'Unnecessary' national tests to be scrapped for seven year olds

The proposals follow years of campaigning from teachers, parents and industry leaders who say children in England are under too much stress from being tested at too young an age

Rachael Pells
Education Corresondent
Thursday 30 March 2017 11:32 BST
Last year, thousands of parents protested against the tests by pledging to take their children out of school for a day of 'fun learning'
Last year, thousands of parents protested against the tests by pledging to take their children out of school for a day of 'fun learning' (Getty)

Controversial national curriculum tests taken by six and seven-year-olds in England are to be scrapped under radical new government proposals.

The move follows years of pressure from parents and industry leaders who argue the compulsory tests put children under too much stress at too young an age.

The Department for Education is instead proposing a new assessment for children when they first start school, which aims to "reduce the burden" of assessment on teachers and pupils.

This should be done in such a way that children do not realise they are being tested, the Department said.

The results will be used to measure progress that pupils have made by the time they leave primary school aged 11.

Making the announcement, Education Secretary Justine Greening said: “The government has reformed the primary school system to make sure children can master the basics of literacy and numeracy so they get the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in later life.

”Now we want to build on that by developing a stable assessment system that helps children learn, while freeing up teachers to do what they do best – supporting children to fulfil their potential.“

The move has been welcomed by teaching unions, with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) praising the consultation as “recognition our children deserve something better”.

General Secretary Kevin Courtney warned the change could result in worse conditions for younger age groups, however.

“Ms Greening has been listening – but only partially,” he said. “The consultation floats the idea that statutory assessment at KS1 will be set aside, but not until the early 2020s.

"In a triumph of hope over experience, the DfE wants to reintroduce baseline testing to the early years, despite its failure in 2015-16.

"The DfE wants to believe that the test results of a five year old can reasonably predict their performance at 11, so that the school system can be held to account if children do not make the ‘expected’ progress. In fact there is a wealth of evidence that points the other way.

"In pursuit of this unattainable goal, the DfE seems willing to inflict damage on the education of four and five year olds: baseline testing will drive curriculum change towards a narrower early years curriculum, with a premature and inappropriate emphasis on formal learning.

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Under the plans, the tests – which measure children's abilities in reading, writing, maths and science – will no longer be statutory.

The new assessment for children in their reception year will be developed with the teaching profession, the DfE said.

Schools will also still be given SATs test materials for seven-year-olds to help them benchmark pupils' abilities and inform parents of progress.

The Government said it will sample schools that administer the papers to ensure academic standards stay high.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said of the proposals: “We have long campaigned for an end to national testing for all primary school children and we are pleased that the Government appears, finally, to be listening.

“As we learned from last year’s tests, seven-year-olds are too young for formal exams and suffer stress and worry at a time when they’re supposed to be learning to love school and grow in confidence rather than fearing failure.”

Last year thousands of parents took their children out of school for a day of protest over the “stressful” exams.

Campaigners said preparations for the “unnecessary” exams had led to a lack of creative learning within schools, with head teachers warning that children as young as six were becoming “anxious and “stressed” as a result.

Last autumn, Education Secretary Justine Greening said she would take steps to simplify the school assessment system.

It is understood that the National Association of Head Teachers has worked closely with the Department for Education on the planned changes which will now go out to consultation for 12 weeks.

This year's tests are expected to go ahead as planned, the DfE said.

General secretary Russell Hobby said he appreciated the engagement of the Secretary of State with the concerns of school leaders.

“The possibility of ending Key Stage 1 Sats is good news. This creates the time and space in a pupil's primary years for teachers to focus on teaching rather than on high stakes assessment.

“It will properly reward early intervention and it will reduce workload. Overall, minimising the number of high stakes tests is the right way to go. This will help every school to deliver a rich educational experience for all children.“

He said that the government had listened to many of the principles and recommendations in his union's report on assessment.

”There's more to be accomplished but we've made good progress from where we were a year ago,“ he added.

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