What is the purpose and value of key stage 2 SATs?

Concerns have once again been raised by school leaders and teachers about the purpose and utility of key stage 2 SATs.
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This year’s results show that 61% of pupils met expected standards in reading, writing and maths combined – up from 60% in 2023 but still lower than the 65% recorded pre-pandemic in 2019.

Broken down, the results show:

  • In reading, 74% of pupils met the expected standard (up from 73%).
  • In maths, 73% of pupils met the expected standard (unchanged).
  • In writing, 72% of pupils met the expected standard (up from 71%).

In addition, 72% of pupils met expected standards in grammar, punctuation and spelling (unchanged), while 81% of pupils met the expected standard in science (up from 80%).

The pupils who sat the tests this year faced significant disruptions to their education in years 2 and 3 during the Covid lockdowns. Before Covid, attainment in reading stood at 73%, in writing it was at 78%, and maths 79%.

While praising pupils and staff for their hard work towards the tests, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is urging the new government to consider their “value and purpose”.

The NAHT pointed to recent surveys of their members which show that only 8% of primary school leaders agree that statutory assessments inform future teaching and learning, while only 6% agree that key stage 2 SATs results support pupils' transition to secondary school.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “We remain concerned about the purpose of year 6 SATs. We urge the new government to reconsider the value and purpose of statutory assessments for schools, parents and children. They are given disproportionate significance and pile pressure onto pupils and staff, causing unnecessary stress and in some cases harming their wellbeing.

“The current high-stakes testing regime fails to value children as individuals, foster positive mental health, or encourage a broad and balanced curriculum. We stand ready to work with the new government to develop an alternative and more proportionate approach which minimises the negative impacts on the curriculum, staff and pupils.”

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, echoed the sentiment: “SATs place intense pressure on school communities. This pressure results in narrower curriculums and in teaching to the test. SATs prevent a rounded and engaging curriculum, and hinder learning.

"Designed for accountability, rather than to support good teaching and learning, SATs are not a useful or accurate way of assessing what children can do at the end of their primary education.

“We need a new approach that prioritises children’s learning and provides meaningful information to school staff and to parents.”

The Association of School and College Leaders, meanwhile, said that the on-going impact of Covid on pupils’ education was clear to see and that the SATs results show the previous government’s decision to withdraw the National Tutoring Programme funding as of September was a “step backward”.

In a post on X, education secretary Bridget Phillipson thanked “all school staff” for their hard work in preparing pupils for the tests.

She said: “A massive congratulations to children receiving their SATs results today, and to the teachers and staff who have supported them along the way.”

She added: “But let me also say that this government will see you as more than just your test results. I’ve written to all education workforces, making crystal clear that under this government, teachers and school staff will be truly valued for the life-changing impact that you have every single day. I want teachers to once again feel like they can concentrate on and be valued for the thing that they do best – improving the life chances of all of our children.”