brookside Academy in Street, Somerset, is a national leader of education and supports other headteachers. He said: “These are such high-stakes tests. Many schools will have Ofsted, their school-improvement advisers, local authorities, governors and parents all wanting to know why the results are lower than in the past. On the basis of these results, people will lose their jobs. These results are crucial. I’ve already heard of three or four people who are thinking, ‘What shall I do about my job?’ I’m saying take no immediate action – but I think people will be walking this week.”

New, tougher tests have been brought in this year in maths, reading and spelling, grammar and punctuation. Writing was assessed by teachers against a new set of criteria.

Schools have until 15 July to apply for a review of marking. The full national results are due to be published in September.

The government has announced that it wants to introduce more assessment: times-table tests have been mooted for primary, and ministers are planning to introduce Sats resits for students who do not reach the expected standard at the end of Year 6. There could also be a possible replacement for the primary baseline assessments.

The DfE has also pledged to have a minimum lead-in time of one year for significant changes to accountability – meaning that it is running out of time to change primary assessment in the next school year.

Policy paralysis

However, doubts also surround many government plans in education due to the shock Brexit referendum vote in June, which has led to major political upheaval in Westminster and potential for “policy paralysis”.

“Let’s reflect and pause,” urged Anne Heavey, education policy advisor at the ATL teachers’ union. “We would like to see this data being used as pilot data. The DfE has said we can’t use this data for comparison with last year; it should remember that when it publishes the data in September – and not flip into naming and shaming schools and local authorities.”

The Department for Education stressed that ministers had advised the regional schools commissioners and Ofsted to take the fact that it was the first year of a new assessment system into account when they are considering school performance.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan told a gathering of headteachers this week: “It is important that all involved see these results for what they are – a reflection of how well children this year have performed against a new curriculum. I believe this is a good start that vindicates our decision to raise standards and will help ensure those who need extra help get the support they need to lay the foundations for a bright future.”


‘Parents will ask what on earth have we been doing’

“I set the alarm for 4.30am to make sure I could do the Sats analysis before the day’s activities started,” says Andy Fawkes, headteacher of Linchfield primary school, Deeping St James, Lincolnshire (pictured, above). He was in Normandy with his Year 6 staff and 34 pupils on Tuesday when the results were published.

“When I first saw them, I was horrified,” he says. “I didn’t know what to tell the staff when they woke up. We were a school on an upward trend – how do I explain to parents that we have fallen significantly below floor?”

The staff were “bewildered and upset” when the news was broken to them. “They felt they had failed the children,” said Mr Fawkes. “Having seen the national results, we are broadly in line. We expected to be a little lower, but like the national drop, it’s a huge drop.”

The teachers told the children on the trip that they would give them their results the following day, once they had returned to school. But Mr Fawkes admitted that he was distracted and is angry at being put into the position where he had to tell about half of his pupils that they had “effectively failed” primary school.

“What does that do to an 11-year-old child?” he said. “We’ve gone from the depths of despair to thinking OK, it’s in line with the national picture. But still, we have to explain this absolute debacle of a testing regime in a way that doesn’t destroy the children’s self-confidence and joy of learning.

“Parents will ask what on earth have we been doing. It may be that only half of children have met the national standard – but that leaves teachers and headteachers in a massive firing line.”

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