2019 Autumn Term 1

The know zone

  • The SATs debate
    One senior politician has suggested that SATs should be 'scrapped'. Here Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris highlights ASCL's position on this important issue. More
  • University challenge
    As the new term begins and students start their UCAS applications, Kevin Gilmartin looks at the university choices of this year's freshers. More
  • Balance the facts and the figures
    Business Leadership Specialist Hayley Dunn shares top tips on setting pay and conditions for school business leadership roles. More
  • Just the job?
    ASCL Pay and Conditions Specialist Louise Hatswell shares advice on how to avoid any pitfalls when changing jobs and moving to another school. More
  • Listen up...
    We asked our members what advice they would give to someone starting in their first leadership role and one word featured in most responses - 'listen'. Here, ASCL members share their thoughts... More
  • Providing an alternative perspective
    Executive Headteacher John Bradshaw is the new voice of ASCL Council elected to represent Alternative Provision (AP) in education. More
  • Mark my words
    Rather than playing with fire, play it safe and change your language to fit your audience. More
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One senior politician has suggested that SATs should be ‘scrapped’. Here Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris highlights ASCL’s position on this important issue.

The SATs debate

The summer term proved, as ever, to be a busy one for our primary leaders, not just because of SATs, but also with new preparations for the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) pilot introduced this year. For those schools participating, the pilot begins this September ahead of RBA becoming statutory for all primary schools from autumn 2020.

At ASCL Council at the end of June, and among many debates at the heart of ASCL policy, was one on Labour’s plans to replace SATs, delivered via Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the National Education Union (NEU) conference in April 2019. The speech references a recent report from the House of Commons Select Committee’s findings of ‘huge inequalities’ in early years provision in England. Lively debate among a group of our Council members initially questioned to what extent this speech was thought through: “How would schools measure progress effectively if SATs were, to use the language of Jeremy Corbyn, ‘scrapped’?” “Removing primary school SATs for 11 year-olds would affect Key Stage 4 progress measures and curriculum.” “Without an alternative, schools would surely be no better off, as it is surely the case that schools would still be held to account even under a Labour government?”

To quote Mr Corbyn, “A healthy school needs the full breadth of talent and skills that are developed in those vital years…children need the space and freedom to let their imaginations roam.” So, are we, as also suggested in this speech, adding unnecessary stress to our children at such a young age? Are primary age SATs one of the reasons for the growing teacher retention and recruitment crisis?

The verdict

Three main points emerged from Council. First, in principle, it was agreed that some reform is required, however, second, Council agreed that this should not be a wholesale replacement of SATs. Third, Council members said that more ‘spread’ is required to make the process a more ‘human’ experience for children, especially as, under the current system, after seven years in primary education, there are just four days spent with a pencil in a classroom that attempt to summarise a child’s attainment.

ASCL supports a reformed process that would also encourage more joined-up thinking between primary and secondary schools. ASCL agrees that high-stakes, test-based accountability has impacted negatively on how we evaluate primary schools. We do though need to recognise that testing is an important aspect of pupil learning but it is only one way to measure how a child has done. Any review of primary-aged SATs needs a clear focus on how the disadvantaged gap should be closed and how testing should be used as a measure for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND). Several organisations have expressed their concerns about the impact on these children if SATs were removed.

You can read ASCL’s position statement in more detail online at www.ascl.org.uk/position-statements This will always be a thought-provoking and contentious debate, and, as always, I welcome your thoughts by email at tiffnie.harris@ascl.org.uk or Twitter @tiffnieharris


Understanding accountability is an area I feel strongly about. Better understanding supports more joined-up thinking between primary and secondary school data. If this is something you feel you would like professional development in, then I urge you to attend ASCL’s conferences on Getting to Grips with Accountability Measures on 25 September in Leeds or 1 October in London.

The programme boasts a strong set of speakers and talks that will guide you towards a more confident, clearer understanding of accountability. I will be leading a workshop on ‘Brand New to Leading Data’ and delivering a talk on the new Ofsted framework. Find out more and book your place at www.ascl.org.uk/DataConferences2019 I look forward to meeting you there. 

Tiffnie Harris
ASCL Primary Specialist