SCRAP SATS AND LEAGUE TABLES – demand teachers unions

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NUT banner on the October 20 demonstration against the Comprehensive Spending Review budget cuts announced in parliament that day
NUT banner on the October 20 demonstration against the Comprehensive Spending Review budget cuts announced in parliament that day

The National Union of Teachers (NUT), Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) have produced a joint document, calling for the scrapping of SATS tests.

They call for ‘an end to the excessive, confused and overlapping test and exam-based accountability system in England’.

The unions believe that for too long children’s education has been blighted by an assessment regime which limits the curriculum and encourages teaching to the test.

Children in England need assessment that is meaningful, accurate and practical, they stress.

The three unions are firmly in favour of a system in which league tables have been abolished and schools are properly accountable to parents, carers and pupils through manageable teacher assessment.

Only by putting assessment back in the hands of the profession can there be a primary assessment system which will support teaching and learning and provide genuinely useful information for parents and for other schools.

The Common Ground on Assessment and Accountability in Primary Schools, will form the basis of their submission to the Bew review of Key Stage 2 (KS2) tests .

The final Bew report will be published by June 2011.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: ‘This document shows the significant strength of feeling across the profession and is a positive contribution to what we want to see in the place of KS2 tests.

‘They are strong, evidence-based suggestions.’

Hobby, launching the document with Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL and Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, said the three unions agreed that schools should be accountable for the quality of education they provided, and they were not arguing for any less information to be available to parents.

Instead, better information should be provided, the NAHT leader said, arguing that the current system can lead to a distortion of the curriculum for year 6 children and gives no information about performance beyond the tests.

He said: ‘The questions parents are seeking to ask are: will my child be happy and successful at this school?

‘We are paying a very high price for a system which doesn’t deliver transparency.’

The three organisations have also made it clear that if the review does not lead to a change in the current system of testing they will consider taking industrial action again.

Hobby said: ‘If there is no move on reform of the system – and our members will be expecting some change – they are expecting 2011 to be the last year of the current regime.

‘We do have faith in the process. If there is no change, it puts us back where we were.’

Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: ‘Despite the overwhelming evidence about the damaging effects of the Key Stage 2 tests, the government appears to be clinging on to them limpet-like.

‘The onus is now on the government to invent tests that overcome the known problems with SATs and can be valuable, accept that SATs need to be scrapped, or admit that ideology is more important than what’s best for children’s education.’

Christine Blower, General Secretary of NUT, said: ‘We really do need to see a change in the way that we assess our children in England.

‘Teachers are the best placed to do this.

‘The government should trust them to get on with it. Changing the present system will ensure that our children’s education is far more enriching than it is at present.

‘Moderated teacher assessment will give better quality information about children’s progress to parents and carers.

‘We also need to see the end of the demoralising and unnecessary scourge of League Tables.’

Common Ground on Assessment and Accountability in Primary Schools says the three unions have five major concerns about the current system.

These are:

• That it is excessive, confused and overlapping, providing poor value for money. The data are used for some 22 different purposes which are often in conflict.

• Accountability is hugely over-centralised.

There is too much onus on accountability to central government at the expense of other stakeholders.

‘Better arrangements would centre on the different kinds of information that schools should provide for the different needs of pupils and their parents, local communities and national policy-makers.’

• The current system is still based on a lack of trust in the teaching profession. Schools need to be allowed to move further towards self-evaluation

• Current results are subject to unnecessary and damaging over-interpretation.

A school’s overall performance cannot be summed up in a single number, but this is the implication of how performance tables and Ofsted inspections work

• The current system undermines pupils’ learning

Instead, says the document, externally-moderated teacher assessment should replace SATS.

This has ‘clear advantages’ over national curriculum testing because a wider range of pupils’ learning can be evaluated, it is at least as reliable as SATS in providing accurate judgements, and it can promote further learning.

The three organisations suggest that national sampling should replace SATS tests as the main measure of national education standards and that inspection should become more of a shared professional experience between the school’s leadership, its staff and the inspection team.

Self evaluation, subject to external verification, should be the central principle.

The document says performance tables distort the curriculum and devalue creative and personal skills which are essential for children to lead successful and fulfilled lives.

They also provide no encouragement for schools to tailor provision for children working above or below expectations.

While welcoming the government’s move to reform league tables to show the progress of all pupils, the three unions say there is no longer a need for performance table information to be published.

Schools should instead make appropriate information available to parents.

Finally, the document suggests that schools in partnerships should be inspected together.