What is the context?
On 19 July 2021, the government published an update on the way in which school and college assessment and accountability would operate for the 2021/22 academic year. This update confirmed that all primary assessments would return for the first time since 2019, without any adaptations, but that the results would not be published in Key Stage 2 performance tables this academic year. This decision was reinforced by the Minister of State for School Standards in a letter to primary schools on 2 February 2022.
However, the DfE still intends to produce the normal suite of Key Stage 2 accountability measures at school level, and for this to be shared with schools, academy trusts, local authorities and Ofsted, ‘for school improvement purposes and to help identify schools most in need of support’.
In other words, although Key Stage 2 performance tables will not be published, the intention is that SATs will go ahead with no modifications, and that the data from these assessments will be used for inspection and internal school accountability purposes in a school’s Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR).
ASCL position: ASCL welcomed the decision not to publish Key Stage 2 performance tables for 2021/22. However, we strongly believe that the data from Key Stage 2 SATs should not be used for any form of primary school accountability.
If the government and Ofsted categorically commit to not using the results of the Key Stage 2 SATs in the IDSR or for any other form of school accountability, then our view is that, on balance, it is useful for these assessments to go ahead.
If this reassurance cannot be given, our position is that Key Stage 2 SATs in summer 2022 should be made optional.
Why are we saying this?
The decision as to whether statutory Key Stage 2 SATs should take place in 2022 is a finely balanced one. On the one hand, it is important that schools are able to focus on education recovery, and on ensuring children are as ready as possible to move on to secondary school. Holding SATs, and ensuring children are prepared to sit them, could be seen as a distraction from this priority. On the other hand, it is important that both individual schools and the government are able to clearly see the impact that the pandemic has had on this cohort of children, in order to ensure suitable provisions are put in place to support them.
The decision about how this information should be used, however, is much more straightforward. It is very clear that the pandemic has affected – and continues to affect – primary schools in different ways. Any attempt to hold a school to account for the performance of their pupils at the end of primary school, after more than two years of disruption, is unhelpful, unfair and damaging for those which have suffered the greatest impact.
Our view, therefore, is that Key Stage 2 tests should only go ahead this year if the results of these assessments will not be used for accountability purposes in any way. If this is not the case, they should be made optional.
ASCL’s Blueprint for a Fairer Education System calls for review of primary assessment in the longer term. We will continue to encourage the government to consider better alternatives to the current suite of assessments.