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The school curriculum and SATs in England: Reforms since 2010

Published Thursday, November 10, 2016

This note provides an overview of the curriculum in state-funded schools in England. It also looks at national curriculum assessments - also known as SATs.

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What do schools in England have to teach?

Maintained schools in England must teach the national curriculum to pupils aged approximately 5 to 16 years old.

The national curriculum is divided into four key stages. Maintained schools are also required to offer other subjects, including religious education (RE) at all ages and sex and relationships education at secondary level.

Academies and free schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum but must offer a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ that covers English, maths, sciences and RE, and comply with any curricular clauses in their funding agreements.

Changes to the national curriculum from September 2014

The national curriculum has been reviewed several times since its inception in 1988, and most recently during the 2010 Government’s term. The resulting reforms have been phased in from September 2014. Key changes include:

  • Major revisions to the subject content of all national curriculum subjects.
  • The addition of a modern language to the Key Stage 2 (ages 7 – 11) national curriculum.
  • Reforms to national curriculum assessments, commonly know as SATs.

What has changed in primary assessments and SATs?

There are national curriculum tests and assessments at the end of Key Stage 1 (infant) and Key Stage 2 (end of primary). At KS2, the results are published in national performance tables - sometimes known as league tables.  Alongside reforms to the curriculum, the Government has made significant changes to the content of these tests and assessments, or SATs.

The old system of national curriculum levels has been replaced with a new grading system based on ‘scaled scores’.

The Government says that the new assessments are tougher and the expected standard higher, the intention being to better prepare children for secondary education. However, the introduction of the new assessment arrangements has 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 has the Government said in response to criticism about primary assessment?

On 19 October 2016, Education Secretary Justine Greening said in a Statement that the Government was committed to a period of greater stability in primary assessment. It would consult further on a longer-term, sustainable approach in 2017.  It would not introduce any new national assessments before 2018-19, nor would it introduce resits for year seven pupils (usually, the first year of secondary) who hadn’t reached the expected standards at the end of primary schooling. The grammar, spelling and punctuation test aimed at children in year two (so, age six or seven) would remain non-statutory, meaning schools did not have to administer it.

Commons Briefing papers SN06798

Author: Nerys Roberts

Topic: Schools

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