On Monday, Layla Moran for the LibDems was unequivocal: ‘abolish SATs’ she told NEU conference, and end the obsession with teaching to the test.
On Tuesday, Jeremy Corbyn was just as clear: a Labour government would scrap SATs and introduce a system ‘tailored to individual pupils, that prepares children for life, not just for exams’.
Both parties once presided over the SATs-based system. Now they have been bold enough to accept that it is not the guarantor of standards but instead one of the biggest threats to a high-quality primary education. They have been open enough to engage with the message that researchers, teachers and parents have been sending, with increasing urgency, for several years.
‘In every single instance in which high-stakes accountability systems have been implemented,’ wrote one of the world’s leading experts on assessment in 2011, ‘adverse unintended consequences have significantly reduced, and in many cases have completely negated, the positive benefits.’
This conclusion has been underlined by teachers.
Every year since the primary assessment system was ‘reformed’ in 2016, we have surveyed the experiences of our members. Their responses speak of concern, frustration and distress at opportunities missed and damage inflicted.
‘Many of the children who previously enjoyed school now detest education. This is a crime and a shame because, in its incompetence, the Government is willingly and knowingly making children hate learning with a passion, rather than harbour an environment of lifelong learning.’
‘Since Christmas [six months ago], I have only taught literacy and numeracy.’
‘I have felt as if I am drowning under the weight of marking, inputting data and planning. I will be leaving teaching before I am 60. It’s soul-destroying… It’s not what I trained for.’
The teachers’ perspectives are shared by their heads.
In a YouGov survey of primary school leaders last month, 93% agreed that English and maths are prioritised to the detriment of other subjects - such as music, art, drama and science. 95% agree that pupils spend too much time preparing for KS2 SATs, and 98% that KS2 SATs encourage some teachers to ‘teach to the test’. 96% had some concerns about the effects of the tests on the wellbeing of pupils.
These are messages which the Government has closed its ears to.
After the interventions of Corbyn and Moran – which have courageously broken the long political silence over the way we test our children – opposition will grow, a future beyond the current system will become imaginable.
Our union is entirely committed to bringing a new assessment system, one that supports learners, into being.