SATS results show rise in achievement

The number of children achieving the expected standard in primary school has increased but unions warn the results are only a small part of the picture

Published on 6th July 2017

The latest SATS results show that the percentage of children achieving the expected standard in primary school has risen.

The Department for Education has announced that the national key stage 2 results which shows that 61% of primary school children in England achieved the expected standard, compared to 53% last year.

The results, which follow the introduction of a more rigorous curriculum in September 2014, also found:

  • 71% of pupils met the expected standard in reading, compared to 66% last year

  • 75% of pupils met the expected standard in mathematics, compared to 70% last year

  • 77% of pupils met the expected standard in grammar, punctuation and spelling, compared to 73% last year

  • 76% of pupils met the expected standard in writing, compared to 74% last year

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “Today’s results show sustained progress in reading, writing and maths and are a testament to the hard work of teachers and pupils across England. Thanks to their commitment and our new knowledge rich curriculum, thousands more children will arrive at secondary school having mastered the fundamentals of reading, writing and maths, giving them the best start in life.

“The new national curriculum and reformed qualifications – at primary and at secondary – are designed to ensure pupils receive the education that they need to go as far as their talents will take them,” he added.


However, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said that while teachers and pupils have put in many extra yards to get these results, overall the results make “sombre reading”.

He highlighted the House of Commons Education Committee which concluded earlier this year that we have a primary assessment system which ‘does not improve teaching and learning’.

“Today’s results show that 61% of pupils reached the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics in 2017 (compared to 53% in 2016). They tell 39% of 11 year olds that they have not reached ‘the expected standard’ for their age group and are not ready to begin secondary education

“This demoralising situation says less about the efforts of teachers and pupils than about the deep flaws of our current system. Designed to hold schools to account, it treats primary children as collateral damage,” he added.

Mr Courtney highlighted that an NUT survey of 2,300 members, conducted at the end of this year’s SATs revealed:

  • 95% thought that the demands of SATs reduced pupils’ access to a broad and balanced curriculum. 

  • Music, art, history and geography are among the subjects that miss out as schools are pressured into a narrow focus on aspects of Maths and English 

  • 84% thought that the high stakes system had a particularly negative effect on children with special needs and disabilities. 

One teacher responded: “Due to a shortage of additional staff, priority is given to those who are deemed to have a chance at passing the tests”.

“This is a situation that should trouble Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman. She recently spoke of her concern that schools are turning themselves into exam factories rather than providing a well-rounded education. Today the Union calls on her to act on this concern. By announcing that Ofsted inspectors will not be guided by schools’ performance in narrow, damaging and unreliable tests, she could send a powerful signal to primary teachers that a genuinely new approach to assessment and accountability is on the way,” added Mr Courtney.

Pinch of salt

Meanwhile Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said that comparisons with last year’s results are inevitable, but they are also unwise, as last year’s results were unexpectedly low and pupils were being assessed at a time when the curriculum and assessment methods had changed significantly.

“This year, students and schools are more familiar with the new style tests. Teachers will have had a better idea about what to expect and have been better placed to prepare children. Pupils have also had an extra year following the new curriculum. Some of the tests have been better designed this year, as well.

“Still though, it is necessary to take these results with a pinch of salt. And schools should never be judged by data alone. NAHT believes that schools should be held to account in a fair way, recognising that test and exam results are only part of the picture when judging a pupil’s success or a school’s effectiveness.

Mr Hobby continued: “Schools do need to be held to account but inspectors should look at more than just data. That way, when parents are reading Ofsted reports they can have more confidence that the report properly reflects how good the school actually is,” he added.

Resilience of teachers

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, said: “These results reflect the considerable hard work which has been put in by pupils and teachers over the past year, and we should all congratulate them for their achievements.

“That this has been achieved despite the confusion created by the chaotic introduction of the new assessment framework, which barely a year after introduction is already under review by Government, is of great credit to the resilience of the teaching profession.

“Their hard work, skill and dedication, while battling the burden of excessive workload, year on year cuts to pay, constantly changing policies and ongoing budget cuts, remains remarkable.

“For the good of all those involved the NASUWT reiterates its call for government to conclude its ongoing review of all of the issues surrounding the framework assessment as soon as possible, so we can urgently move to a sustainable system of assessment that is fit for purpose and commands the confidence of teachers and the public,” he concluded.


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