Heads gamble over Gove's SATs review

27 Sep 2010

 The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has taken something of a gamble in calling off its boycott of the 2011 Key Stage 2 SATs in response to the government's promised review of assessment.

Having said that, I can see that they faced a difficult decision. They know the government sees the role of assessment quite differently from most teachers and head teachers - and, as such, cannot be too optimistic about the review - but they also know that 'industrial' action does not go down well with many parents and, moreover, is not the best way to win influence with ministers. 

Russell Hobby, the NAHTs General Secretary has rationalised the decision in this way: 'We do think they are open to persuasion through the intellectual and moral case we will make. If we choose industrial action, however, we will back them into a corner, make them express their preference for tests and force the government into a firm commitment to testing for the foreseeable future'.

However there will be real disappointment from many NAHT members and from classroom teachers, and especially from the NUT.

The interesting question is whether the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is really open to a genuine review of the SATs, not just about how they are carried out but whether they should still happen at all after 2011.

Gove does at least acknowledge that it is 'clearly undesirable' that schools feel under such pressure that they are spending time 'drilling' pupils for the tests at the expense of productive teaching.

 As many are aware, the real problem is not so much the tests themselves as the purposes to which they are put and the 'high stakes' nature of these snap-shot tests on schools and head teachers. 

The NAHT have taken comfort from the fact that Gove said he 'would like to see' if he can take account of the head teachers' professional concerns.

However, if the NAHT feel they get nothing from the review, there will be much bitterness stored up for the future.

The government review of assessment will report in Spring 2011 and will consider:

  • how to ensure schools are accountable to pupils, parents and taxpayers;
  • 'how to avoid, as far as possible, the risk of perverse incentives, over-rehearsals, and reduced focus on productive learning';
  • how to ensure the tests are as valid and reliable as possible;
  • how to ensure the performance information is used and interpreted appropriately within the accountability system...'while avoiding the risk of crude and narrow judgements'.


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