House of Commons Library

'SATs' and primary assessment in England

Published Monday, June 19, 2017

This briefing paper provides information on SATs - or national curriculum assessments - in England. It looks at what is tested, when, how the results are used. It also looks at changes to primary assessment since 2015.

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What are SATs, or national curriculum assessments?

SATs, or national curriculum assessments as they are formally known, are assessments of primary pupils’ progress and attainment. In the last year of primary schooling, the assessments are more formal and the results are reported at school level. This allows for comparison between different schools.

SATs cover core academic subjects – English, maths and science; there are also biennial science sampling tests.

There are national curriculum tests and assessments at the end of Key Stage 1 (infant phase) and Key Stage 2 (end of primary/ junior phase). At KS2, the results are published in national performance tables - sometimes known as league tables.

What has changed in primary assessments and SATs?

In parallel with wider reforms to the curriculum, the 2015 Government significantly reformed the content of the national curriculum assessments and tests. They also changed the way that the results were reported.

The Government said that the new assessments were tougher and the expected standard higher. The intention was to better prepare children for secondary education. However, the introduction of the new assessment arrangements attracted significant criticism from teaching unions and others – both on the underlying principle of testing young children, and on the nature and pace of the changes.

What did the 2015 Government say in response to criticism about the 2016 SATs?

On 19 October 2016, Education Secretary Justine Greening said in a Statement that the then Government was committed to a period of stability in primary assessment, and would consult further in 2017. No new national assessments would be introduced before 2018-19, nor would planned resits for year seven (first year of secondary schooling) who hadn’t reached the expected standards at the end of primary schooling. The grammar, spelling and punctuation tests aimed at children in year two (age six or seven) would remain non-statutory, meaning schools did not have to administer them.

Consultation on primary assessment – March 2017

The Department for Education (DfE) launched a consultation on the future of primary assessment in March 2017. This closes in June 2017. It asks for views on a range of proposals, including:

  • The introduction of a new reception baseline assessment to serve as a starting point for measuring progress at all-through primary schools.
  • The removal of some statutory assessments, and the reform of others.
  • The introduction of a times table check from 2018-19.

General Election 2017 Manifesto commitments and party positions on primary assessment

  • The Green Party manifesto committed to abolishing SATs for primary age children.
  • The Labour Party manifesto said it would abandon plans to reintroduce a baseline assessment for reception-age children, and would launch a commission on curriculum and assessment.
  • The Conservative Party said it would retain statutory assessment, but consulted on reforms just prior to the 2017 General Election being called. The Conservative manifesto said 11-year-olds would be expected to know their times tables, and also that there would be improved accountability at KS3 (lower secondary age).
  • The Liberal Democrat manifesto said the party would prioritise progress measures and would work with the profession to reform assessments at the end of KS2. One aim of this was to ensure that the curriculum didn’t become narrowed during KS2.
  • UKIP's manifesto said it would abolish SATs for KS1 pupils.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7980

Author: Nerys Roberts

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