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SATs and primary assessment in England

Published Friday, January 5, 2018

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 (year six), 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 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 pupils (first year of secondary schooling) who hadn’t reached the expected standards at the end of their 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 closed in June 2017. It asked 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 schools make with primary children.
  • The removal of some current statutory assessments.
  • The introduction of a times table check.

The Government published its response to the consultation in September 2017. This confirmed the phased introduction of its proposals - some key dates include:

  • Times table (multiplication check) to be subject to a large-scale pilot in the 2018-19 academic year, and introduced on a statutory basis in the 2019-20 academic year
  • Testing and evaluation of a new statutory baseline assessment, "so that it is ready for introduction in reception by Autumn 2020." The “large-scale pilot and evaluation” would take place in the 2019-20 academic year.


Commons Briefing papers CBP-7980

Author: Nerys Roberts

Topic: Schools

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