Curriculum coverage fears ahead of next month's SATs

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Only 8% of teachers working with pupils due to sit SATs this term say they have covered more than 90% of the curriculum content.

Research evidence from the National Education Union (NEU) has revealed concerns about a lack of preparedness ahead of this summer’s exam season because of the disruption to learning caused by the pandemic and on-going problems with pupil and staff absence.

The government intends for SATs to take place in May for key stage 1 and from May 9 to 12 for key stage 2. The Department for Education has pledged that SATs data will be treated with “caution” by inspectors and Regional Schools Commissioners.

A survey involving around 1,800 NEU members asked them how much of the original curriculum content they thought most of their pupils will be able to “adequately cover” before the SATs take place.

In the survey, while 4% said most pupils would cover all of the required content and a further 4% said most pupils would cover 90-99% of the content, a significant number – 35% – believe that two-thirds or less of curriculum content will have been adequately covered, including 7% who said that most pupils would cover less than half of the curriculum.

The situation in primary schools seems to be significantly worse than in secondaries, where the survey shows that 29% of teachers feel most pupils will cover 90%-plus of the curriculum before GCSEs and A levels take place.

The NEU says that a lack of Covid mitigations (compared to secondary schools) and increased disruption mean primary schools have been less able to cover most of the curriculum.

When asked if the government has done enough to support schools and curriculum recovery ahead of national assessments, 93% of the respondents said no. Comments from the teachers included:

  • “No teacher I know thinks the insistence of keeping SATs in place is a good idea.”
  • “It seems pointless given that key stage 1 SATs data will not be used for anything. The focus should be on the children and their wellbeing and needs, not on desperately trying to 'catch-up' and cram for tests that don't tell teachers anything they don't already know.”
  • “The insistence on going ahead with SATs is placing a ridiculous amount of pressure on staff and pupils. We are rushing to fill gaps in learning and are teaching to the test rather than giving the pupils a broad curriculum and time to explore and expand their experience and knowledge.”

The survey findings were published to coincide with the NEU’s annual conference in Bournemouth over Easter. Commenting, Dr Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, said: “The gaps in content coverage are now down to chance, with the government being the sole architect of this lottery. Primary schools have felt this acutely, and their anger in this survey is abundantly clear.

“They are under particular pressure to deliver reading, writing and mathematics tests, while at the same time mitigations are snatched away and Covid waves rip through the school system. The government is failing pupils first and foremost, but also the leaders, teachers and support staff who work so hard for them each and every day.”

It comes after a survey conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers and published in March revealed that only 1% of more than 2,000 primary school leaders felt that SATs should go ahead at key stage 1, with only 3% feeling the same about key stage 2 SATs.

The study found that only 11% of the respondents trust the promise that Ofsted will not draw conclusions based on SATs data alone and that they will not draw comparisons with performance data from previous years.

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