Apparently, according to this article in the Times yesterday, teachers in primary schools are helping their children to cheat so much when they sit their KS2 tests, that they (and by they, I presume we mean somebody in the DfE) are thinking of getting secondary teachers in to invigilate. This is because “some secondary heads have lost faith in the accuracy of test results at local primaries”. The department, it says, is considering “confidence-building measures” to help deal with this.

Well, more fool them. The tests have never been accurate, and have never been designed to help secondary school teachers place children in some sort of hierarchy. They are a thumb-suck estimate of progress, no more, no less. And secondary teachers have known for about a million years that a Level 5 at Y6 is nothing like a Level 5 at Year 7, and there are plenty of people in the secondary world who completely ignore a Level 6, should the primary school see fit to enter its children for one of those. A primary Level 6, it seems, is a Level 5 once you get to secondary school, and a Level 5 is merely a good Level 4. And so it should be.

Complaints that secondary schools have to use their own assessment methods when children arrive in Year 7 are foolish. Secondary schools have always done that, and we would expect nothing less. It is not news.

The core issue is that, apparently, primary schools help children to cheat at their SATs tests. There are several polite answers to this, and several that are not.  Greg Hurst’s report contains this statement:

Recorded cases of cheating in primary tests are very low, though they have been rising. Last year 370 cases were reported, up from 292 the previous year. However, the nature of the tests, usually involving two or three classes of 11-year-olds with their teacher or head – makes malpractice hard to detect.

Malpractice seems quite a loaded word. We are not exactly poisoning children here, are we? Whether a child scrapes a Level 5 in maths or a good Level 4 is not going to set him or her up for life, nor destroy the same. It is a blunt and unhelpful measure of attainment, that has been made to bear a whole load of expectations and significance it is royally unsuited for. Russell Hobby of the NAHT puts his finger on one problem the department could address – it is to pay attention to the stakes attached to the tests over a very narrow area of the curriculum, not to insult primary teachers and heads by parachuting in secondary colleagues to invigilate.

The other area of course that needs attention is the external marking of the tests themselves, which I think it would be fair to say yields well over 370 dodgy scripts each year, and I suspect would yield results within one standard deviation of the current results if primary teachers were expected to mark the papers themselves.

The answer is to use these tests as a helpful measure, supported by teacher assessment and a recognised assessment measure of attainment in Year 7, to give children an idea of where they have succeeded and which areas they need to work harder at. In other words, make SATs a formative experience rather than a summative one.

The real problem with this, once more, is trust. The government needs test to work like clockwork, and yet we have humans marking and invigilating them. Most teachers I know in Year 6 are more conservative in their assessment than the SAT papers are. They can be trusted, as can the whole school system, to educate children. Things that are devised merely for bureaucratic convenience (see my last post) cannot be trusted to anything like the same degree. Where everyone is a suspect – and all 0f us are in education, it seems – then the only thing that can be trusted will be the machine that tests us.

This way is madness.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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