Tuesday, 30 May 2023

Education reform: scrapping science Sats – good or bad?

Am I the only parent confused by all the arguments from union members, teachers, experts and the government regarding the Sats, exams and report cards? 

The unions plan to boycott the Sats stating that teachers are forced to teach to the tests.  I’ve heard similar arguments in the US, so I find it “old”.  Yet, when the government announced that it was scrapping the science part, the unions state this will make the curriculum more narrow.  Explain, please.  So, if they scrap English and Maths as well, will it make the curriculum practically null?

Some have complained that the exams have been “dumbed down”.  Now, that is a trend that no parent likes to hear.  It seems that the more changes that have been instituted in schools, the more the schools have deteriorated.  In response, the tests have adapted to the changes.  I don’t believe that the curriculum is geared towards the exams.  It appears the exams are “dumbed down” because of the curriculum.  There are claims that today’s students would not pass exams from bygone years.  If so, it does mean we are not teaching the right stuff to our kids.

Is it because we have introduced other subjects that have taken precedence?  Such as, ICT.  Information and technology is important for today’s world, but it should not replace fundamental educational instruction.  Most kids today have computers at home, or have access to them somewhere.  It is not difficult for them to learn ICT without it being a major part of the school curriculum.  Believe me, my kids were able to navigate on the web before entering school.  It is important to use technology in school, but it should not be a primary subject as it is today.

What about the idea of teacher assessments for performance in science?  If exams have been dumbed down, can I trust my children’s teachers to adequately assess their performance?  There have been complaints that our children take too many exams.  On the whole, there does appear to be a peculiar emphasis on exams here in the UK.  But I am not seeing that that exists in the primary school setting.  At least, there does not seem to be an emphasis on them in the schools.  Even when there is, I do not see grades.  My children have homework, projects and some basic English and maths tests.  But they only get check-marks and stars.  Having been through a system of letter grades, it is hard for me to gauge their performance.  So, how will the teachers assess it?

What about report cards?  We have report cards in the US as a means for assessing students’ individual performances.  Students are given grades in each subject, based on performance on homework, projects and exams throughout the term.  (Because of this, they do not have end of school exams.  However, they do have Sats-like exams in specific years, used as a measure of the school’s performance.  It does not affect the child’s progression from year to year, and many times, they are not even aware of the results.)  The report card does not report on students’ well-being as the BBC report stated.  It does report on their behaviour.  Perhaps, they take that to be a report on their well-being, but really, is it a tool to warn parents when their children do not fall in line.  But the UK wants report cards on schools, not students. 

Who will do them?  Ofsted does not want to do it because they feel that whoever prepares such reports will be under government control, and they wish to remain independent.  I’m not sure I’d want Ofsted to do it anyways.  I’ve learned that their independent reports on schools were not a reliable source for determining a school’s academic performance.  After all, their concern is students’ welfare and as long as all students are happy, I don’t believe they delve too much into the academic part.  I think there needs to be a balance between being happy and doing well academically.  The government needs to explore the details of this plan before saying they want school report cards.  I reserved judgment on the report cards.  It might be useful for parents, but until I see what is being reported and how, I cannot say.

With all these reports about changes to the educational system, it makes me wonder what happened to education in the UK?  Across the Atlantic, we saw it as a shining example of where we’d have liked to be.  Though it may still be better than the US (I have no way of really assessing that), it does not appear to be stellar.  What happened to the old way of teaching and learning?  Surely, the UK did not have these serious issues in those bygone years.


  1. Obviously you have not been to the primary school that I teach in in London where pupils in Year 6 have been learning only Maths , Science and English since January up to the Sats , mid May, with half an hour of RE/PSHE, 1 hour PE ( gov recommend 2 hours per week ) and 1 hour ICT. During this period the pupils were denied any Music, Art, History, Geography or DT and recieved very limited RE and PSHE . This reduced curriculum is because our school is worried that our Yr 6 pupils will not get the required number of level 4’s lneeded to gain a decent place in the league tables and other school performance tables . As for testing, I have worked out that a child attending our school from Reception to Yr 6 will have sat at least 60 tests!This is not spelling and times table tests but 45 min written tests where pupils are sat in tlwos and not allowed to talk until the last paper has been collected . THis starts with 6/7 in Year 2 Sats but then continues 3 times a year from then on until Yr 6 Sats. Maybe the school that your children attend is not under any pressure to perform but in the present system any school that is low in the league tables or low compared to the other schools in their cluster group is under enormous pressure to get the right results !
    The reason teachers are saying that getting rid of only Science tests will mean a narrower curriculum is because schools will focus only on Maths and English now as opposed to Science, Maths and English as at present. Whilst any test remains a marker on school performance schools will focus on achievement only in that area.

    1. Author

      Thank you. That was very informative. And you’re right, the school our kids go to do not have the testing that your school does. And, the published results of their test scores show that they have performed very well in the recent past. I don’t believe that teaching should be geared just to pass the exams, but why do some schools perform well, so are not pressured to focus on exams? The problem to address is the low performance. What can we do to improve education? I don’t think scrapping exams is the answer, but perhaps relying solely on its results to grade a school should be abolished. Why are some school under-performing? Is it the student population? For example, high percentage of students who speak English as a second language, have specials needs, or other educational barriers. We cannot get rid of exams altogether because as students progress to higher education, exam scores will be one determinant for the schools to select their candidates. Far be it from me to suggest going to the US style of education, because we’ve always considered ourselves less educated than Britons, but it does sound like a far simpler system.

  2. May I make some observations about secondary school?- the following will come as a suprise to parents.. especially given the hyperboyle about how damaging SATs supposedly are..

    there are 38 weeks in a school year. eng/math/sci is 3 hours per week per subject so 9 hours per week roughly on core subjects. (call it 10 to incude HW tasks)

    sats cover all of ks3 which is y7, 8 & 9. because sats are done early may its 126 weeks in total.

    10 x 126 = 1260 hours of learning………….. guess how many hours SATs took up?

    ………………… 6 hours ………….. honestly. 2 for each core subject. a measly 6 hours.

    I cant imagine what the fuss was about. I was around before and after sats were introduced in varying types of schools. I think it pushed up standards- convinced in fact.

    sure, in march of year 9 the kids do some mock papers and teachers remind kids to start revising—whats wrong with that? I saw no evidence of narrowing of the curricilum- the sats covers the whole compulsory curriculum anyway!! kids need something to aim for and there should be accountability to parents

    and before anyone talks about APP or TA. I agree primaries coached their kids for the exams… so why wont they ‘cheat’ with TA or APP? I’d love to hear the answer to that one…


Post Comment