Growing numbers of parents, heads, teachers and experts are demanding reform of a system they say is having a negative impact on children’s mental health and education in primary school. This call for change is gathering pace.

Read our briefings bringing together data from all stakeholders and a variety of research bodies.

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Additional evidence

There is a great deal of additional evidence, gathered over the last few years, demonstrating that the current regime is damaging to children’s well-being, demoralising for teachers and provides little real information about the performance of schools.

We believe there are more efficient ways to measure the performance of schools and more compassionate and beneficial ways to assess children as they progress through primary school.

We’ve brought together our case against standardised testing, our proposed alternative to the current system and further evidence from academics and experts proving that our children deserve to be More Than A Score.

Children waiting to sit an exam

The case against standardised testing

The evidence for fundamental reform of the primary assessment and accountability system is growing.

All stakeholders — parents, school leaders, teachers and children themselves — now agree that the current approach is not fit for purpose. As one headteacher puts it, “In an ideal world, I would not want to ever put a child through this”.

School leaders and teachers have long agreed that statutory government tests do not help learning and cause harm to wellbeing.

The most recent research conducted by Teacher Tapp for More Than A Score and by the National Association of Headteachers found that:

  • Only 3% of heads wanted SATs to go ahead in 2022 (NAHT)
  • Only 8% of heads believe SATs results will provide meaningful data about their school’s performance (NAHT)
  • Only 8% believe preparing for SATs helps learning (Teacher Tapp)

Parents agree. Research conducted by Parentkind found:

  • 89% of parents support SATs being replaced by an alternative system
  • 85% of parents think SATs don’t provide useful information on a child’s progress
  • 86% believe they are not a useful way to judge a school’s performance

In the classroom, children are acutely aware of the detrimental effects of SATs. We asked year 6 pupils (via YouGov) about their experiences of preparing for the tests. They told us:

  • Almost half spent most of year 6 doing SATs practice papers
  • 72% didn’t spend as much time as they would like on subjects they enjoy
  • 47% didn’t enjoy school in year 6 as much as they used to

The impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing is perhaps the most worrying negative effect of the current system.

  • 60% of year 6 pupils were worried about taking SATs in 2022; 1 in 10 could not sleep because of the worry (YouGov)
  • 1 in 3 heads were contacted by parents specifically concerned about the impact of SATs on their child’s mental health (Teacher Tapp)
  • 95% of parents believe SATs have a negative impact on children’s wellbeing (Parentkind)

It is time for policy-makers to listen to this compelling evidence and undertake a profession-led review of the primary assessment and accountability system.

Children laughing in class

What's the alternative?

We believe assessment of children’s learning is essential for both teachers and parents. We also believe that schools should be measured and held accountable to children, parents, local communities and the government.

Testing, designed to enable the accountability of schools, has a massive negative effect on teaching and learning. SATs are used to assess how well the school is doing. They offer no benefit to the children themselves. Research has shown that the use of standardised tests to bring about improvements in scores leads teachers to focus their efforts too narrowly on test performance – ‘teaching to the test’.

Tests reduce the complexity of children’s learning to a simple numerical score. This cannot represent children’s broader knowledge and understanding and is grossly misleading – children are more than a score.

We believe that the current system of testing every individual child in order to judge the effectiveness of teachers and schools is deeply flawed.

At More Than A Score, we are committed to:

  • Transforming the current system of assessment and accountability, so that it is no longer based on scores derived from standardised testing, and the league tables they generate.
  • Promoting a range of forms of assessment to support teaching and learning, rather than judge schools
  • Exploring new approaches to accountability, that do not involve the national testing of every child.

Assessment to support teaching and learning

In the classroom, we want to see both formative and summative assessment. Formative assessment is assessment that supports pupils while they are learning. It is based on observing what children can do, in order to promote discussion and feedback between learner and teacher. Summative assessment tests pupils to find what they have learned at a particular point in time – at the end of a project or unit of work, for instance. Teachers should be trusted to use their professional expertise in determining the best methods of assessment.  In some countries, summative tests can be based on national ‘question banks’ that help schools compare how well their children are doing. In others, teachers use portfolios of children’s work for the same purpose. Formative and summative assessments can be combined in an approach that is detailed, rigorous and supports high quality teaching.

We want an assessment system which enables teachers in different schools to compare the progress made by their pupils, against national standards. This can be done by teachers coming together to moderate pupils’ work. The results of moderation will feed into a school’s self-evaluation and plan for self-improvement. This in turn will be assisted by inspection of schools designed to support as well as challenge.

Parents should be acknowledged as partners in children’s learning and need information that enables them to support their children’s learning. For reports to be meaningful to parents, they need to summarise what children can do and understand. Some schools already aim to produce rich, detailed descriptive reports on pupils’ progress, that use the outcomes of formative and summative assessment to inform feedback to parents and pupils, and to plan learning development. Teachers should regularly discuss with parents the individual issues which diagnostic assessments have helped them to identify.

Monitoring of standards has a role in helping the primary school system improve. To make transparent what they have done, schools should produce evaluations of their work, to present to parents and other stake-holders. Schools would continue to be inspected. Inspection would explore a wide range of areas and the school’s strategies for improvement. The outcomes would be advice and appropriate support (including from other schools) leading to a revised and renewed school development plan.

