SATs results - fuss over nothing

04 Aug 2009

So we have a one percentage point fall in the SATs results in English and suddenly it's a national disaster!

 A junior schools minister says it's 'disappointing' and the Shadow Education Secretary, Michael Gove, says it's 'deeply worrying'.

On the BBC Radio 4 PM Programme, the Schools Minister, Diana Johnson, is grilled as the presenter asks where it's all gone wrong and grows apparently indignant that she doesn't have an explanation for the decline. 

 It's all a nonsense. The simple answer is that a shift that small is only to be expected year-on-year. By the time the final results are collated there may even turn out to have been no fall at all.

The huffing and puffing about 1 in 5 pupils not reaching the expected level is also a bit over the top. When the national curriculum levels were set, no-one said every pupil should reach Level 4. That was simply set as the expected level for the average pupil. These 'expected levels' took on an importance they do not merit when the incoming Labour government set national targets for them in 1997.

So should we be surprised that many - including those with English as a second language and those with special needs (by some estimates 20% of pupils) - are not getting Level 4?  I think not.

 This is not being complacent about standards. It is just recognising that SATs are only one measure of what's happening to school standards.

 Of course, the government must take some of the blame for this. It was ridiculous to hear the schools minister saying  on Radio 4 that she 'put my hands up' to the decline.  She should more honestly have admitted that results will go up and down year by year as any class teacher or head teacher could verify from their own experience. 

The only statistics worth looking at are the long term trends. These show that the SATs at age 11 have hit a plateau. That's because much of the past increase was down to the new focus that schools put on test preparation.

We cannot now expect another big leap  in the statistics unless there's another change on testing.  And , even then, that would hardly prove that overall standards have risen.

 Let's all just calm down about this. A one percentage point decline in one subject is not  a national disaster.

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