Hunts feature: Will SATs stand the test of time?

LAST week 11-year-olds across England sat their SATs, but could it be for the last time? The Department for Children, Schools and Families has said the science test is to go and the National Association of Head Teachers wants to drop the exams altogether.

LAST week 11-year-olds across England sat their SATs, but could it be for the last time? The Department for Children, Schools and Families has said the science test is to go and the National Association of Head Teachers wants to drop the exams altogether. ANGELA SINGER finds out what it could mean for Huntingdonshire children.

THE CASE FOR REVIEW

PARENTS of Year 5 pupils may soon get a letter from the National Association of Head Teachers explaining why they support a boycott of next year's SATs.

The association has said it wants an end to "the tyranny of testing", an end to the stress on students and an end to the pressure on teachers to get their school up in the league tables.


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Its stance - 94 per cent of members at the annual conference voted in favour of a boycott - has found support from various corners, including Parentline Plus, a national charity that represents parents.

The group is calling for an urgent review of the exams system.

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Parentline Plus's chief executive Jeremy Todd said last week: "We feel that the Government should review SATs testing of 11-year-olds, since parents and children are under enough pressure without having to worry about preparing for the tests in May.

"It would be beneficial for the Government to explore the possibility of ending such tests to broaden out Year 6 pupils' education during their final year in primary school and to help prepare them for the transition to secondary school."

The National Union of Teachers is also against SATs and called in March for a boycott - although it original called for a boycott in 2003 - and the General Teaching Council for England has proposed scrapping the tests, saying the stress caused to children is poisoning attitudes to education.

THE PRIMARY SCHOOL'S VIEW

GRAHAM McArthur, headteacher at Somersham Primary School, said his school had trialled APP (Assessing Pupil Progress), a system of continual appraisal.

Both the school and Cambridgeshire County Council, as the education authority, have invested a lot of time and effort in it with the idea of setting a benchmark.

Rather than one-off tests, pupils are assessed throughout the year, preventing a simple snapshot of the school, and its pupils, that you currently get through SATs.

"Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning," he said. "My feeling is that once it is put in place APP will be a good system and will take the place of SATs.

"My issue with SATs is the way the data is used. This is just one particular phase in a child's learning. It is short-sighted to assess a school on one set of data."

Mr McArthur said children at Somersham were well prepared over the whole school year for the tests, so that the SATs did not dominate the curriculum.

"They know what they have to do and where and how they will do it and they do not worry.

"We start early, we do in-depth work and revision and we have good intervention and booster groups. Learning should be enjoyable and it should allow children to explore and investigate."

JULIA Elliott is headteacher at Crosshall Juniors in St Neots which has 120 pupils in Year 6 sitting SATs this week - the biggest group in Cambridgeshire.

She said: "Year 6 is the seventh year of formal education and, of course, we need to know what level pupils are at.

"But it is a matter of how you present things.

"What I am vehemently against is league tables. I never look at them and every headteacher in the St Neots forum is of the same opinion."

Mrs Elliott said APP could well replace SATs if teachers were properly trained to use it.

"This is a national system asking where is the child now? Where is he or she going and how do I support that learning journey?

"There are always some children who are fearful about something, about going in the swimming pool for example, but they overcome it and gain confidence."

THE PARENTS VIEW

KAREN Pritchard from Hartford has two daughters.

Aimee, 12, took her SATs at Hartford Junior School two years ago, and Caitlin, 10, takes hers there this week.

Mrs Pritchard said: "I have two totally different children. Aimee was quite relaxed and the tests didn't bother her. She came out with one of the top scores in the school.

"Caitlin finds the whole thing quite an issue. She was very down the other day and when we asked why she said: 'I've got my SATs coming up' and she was really worried. We reassured her that whatever she does will be fine by us and just told her to read the questions thoroughly before she starts to answer them.

"We had a letter from the school saying make sure the child eats breakfast, gets enough sleep, has a mascot and reassure them. No wonder the children are worried.

"I would prefer it if the teachers assessed their work throughout the year, instead of putting them through this intensive system for a week."

THE PUPIL'S VIEW

AIMEE Pritchard took her exams at Hartford Juniors pupil.

Now 12 and a pupil at St Peter's School in Huntingdon, she said: "I was a little bit nervous I had been told I would get a high mark - we were told the marks we were expected to get so that was reassuring."

But she was relieved when the tests were over.

"I would prefer assessment through the year because that would mean less pressure than you get put under in one week. You don't mind the tests in subjects you are good at."

She added: "I have been helping my sister Caitlin with her revision on the computer so that she is well prepared. We start preparing for the tests in January and there are booster groups for the high groups and the low groups."

THE SECONDARY HEAD'S VIEW

VAL Ford, headteacher at St Peter's School in Huntingdon, said the move to drop the SATS test in science was a step forward - and she would be in favour of dropping them for maths and English too.

In accordance with Government guidelines, this is the last year that SATS will be set for Key Stage Three - Year 9 (pupils aged 13).

Instead, the students will be assessed by the newly introduced APP system (Assessing Pupil Progress) which means regular assessment of pupils' work by the teacher in accordance with set criteria.

Pupils will still be graded and expected to reach certain levels.

Mrs Ford said: "They still have to reach a given target, it's how we do that has changed. This year we are using APP but the pupils are also sitting the test because they have worked so hard and they have built up to it.

"It will be interesting to compare the two forms of assessment.

"The Department for Children, Schools and Families has said that you can't adequately test Key Stage Two for science but you can with maths and English. I think the APP system is much more effective for all subjects because this is something done with pupils, not to them."

She added: "It is most important that we know exactly what level pupils are at when they come to us, because otherwise we can't help them progress. A secondary school needs to have informed data about every student.

"Assessment without a formal test is more effective and I am in favour of SATs going. It will also take the pressure off teachers to teach to tests, they will be able to be more flexible and experimental in their teaching, they have been under a bit of a stranglehold."

THE MINISTER

ED Balls, the Education Secretary, who tried to persuade the annual conference of the National Association of Headteachers not to vote against SATs, has backed teacher assessment to replace the science tests but said the maths and English SATs should stay.

Mr Balls has accepted a report by a group including Jim Rose, former director of inspection at Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, recommending that teacher assessment should be strengthened. The report calls for the tests to be moved from May to June.

Mr Ball said the current system was not set in stone, adding: "I can confirm that I will accept the expert group's recommendations in full, and consult on their implementation."

SATs FACT-FILE

nStandard Attainment Tests were introduced in 1995.

nAt Key Stage One (seven-year-olds) teachers assess reading, writing, speaking and listening, maths and science. Children take three hours of tests in reading, writing, and maths.

nAt Key Stage Two (11-year-olds) there are five-and-a-half hours of tests in English, maths and science. Most should reach level 4.

nAt Key Stage Three (14-year-olds) there are seven to eight hours of tests in English, maths and science. Teachers also assess history, geography, foreign languages, design and technology, information and communication technology, art and design, music, physical education, citizenship and religious education.

nWales abolished SATs in 2004.

nIn Scotland, teachers use national assessments to gauge pupils' levels in English and maths.

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