SAT retakes in Year 7. Oh please no!

So the Conservatives have won the election and we must wait and see how vigorously they will implement their manifesto pledges. As the exit polls were announced on election evening I was with a secondary English teacher friend. She is totally unimpressed that Conservatives have said that children will be expected to retake SATS in year 7 if they don’t reach the required standard in year 6. The details of requirements are not clear but I sympathised with my friend. Who wouldn’t? Trudging through all the dreary preparation necessary to pass those darned things is hardly the best use of remedial time in year 7. It is an appalling idea, a time consuming distraction. After all there are pretty simple and quick tests of progress in literacy and numeracy that can do the job perfectly well.

However, before we get right on our high horses let’s pause a minute and look at it from the politicians’ perspective. They want to ensure the weakest students get the help they need to progress in the most fundamental areas. Politicians asked the education establishment to produce tests which will check students’ numeracy and literacy. It might be very naïve of the politicians but why on earth should they doubt that SATS do what they say on the tin? If the sort of tasks set in SATs are the only way to test numeracy and literacy progress then surely that is what all secondary teachers are doing anyway? After all they must surely be tracking the progress in literacy and numeracy of their weakest students.  If preparing for SATs style tasks is not necessary to either aid or monitor progress then why are they being used in the first place at KS2?

Anger seems directed against politicians for wanting to ensure kids make progress but it is clearly at least partly misdirected.  Rather than getting angry at naïve (but actually probably well meaning) politicians why aren’t we directing our anger at tests that are so poor that one has to teach to the test at the expense of actually learning numeracy and literacy? If we accept that some form of external tracking of progress is going to happen, why aren’t we directing our energies towards trying to make it better?

Rather than screaming venom at rather hapless, naïve politicians, why aren’t we asking questions about why so many modern tests and exams seem to require enormous amounts of teaching to the test?  This is a very big issue with so many exams from KS1 to A level. A secondary history HoD told me recently she spends 40% of the GCSE time training students to pass the exam. Another told me that it then made no appreciable difference to student’s performance at A level whether they had done the GCSE with all that training or skipped most of it by doing the IGCSE!

Obviously some of our assumptions about effective assessment are wrong. Why aren’t we using our professionalism to work out better forms of testing? Why aren’t we being more critical of the tests we have? Why are we blaming politicians while offering no alternatives? It is much better to come to decision makers with an alternative solution than to appear to want to duck accountability. If SATs are wrong for KS3 then why do we think they are any better at KS2? Let’s start asking questions about what really works. Let’s start seeking better answers. Let’s be professionals!





9 thoughts on “SAT retakes in Year 7. Oh please no!

  1. To be fair, the SATs address not intended to be literacy and numeracy tests. They’re designed to check that the curriculum has been taught.
    The *real* problem is that the curriculum doesn’t always lead to the ultimate aims of good levels of literacy and numeracy.
    The new curriculum and its tests may do that better (that remains to be seen) but I suspect won’t be perfect.

    1. I do take your point and as you say, to a large extent the curriculum for numeracy and literacy should better describe progression. My feeling is that the problematic SAT test defines the curriculum at KS2. Point remains. If the test was good it would not be burdensome at KS3.

    1. Education decisions are inherently political. People’s ideology dictates their priorities. However flawed it is to let politicians run education it is better than a permanent left wing orthodoxy that ignores the priorities of what is currently a majority of the population.
      As it happens that education establishment have been as useless as the politicians over this/ as my blog explains.

      1. If the education establishment and politicians are equally useless, why is it better to let politicians run education? That doesn’t make sense.

        I don’t agree, either, that educational orthodoxy has been permanently ‘left wing’. You only need to look at the history of education in the UK to see that.

  2. I do agree that we need to deliver alternatives that we see as better. That is one thing that primary schools in particular are guilty of!! We need to be stronger but the problem is the anti-academic nonsense that pervades many primary schools prevents this kind of debate. Instead we are supposed to moan about it, teach the latest progressive fads and then hothouse children in Year 2 and Year 6. I think what was supposed to happen with these tests never has – namely early intervention and support and children who are ready to pass the tests as a result of their learning over the past 2 or 6 years rather than what we have at the moment.

  3. I agree with Heather here.

    Isn’t it the job of politicians, representing a wider social consensus, to set the broad aims of education and the job of teachers to establish the means by which those aims are delivered? In this case, the broad aims are literacy and numeracy, and the method of assessment (and the process by which failure is handled) is part of the means of ensuring these are achieved.

    Politicians get sucked into making what may often be somewhat naive interventions into provision, then it often seems to me, exactly as I understand Heather to be saying, because the profession sits by and tolerates dysfunctional practice.

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