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'High-stakes' testing harming teaching and learning in primary schools

1 May 2017

The close link between primary assessment (SATs) and school accountability creates a high stakes system which can negatively impact children's teaching and learning, says the Education Committee. The Committee calls on the next Government to lower the stakes by changing what is reported in annual performance tables.

Key findings

Assessment is closely linked to the accountability system in primary schools, with Key Stage 2 results used to hold schools and teachers to account on the progress and attainment of pupils.

The Committee finds, however, that this high stakes system can leading to a narrowing of the curriculum and 'teaching to the test', as well as affecting teacher and pupil wellbeing.

The Committee calls for the scrapping of publication of results from a single cohort, proposing instead that a rolling three year average of Key Stage 2 results be published. Schools should still have yearly cohort level data available for their own use.

The Committee also urges Ofsted to ensure it looks across the whole curriculum at primary school and guard against putting too great a focus on Key Stage 2 results. Ofsted should ensure that it reports on a broad and balanced curriculum in every primary school report.

Every Ofsted inspection report should specifically include science as a core subject alongside English and maths, as well as a range of other areas of the curriculum and extra-curricular activities.

Chair's comments

Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

"Many of the negative effects of assessment in primary schools are caused by the use of results in the accountability system rather than the assessment system itself.

The resulting high-stakes system has led to a narrowing of the curriculum with a focus on English and maths at the expense of other subjects like science, humanities and the arts.

It is right that schools are held to account for their performance but the Government should act to lower the stakes and help teachers to deliver a broad, balanced, and fulfilling curriculum for primary school children."

Emphasis on technical aspects of writing not supported by evidence

The Committee is concerned by the emphasis on technical aspects of writing and the diminished focus on composition and creativity at primary school.

The Committee is not convinced this leads directly to improved writing and calls for the Government to reconsider this balance.

The report recommends the Government make spelling, punctuation and grammar tests non-statutory at Key Stage 2, but still available for schools for internal monitoring of pupil performance.

Special educational needs and disability

The Committee heard that underlying many of the criticisms of the new writing assessment system is its inaccessibility for pupils with SEND.

The focus on spelling and handwriting can disproportionately affect pupils with dyslexia or dyspraxia, and there has been criticism of the level of difficulty of the tests.

The Committee welcomes the Rochford review of assessment for pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests and looks forward to the implementation of its conclusions.

Pupil progress – introducing a baseline measure

The Committee welcomes the increased focus on pupil progress but urges the Government to be cautious in introducing a baseline measure.

The Committee recommends that the primary purpose of a measure of children at age 4 should be as a diagnostic tool which helps teachers to identify individual pupil needs. This measure should only be carried out through teacher assessment.

Ineffective implementation of new primary tests

The DfE and STA did not oversee the implementation of new SATs in 2016 effectively and left schools feeling confused and under pressure. Guidance was published late leaving little time for schools to prepare pupils for assessments.

For future reforms, schools must be given at least a year to implement changes with no incremental changes within that time.

National curriculum levels

National curriculum levels as a measure of pupil performance were removed last year, leaving schools with the flexibility to design their own assessment systems.

However, the report finds that school leaders and teachers were not given enough advice, guidance or training to design and implement effective systems resulting in many schools using low quality commercial solutions.

The Committee recommends the Government provide better advice and guidance, mitigating the risk of schools purchasing low-quality assessment systems from commercial providers.

Further information

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