There is no need to impose high-stakes testing of every child to provide the necessary information. We propose that national monitoring of system quality and standards be carried out by testing a representative sample of children: a sample of 5000 pupils would be large enough to provide reliable national results. Tests could include different curriculum areas, so that over the years a picture of standards across the whole curriculum would become available.

The outcomes of the sample tests would be published nationally, allowing:

  • comparisons between different groups of children taking into account a range of relevant contextual factors.
  • a review of aspects of the curriculum in which children are generally doing better and less well, designed to inform teachers work
  • and, where the issues merited it, an agenda for research to strengthen system improvements.

The British Educational Research Association’ Expert Panel on Assessment has published a report outlining an alternative, transformative approach to SATs.

Additional research

Re-defining standards in English Primary Education

To date, standards in primary schools have been measured through two instruments; SATs scores and Ofsted inspection outcomes. Both measures have been critiqued by some in the sector who argue that they have a negative impact on teacher workload and a lack of recognition of pupil demographics (e.g. levels of deprivation or additional educational needs).

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SATs VS Standards - redefining quality in primary schools

Our report SATs vs Standards – Redefining quality in primary schools highlights that parents and school leaders believe SATs results have little to do with high standards.

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Drop SATs For Good

Our report Drop SATs for Good: The Case For Recovery Without High-stakes Assessment was prepared in response to the challenges facing schools following the pandemic.

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Assessment for Children's Learning: A new future for primary education

The findings of the Independent Commission on Assessment in Primary Education.

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High standards, not high stakes

The British Educational Research Association’ Expert Panel on Assessment has published a report outlining an alternative, transformative approach to SATs.

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The use of the Phonics Screening Check in Year 2: The views of Year 2 teachers and headteachers

In the summer of 2020, as part of the government’s arrangements for examinations and testing under COVID-19, all statutory assessments in primary schools were cancelled, including the Phonics Screening Check (PSC) in Year 1. In June 2020, the government announced that the PSC would be moved to the autumn term, and made the reporting of results to the Department of Education (DfE) a statutory requirement (STA, 2020).

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Primary Assessment and COVID

Researchers at the International Literacy Centre, UCL London concluded that all statutory primary assessment should be suspended in the 2020/21 school year.

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Too many tests for no good reason

Our research demonstrates that the majority of parents disagree with the government’s policy of using SATs and other formal tests to judge primary schools. In sharp contrast to the government’s position, parents do not prioritise the data generated by the tests to make decisions about their children’s education and do not believe the current system is a fair way to measure schools.

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Baseline Assessment: Why It Doesn’t Add Up.

We have prepared a dossier bringing together the case against the introduction of baseline assessment with arguments from academics and experts.

 

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Inappropriate, unhelpful and unnecessary: the headteachers' verdict on Baseline Assessment

This report from Dr Alice Bradbury at UCL Institute of Education demonstrates headteachers’ opposition to reception baseline assessment.

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Pressure, anxiety and collateral damage: the headteachers' verdict on SATs

This report from Dr Alice Bradbury at UCL Institute of Education provides a detailed insight into the negative effects of SATs across the whole school.

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Research into the 2019 pilot of RBA

Dr. Guy Roberts-Holmes, conducted research with teachers into the pilot of the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA).

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The Phonics Screening Check: An Independent Enquiry into the views of heads, parents and pupils

This independent research by Margaret Clark and Jonathan Glazzard proves that heads, teachers and parents are overwhelmingly opposed to the Year 1 phonics check.

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Exam Factories? The Impact of Accountability Measures on Children and Young People

This independent research was commissioned by the National Union of Teachers and conducted by Professor Merryn Hutchings.

This is a wide ranging research project that incorporates a survey of almost 8,000 teachers, an extensive literature review and quantitative research utilising case studies of both heads and teachers and children. Taken together, this research demonstrates the negative impact on children and young people in England of the current accountability measures in schools.

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The Mismeasurement of Learning

The Mismeasurement of Learning is a collection of short essays presenting the evidence and the arguments around curriculum and assessment in primary education. Brought together by Reclaiming Schools and the NUT, essay authors include John Coe, Pam Jarvis and Guy Roberts-Holmes and Alice Bradbury.

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Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) (2013) Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment, OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education. This report compares the experience of 28 OECD countries, analyses the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, and offers policy advice on using evaluation and assessment to improve the quality, equity and efficiency of education.

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Assessment, Standards and Quality of Learning in Primary Education

Wynne Harlen’s report provides a critical review of the assessment system in England introduced between 2014 and 2016, in the light of evidence from research and practice in six other countries. It begins with some ground-clearing discussion of the terms used in relation to tests and other forms of pupil assessment. The next two sections concern the purposes of assessment, particularly formative and summative assessment, the uses of summative assessment data for accountability and national monitoring and the impact on curriculum content and pedagogy. Section four describes how assessment for these purposes and uses is conducted in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden and France, concluding with an overview of themes running through these examples. The main points from this analysis are drawn together in the fifth section, providing a critical perspective on the system in England in light of alternative approaches in other systems. Finally some implications for policy and practice are identified.

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Multiple concerns

This report details NAHT members’ response to the multiplication tables check.

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