Conspiracy theory re Sats leak lacks credibility

Janet Downs's picture

A ‘rogue marker’ was responsible for leaking the Key Stage 2 Sats paper, a Department for Education source said yesterday.

So far, so obvious: someone who had access to a password-protected site sent a Sats paper uploaded in error to a journalist.  But what the DfE spokesperson next said lacks credibility: the leak was part of an "active campaign" to "undermine these tests".

Can it really be true that saboteurs intent on undermining the tests infiltrated the accredited markers with a double agent?  And the saboteurs knew in advance that Pearson, which sets the tests, would post papers in error?  This degree of crystal-ball gazing would indeed be remarkable even for ‘enemies of promise’. 

Schools Minister Nick Gibb wisely avoided mentioning the conspiracy theory when he addressed the Commons yesterday.  His written statement admitted Pearson made an error and there would be a thorough investigation.  The statement originally contained a spelling error : ‘breech’ instead of ‘breach’.  This slip suggests a protracted and risky birth rather than a violation of trust - hardly the impression the schools minister wished to give.  The error, pointed out by a Tory MP, has now been corrected.

Gibb reiterated his firm belief that frequent, mandatory summative tests were essential to raise standards. 

He cited a recent poll of 10/11 year-olds:

‘…62% of pupils responded that they either “don’t mind” or “enjoy” taking the tests. That is far more than those who said that they “don’t like” or “hate” taking the test. Altogether, more of the polled pupils reported that they “enjoy” taking the tests than “hate” them.

The ComRes poll wasn't quite as positive as Gibb claims.  His selective use of the data didn't include the finding that 59% of 10/11 year-olds felt under ‘some pressure’ to do well in the tests while 28% felt a lot of pressure.    59% also reported feeling 'nervous', 39% were worried and 27% felt stressed. 

Gibb was being disingenuous in adding the proportion of ambivalent pupils (48%) to those who said they liked the tests (14%).   This gives a misleading impression that the proportion of 10/11 year-olds who felt genuinely positive about these tests was higher than it actually was.

The schools minister did, however, admit the purpose of the tests was to hold schools accountable.  But he claimed this had the noble intention of targeting ‘school improvement resources’ on underperforming schools.   This will come as a surprise to schools faced with no alternative but forced academy conversion especially those good or outstanding ones in a local authority deemed to be underperforming.   Discrimination by geography, perhaps?

Gibb conflated formative assessment, the on-going assessment of pupils by teachers which informs teaching, and summative assessment.    While the latter is important to show what pupils know, understand and can do after a period of formal education, it does not inform teaching.  It is also something that few countries do until at least the end of lower secondary school (age 15/16).   Externally-set summative primary school tests have no educational value and distort the curriculum.  And there is no evidence that such tests raise results




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