3rd April 2023

Parents and school leaders believe SATs results have little to do with high standards

Read our new research report here

  • Just 1% of school leaders and 8% of parents surveyed strongly agree that SATs are the best indicator of standards
  • Parents opt for a broad curriculum and good mental health as better measures of standards than SATs
  • Parents and school leaders agree that SATs results do not show whether children are ready for secondary school

As the government continues to link its ‘levelling-up’ agenda to SATs results in primary schools, new research reveals that politicians are at odds with the opinions of parents and school leaders.  In two new surveys, both groups reach the same conclusion: SATs are not a good measure of high standards in primary schools; the government tests do not demonstrate whether a child has received a high standard of education; and they are not a good indicator of whether a child is ready for secondary school.

Campaign group More Than A Score surveyed parents with YouGov and heads and senior teachers with Teacher Tapp for their views on how high standards are measured in primary schools. The groups were asked whether SATs results are a key indicator of high standards and whether they believe there are more accurate ways torepresent the quality of a child’s education. They are unanimous that SATs results are not a good way to illustrate either children’s educational achievements or high standards in primary schools.

SATs are not a good indicator of the quality of a child’s primary education

Of the parents surveyed just 17% believe good SATs results are the best demonstration of whether their child has received a high standard of education, with only 3% of heads and senior teachers sharing this view. School leaders selected love of learning (63%), independent thinking (56%) and a good grasp of a range of subjects as the best indicators. Parents echoed these sentiments, with 55% choosing ‘a good grasp of a range of subjects, not limited to English and maths’, and 50% selecting ‘independent learning’ as the best indicator.

SATs results are not a good indicator of high standards in schools

When asked specifically if SATs results are the best measure of high standards, the surveys found just 8% of parents strongly agreeing. Heads and school leaders feel just as strongly. Only 1% strongly agree that SATs are the best indicator of high standards.

How should high standards be measured in schools?

The collective opinion is that there are far better ways to measure high standards in primary school. 70% of heads and teachers surveyed say that a broad and rich curriculum covering a range of subjects would be a better indicator of standards, with 47% of parents agreeing. Meanwhile a mere 4% of educators and 12% of parents say SATs results are the best measurement.

Do SATs results indicate whether children are “secondary-ready”?
Politicians often refer to SATs as a measure of “basic maths and English” but parents and heads recognise that this is far from the reality of the tests themselves. Year 6 SATs test children on topics including fractional equations, ratio and proportion, fronted adverbials and subordinating conjunctions. Perhaps because of this, two-thirds of parents believe that children who do not meet the government’s ‘expected standard’ still have the knowledge required for the next phase of their education. Two-thirds of heads and school leaders agree, a number which rises to 76% among those working in primary schools.

Nigel Attwood, headteacher of Bellfield Junior School in Birmingham comments, “High stakes accountability is strangling the education sector and the lives of children. SATs are an accountability measure that does not benefit pupils at all. SATs do nothing to move children forward in their education – in fact for many, it causes such stress and anxiety, it has the opposite effect and can make them lose some of their love of learning. Accountability is important, of course it is, but it needs to be fair and balanced. Education should be about fostering a lifelong love of learning – SATs do the complete opposite.”

Michelle Sheehy, headteacher of Millfield Primary School in Walsall comments, “For children to be secondary ready, they need to be resilient, independent and to have a level of emotional intelligence to enable them to enjoy their experience and their social interactions.  SATs give no indication of these essential qualities.”

Alison Ali from More Than A Score adds, “If just 12% of parents surveyed think the best measure of high standards is SATs, compared to 47% who think a broad curriculum and good mental health of children is a superior indicator, isn’t it time we stopped using SATs as shorthand for quality education. Policy makers need to listen to parents and school leaders, those who know children – and their learning – best.”

Research details: 

YouGov: 2124 GB parents of children aged 18 and under, February 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Teacher Tapp: 1490 Heads/members of Senior Leadership Teams in primary and secondary schools in England, February 2023


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