18th November 2020

Headteacher responds to his MP’s standard reply on dropping SATs

Dear Mr Hughes,

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my initial email, however there are a number of points I would like you to consider and share with your colleagues within the government.

First you state that Ministers have been working with ,’Ofqual, the exam boards, groups representing teachers, schools, colleges, students and teaching unions’ to consider the approach to exams and other assessments next year.  My concern is that ‘Ofqual’ is currently under intense scrutiny by the Education Select Committee, due to the debacle of the A Level and G.C.S.E. examinations last summer. How can I as a school leader, or indeed yourselves as elected members of government, have any confidence in this non-ministerial government department?

I am also very interested and hope you can share, how Ministers have been communicating with students to gain their opinions.  Have students within your constituency been asked to input into the conversation?  From the communication I have had with students, especially those studying for G.C.S.E. and A Levels, they do not wish to sit examinations as they feel under prepared and at a disadvantage to previous cohorts.  It should also be noted that the same group feel disadvantaged compared to those students in Wales and Scotland where a far more measured approach to examinations has been taken.

Your statement above also states that Ministers are working closely with teaching unions.  As a member of the NAHT, I do not  believe that ‘working closely with’  is the correct wording.  The updates I receive from the union clearly state that  unions are continuously asking for all examinations and assessments to be cancelled next year, however, there has been no movement from Ministers.

With regards to the assertion that, ‘ The Government states that National Curriculum assessments, or SATs, are essential in ensuring that all pupils have the basics of reading, writing and mathematics to prepare them for secondary school’ I feel this is narrow minded and actually incorrect.  SATs are just one of the accountability measures that government have placed on schools.  Year Six SATs have no bearing on readiness for Secondary School as they offer a snap shot of what can be done under intense pressure, during an examination in a short time span (Reading, Maths, SPAG).   Having entered my ninth year of headship, I feel I am able to say that preparing for Secondary School is one of the most stressful times for young people and families and it is mental health and wellbeing where schools should concentrate efforts.  I agree that the students need the tools to be able to learn, but by allowing teachers to teach a broad balanced curriculum and make professional judgements, a higher proportion of pupils would be ‘Secondary Ready’ both academically and emotionally.

It should also be remembered that it is not only in Year Six where your government expects national assessments to be made.  Over the coming weeks, it is expected that Year Two students take the ‘Phonics Check’ that was missed in June.  The ‘Phonics Check’ is an assessment that celebrates pupils barking out sounds to make words – some of which are ‘alien’ words. But the same check also discriminates against those students who have developed higher order reading skills and so can make sense of a string of letters that may have been put in the wrong order.  The barking out of sounds does not equal good comprehension, as can be seen by the national standards for Key Stage 1 Reading compared to the Phonics Check outcomes.

I will not even begin to discuss the Key Stage 1 SATs and definitely not the ludicrous Year Four Times Tables Check.

The assertion that, ‘not holding the regular primary assessments this year could risk disadvantaging this year’s cohort of learners’ must have been made after a very in-depth research project that has tracked the transition from Year Six to Year Seven as of this September?  If not, how can such a sweeping statement be made?

What I would ask Ministers to consider is putting the mental health and wellbeing of our students first.  This is after all, why schools have remained open during the current national lockdown.  ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020’ clearly states that safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children should include: ‘Preventing impairment of children’s mental and physical health or development’.   By forcing students to sit examinations  and end of key stage assessments we are considerably impairing their mental health at the end of a time when it has been impacted by national lockdowns, deaths within the community and most likely within their families.

As a school, we are still fighting the current pandemic and supporting young people and families on a daily basis. The stress that students, families and staff are under is immeasurable and is being exacerbated by the knowledge of high level accountability procedures taking place in Summer 2021.  An early decision to end this unwarranted stress and anxiety is what the profession and our families are calling for.

As an elected Member of Parliament and one whose constituency is one of the most challenging in Walsall if not the West Midlands, I would have thought that you, as I, would fight for best outcomes for our young people. In continuing to support the current government with regards to examinations and assessment, I feel you are not supporting the needs of the young people or the schools within the local area.

I thank you for taking the time to read this letter and my concerns. I look forward to your reply.


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