I am not sure I have ever met Bill Watkin the operational director at the SSAT (the Schools, Students and Teachers network). But in the education sector he is seen as an invaluable and always reliable source of news and interpretation about all-too-frequent changes in schools policy and regulation. His style is modest and understated, so when he allows his irritation and bewilderment to peep through the calm analysis it is time to sit up and take notice.
After reading this note your only choice will be whether first to protest outside the Department for Education or to find a secondary school teacher to hug…
And if you want to read a considerably less restrained and more personal view of the same policy (one that has already achieved cult status in the education world) try this.
The government has confirmed that pupils who do not pass the KS2 SATs at the end of primary schooling will have to re-sit them in the first year of secondary school.
What does pass mean?
Until this point the minimum standard expected of 11 year olds has been a Level 4. But that is no longer good enough. Level 4 includes 4a, 4b and 4c. Only 28% of those who got a 4c at KS2 went on to get the benchmark measure of 5+A* GCSE with English and maths at the end of Y11. So now we are only interested in 4b or better. This is what, until recently, was described as “secondary ready” (that was a primary school’s job: to get children to be “secondary ready” – though of course all children go on to secondary school, whether ready or not).
That is clear then. Those who get a 4c or below will have to re-sit their SATs in Y7.
Except that this year the new 4b is set at a higher standard than the old 4b. The bar has been raised.
A world without levels
But after this year, there will be no 4c. Levels are no longer to be used in reporting SAT results. Instead pupils will have an aggregated score, using the PISA methodologies, bringing together performance in Reading, Writing and Maths. This ‘combined’ score will be expressed as a number between 80 and 130, with 100 being the new expected standard – what we used to call 4b, or even secondary ready.
So, after this year, it will be everybody who gets below 100, not 4b, who will have to re-sit their SATs in Y7.
Now re-sit your tests
But which SATs should you re-sit? Reading? Writing? Maths? All of them? What of the new times tables test? The Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar test?
If it is just the scaled ‘combination’ score that is used as the benchmark, how will we know if Maths is above the required standard, while others are below and require a re-sit, or vice versa?
Teaching KS2 in KS3
If schools have to teach the KS2 curriculum in Y7 to the least able pupils, in order to prepare them for a re-sit, and if they have condensed KS3 so that pupils start KS4 in Y9, that means that some pupils in some schools will only have one year, Y8, to cover the entire KS3 curriculum. We must embed our thinking of the secondary curriculum as a five year continuum, with an options process in Y8 or Y9.
When in the academic year will these resits happen? Spring? Summer? How much revision and testing time will be devoted to the re-sits? How much teaching time will these less able pupils lose from the KS3 curriculum?
Do you know your KS2?
Teachers will have to acquire the knowledge and skills, the curriculum content and testing methodologies to prepare Y7 pupils for a batch of tests that is new to them. This, at the same time as they are busy re-writing every lesson plan and every scheme of work from Y to Y11 in response to the new National Curriculum and the new GCSEs. Not a bad thing for secondary teachers to be better acquainted with the primary curriculum, of course, but there are workload implications.
What does this mean for primary schools?
What will be the impact in primary schools? How will they approach the second half of the summer term with less able pupils who are not expected to reach the required standard in their SATs? Will they spend the second half of the summer term, working with the less able pupils, preparing them for their resits, while other more able pupils follow an extended curriculum enrichment journey?
And the accountability effect…?
If the effectiveness of a school is measured by the progress made from KS2 to KS4, we need to be clear about which result we are using as the baseline score from which to measure progress. Will it be the first SAT entry (in Y6)? Or will it be the – probably – improved second SAT score (in Y7)?
If the second, Y7, result is the point from which we measure progress, are we incentivising schools to depress the Y7 SAT resit results? The lower the baseline score, the easier it will be to show progress over the next five years.
Will it work?
It may make for a more carefully differentiated scheme of work in Y7. It may eliminate the all-too-common and traditional step backwards at the start of Y7 as secondary schools come to grips with what was covered in primary school. It may stimulate a more personalised approach to what is taught in Y7, with SATs scores informing differentiation strategies.
But is there enough evidence to show that re-sitting tests leads to improved standards? Is there an increased risk of pupil disaffection and disengagement?
Will schools seek to restructure their staff and develop a specialist team of KS2 experts whose focus is transition, cross-phase learning and integrating the most vulnerable young people into secondary school learning?
Better yet, is this just the first step to moving all SATs testing, lock, stock and barrel, to Y7?!"
As ever, lots of questions and only limited answers at this stage, and certainly some further implications to explore. Protest, hug or weep - the choice is yours!