KS2 SATs are boycotted but what implications does this have for Teachers?

Recent news that the NUT and the head teachers union NAHT are planning to boycott Key Stage 2 SATs in England should be welcomed. This comes after the Key Stage 3 SATs for year 9 were scrapped in 2008/9.


It has been clear for a long time that this style of test is not reflective of pupils’ ability, and in fact, can be detrimental due to the amount of time they take up in the curriculum.  Mick Brookes, the NAHT General Secretary, summed up what many teachers thought: “Testing narrows the curriculum and makes learning shallow, because the tests are simply regurgitative.  Then the results are published in league tables, and schools in the toughest areas, where you’ve got hardest to teach children, are ridiculed on an annual basis.  There is high stress for children; some will already be spending up to 10 hours a week rehearsing these tests.  It’s a complete waste of time.  It is unconscionable that we should simply stand by and allow the educational experience of children to be blighted.”


One of the major factors in scrapping KS3 SATs last year can be put down to incompetence.  The inability of government agencies to manage the external marking became laughable.  Reports of unmarked papers, pupil marks being mixed up and late delivery were all over the media in 2008.


The government was clearly embarrassed by the whole affair.  The Department for Children, Schools and Families had said that responsibility for monitoring problems with the SATs rested with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).  The QCA then blamed ETS, the company responsible for marking the SATs, and dissolved its five-year, £156 million contract with them.


Ed Balls, Education Secretary, faced with the fiasco, tried to put the spin on.  The reason why they were scrapping the SATs was to allow “a more flexible system of assessment throughout Key Stage 3.”  Apparently, and conveniently, this would “allow schools to focus more effectively on personalised teaching and learning and use the flexibility of the new secondary education curriculum.”


Initially, abolishing KS3 SATs was seen as a step forward.  However over the passed year we have seen how local authorities and school management have responded to this through the introduction of APP (Assessing Pupil Progress).  The DCSF described it as a method of assessing: ‘At regular intervals, which are planned to fit in with school assessment policy, teachers review pupils’ work using APP guidelines to build a profile of their attainment.’


The difference between APPs and SATs is the assessment process, which is often formal.  It is carried out and marked by the classroom teacher at least three times per year.  The irony being some schools are using past SATs papers as part of this assessment. The upshot of this being that the government has saved millions pounds in external marking and a repeat performance of 2008.  However, workload for all core subject teachers has increased. 


The heart of the problem is not assessment but what the assessment is used for.  We have a competitive education system in constant fear of inspection and the consequences of not meeting constantly shifting criteria.  In order to demonstrate that the school is ‘Good’ in the eyes of Ofsted, it must prove its worth.  The school is judged on the progress each pupil makes in each key stage. The school is then forced to gather evidence, through pupil data, to prove this.  Finally, it is then published as league tables.  The government then has its evidence to show the electorate that the millions of pounds it has spent has resulted in improvements.


The assessment is just the tool used to gather the data.  At the moment we have a culture where the pupils’ performance reflects the school’s performance.  Therefore, the pupils cannot be seen to be failing and repeated testing becomes common place.  Regardless of whether it’s SATs or APPs, we need to be tackling the problem rather than the symptoms.