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Primary school leaders express a vote of no confidence in assessments - May, 2017

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Last week, a report by the education select committee warned of the damaging and “high-stakes” system of testing and accountability in primary schools. Today, new survey findings shed further light on the strains primary leaders have faced in the run-up to SATs.

More than three-quarters (77%) of primary school leaders across England do not have confidence in the current national assessment system, according to new findings from The Key - the organisation providing leadership and management support to schools.

The Key’s annual State of Education report, to be released this month, reveals that almost half of primary school leaders (47%) do not think they have received adequate information to ensure that pupils sitting this year's Key Stage 2 assessments are well-prepared.

Two years on from the introduction of a new “tough”[1] National Curriculum and statutory assessments to accompany this, one primary school leader completing the survey said: “Assessment has been drastically changed and poorly communicated.”

Another simply says: We’ve received too little information, too late.”

The Key’s findings follow the launch of a report on primary assessment[2] by the Commons cross-party education committee. It warns that using SATs results to hold schools to account for pupils’ progress and attainment is creating a “high-stakes” system which can be damaging to teaching and learning in primary schools.

More than four in five (92%) of the primary school leaders surveyed believe the pressure placed on schools from performance measures has increased over the last two years. Seven in 10 (70%) also do not think the current accountability measures are a fair and accurate way to measure school performance.

A primary school leader said: “End of KS1 and KS2 expectations are too high, too demanding, limiting the curriculum, causing stress to young pupils and unacceptable pressure on teachers, pupils, parents and the school.”

Two-thirds of primary school leaders (62%) aren’t confident setting pupil attainment targets while assessment reforms are still taking effect. However, more change may be in store with the government’s proposal to replace Key Stage 1 SATs with a reception baseline assessment[3].

Many primary school leaders commented that information on changes to assessment should have been provided earlier so that they could manage the impact on staff and pupils more effectively. Nine in 10 (90%) of the primary leaders surveyed believe that changes to the curriculum and performance measures over the past two years have had a negative effect on their teachers’ workload.

One primary school leader commented: “There should be more exemplification materials available for national tests, especially for reading ... Sourcing appropriate and matched resources has a huge impact on teachers’ workloads.”

Another said: “The system of standard scores is accurate [but] the late notice which schools are given assessment information is unfair, unprofessional and not supportive of helping staff, children and others to deal with changes and prepare adequately.”

This dissatisfaction follows last year’s delays to guidance materials and leaked test papers, which led to questions over the validity of SATs data[4] for the first cohort of pupils to be taught the new Key Stage 2 curriculum.


For more information and interviews, please contact Rebecca Oram:

[email protected] / 0203 9078 110

About The Key's survey

  • The Key invited a sample of its members to complete its annual survey in February 2017. The questionnaire for this study was designed by The Key and conducted online using Survey Monkey. 1,182 school leaders from mainstream schools completed the full survey.
  • The data has been weighted to match the population profile of schools in England in terms of region, school phase and school type. The profile of The Key’s membership database is similar to the profile of schools across England. The data can therefore be taken to represent the views of school leaders on The Key’s database, which in turn provides an indication of the opinions of leaders in mainstream schools across England.
  • The survey was designed, administered and analysed by The Key. Ipsos MORI provided advice on questionnaire design and weighting.
  • A report on the full findings will be released in May.

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