'They turn schools into test factories': 10 reasons to abolish Sats

How useful is Sats week? Not very, this educationalist argues…

Colin Harris

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And so we reach that time of the year again: the dreaded Sats Week.

Months and months, even years and years, of cramming come to a climax as we attempt to ensure our pupils tackle 5 hours of papers – all with content set by The Powers That Be, who couldn't be further from our classrooms. 

What do they prove? Nothing. 

Do they improve anything? No.

So why do we put our pupils through such a system of torture? I struggle to find a single coherent argument. 

With that in mind, I give you my 10 reasons why we should kill Sats. Dead.

  1. Sats do not raise standards. And isn't that what education is all about? People who know very little about education pore over the data Sats produce, mistakingly believing that it has value. Take it from one who knows: it does not. 
  2. Sats have a negative impact on learning. The reality is that these tests turn our pupils off education in droves. At just 11 years of age, they might see themselves as failures. Fun has been driven from the classroom – too often, daily life in Year 6 amounts to nothing more than endless preperation and test papers.
  3. Sats have created schools with a narrow primary curriculum. Nearly everything in schools is now geared to some test or other. And that's because schools need to achieve a good overall score, or else. A broad and balanced curriculum became a distant memory many years ago.
  4. Sats have a negative affect on pupil wellbeing. I have lost count of the number of children crying or distressed on test days. No matter how hard we try, they genuinely believe that these tests will control their futures.
  5. Sats are not a reliable way to measure pupil achievement. How could we ever expect this? Five hours of boring papers cannot tell you what a pupil really knows, how they think or what they can really do.
  6. Sats have become an unhealthy obsession for Ofsted. For many schools, it feels like inspectors decide how good or bad a school is purely from its data.
  7. The marking and organisation of Sats leaves a lot to be desired. Last year's tribulations were a fiasco: leaked papers, badly designed papers and poor marking.
  8. Sats are not cost effective. A Cambridge Primary review put the costs of administering these tests at £20 million. What a a huge bill for a dataset that tells us less than teachers know.
  9. The general public and parents don't want Sats anymore. Recent polls have shown this and parent-led boycotts are now a regular fixture of the education calendar. 
  10. It's not assessment anymore. Let's be honest: it's cramming. And we all know there are better ways to find out what pupils know. Formative in-class assessment with external moderators based on a wider set of skills would be good for a start.


Next week, we once again subject our pupils to this annual aberration. Why? I don't know. But what I do know is there must and needs to be a better solution.

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 

For all the latest news and views on Sats, visit our specialised Sats hub.

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