• Notes from a Teacher

What is the future of student testing?

By the end of lockdown children will have been off school for the best part of a term. Not only this, hundreds of thousands of children will have missed their Year 2 and Year 6 SATs tests – but what does this mean for the schools? And more importantly, what does it mean for the children?

We often see headlines stating that British children are the most regularly tested in the world. So, what tests do they face in primary school? Here goes…take a deep breath….

As of September, on entry into Reception class, four and five year olds will face a baseline test. This enables the children’s progress to be tracked all the way to Year 6.

In Year 1 they will face a Phonics Screening test. Children are asked to read a collection of words and depending on how many they can read the either pass (hooray!) or fail (boooo). Despite the English language containing in the region of one million words, extra words or “alien words” are made up for the children to read. Words such as goid, chak and pobe.

Year 2…end of Key Stage 1 SATs. These are the important ones and go towards assessing schools and league tables, and again, tracking children’ progress through the school.

Year 3…a year off testing – hoorah!

Year 4…Statutory Times tables test

Year 5…another year off testing

Year 6 SATs – the big ones. Schools are listed in league tables based, almost entirely, on the result of these children’s exam results.

So, as I have said, this year there will be no tests. What does this mean for schools? Schools are normally ranked on the outcome of their Year 6 tests.  Up until very recently, the result of an OFSTED report was heavily dependent on the Year 6 SATs results. If the results were bad and an OSTED was looming, there was little the school could do to avoid a “requires improvement”. Based on these results, some inspectors had pretty much made their minds up about a school before even stepping inside the building. (Thankfully, this is beginning to change, and schools are also judged on a much broader basis such as pastoral care - this is a really positive change that the DofE has made.)

Come January, year 6 children across the country are taught to test. Day in day out for five months, the rest of their education is put on hold, while they do practice papers, revision, cramming, and extra lessons for those who are in danger of not making the grade. If they are lucky, they may get an hour off in the afternoon for something that won’t make an appearance on the SATS papers, for example; history, science, art, music, foreign languages, geography, PE or RE – yep, you get the picture. Only Maths or English are tested. So, if you are a brilliant artist, historian or musician these skills won’t be nurtured for five months while you’re in Year 6.

What will the lack of testing, and in particular, Year 6 SATs, mean for primary schools? I’d like to think very little. So little, in fact that the system starts to recognise how unnecessary they are.

Teachers know their children. They know if they are above, at or below age related expectations.  They know how to support the less able and challenge those that need it. Every half term, teachers are asked to provide data on the children in their class, is a child where they should be academically, or are they above or below. We are then asked to justify and provide evidence for the conclusions that we have come to. These are then checked and moderated by our peers and the Senior Leadership Team.

We are always told that the Year 6 SATs tests are there to measure the teachers’ ability to teach the curriculum – but why test the children in order to test the teachers? Why spend five months of education teaching such a narrow curriculum to be tested when the primary school curriculum is so broad and has the potential to be so inspiring?

I am not averse to there being checks in a primary school – of course, all schools need to be accountable. Just as the Senior Leadership Team do, outside moderators can come in and check the children’s work against the levels given by the teachers.

Yes, I would argue that children have lost a great deal through not be in school for all of these weeks, but it’s got nothing to do with not sitting tests.

Perhaps, with the lack of testing this year, we will have a chance to assess what we have lost.  My guess is, very little. 

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