Key Stage 2 tests – blundering chaos and bad educational practice

Janet Downs's picture

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan tried to damp down fears that thousands of primary schools would fail new floor standards by saying the Department for Education will focus on ‘progress’ rather than results. 

‘We are increasing the emphasis on the progress pupils make…if a school meets the progress standard it is above the floor altogether,’ Morgan told the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) yesterday.

How will the 'progress standard' be decided?  This DfE table tries to clarify:

Academic year


Headline performance measures

average progress made by pupils in reading, writing and mathematics;


 · percentage of pupils achieving the national standard in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of key stage 2;

· aerage (sic) score of pupils in their end of key stage 2 assessments; and,

· percentage of pupils who achieve a high score in all areas at the end of key stage2.

The ‘high score’ will not be set until the first new key stage 2 tests are sat in summer 2016.

Floor standard


Schools will be above the floor if pupils make sufficient progress across all of reading, writing and mathematics or if more than 65% of them achieve the national standard in reading, writing and mathematics.

Sufficient progress will be calculated using as a value-added measure from key stage1 to key stage 2. The precise level of ‘sufficient progress’ will not be set until the first new key stage 2 tests are sat in summer 2016.


But the use of ‘average’ means some schools will be below average – that's what measuring against an average means.  Even if averages rise, there will be some below average.

Average isn’t the only measure of progress, however, according to the DfE.  The floor standard will be based on ‘sufficient progress’.  This, we are told, will be discovered by using ‘value added’ from the end of KS1 to the end of KS2.  The calculation of this will need a base.  That’s why, then, our 7 year-olds are subjected to tests when many children in the developed world have only just started formal education.  It’s not to inform future teaching – it’s to provide some data.

But Morgan’s a fan of tests.  She thinks ‘rigorous tests at key stage 2’ will enable 15 year-olds to achieve the same standard in PISA tests as those in Finland, Korea and Ireland.   Do these three countries have exams at age 11?   The answer is No.  The OECD, which administers the three-yearly PISA tests, found only three out of 35 countries reported using exams at the end of primary school

The OECD also cited qualities of effective assessment.  These include:

1         Ensuring they serve educational goals.  But Morgan’s SATs have no educational value.

2         Realising the point of assessment is to improve teaching and learning.  Morgan’s SATs have just one purpose – judging schools.

3         Avoiding ‘distortions’ caused by judging teachers ‘largely’ on standardized test results.  Morgan’s SATs do not avoid the distorting affect – they encourage teaching to the test and a focus on what is to be tested to the detriment of wider educational aims.

But Morgan seems unaware of this.  Perhaps she, like schools minister Liz Truss before her, ignores any international research which doesn’t chime with her preconceived ideas (or with those of schools minister Nick Gibb – one head asked if it's really Gibb who’s in charge at the DfE).

If all this weren’t bad enough, the DfE table above doesn’t match comments Morgan has previously made about primary floor standards.   When describing ‘coasting schools’ she said,

At primary level, the definition will apply to those schools who have seen fewer than 85% of children achieving an acceptable secondary-ready standard in reading, writing and maths over the course of 3 years, and who have seen insufficient pupil progress.’

But the DfE table says 65% not 85%.  Does anyone at the DfE know what the precise percentage is?  Does Morgan?   And what is ‘acceptable secondary-ready standard’?  We don’t know that either because ‘the ‘high score’ will not be set until the new tests are taken in a few weeks’ time (that’s if they don’t appear on the website of the Standards and Testing Agency before then).

Key Stage Two assessment is muddled by movable percentages, fluid ‘high scores’ and imprecise definitions such as ‘secondary-ready’, reading ‘properly’ and ‘sufficient’.  This blundering chaos would be funny if it wasn’t affecting thousands of children. 

Barnaby Lennon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, recently said parents were attracted to private schools because they were ‘undistracted by state-imposed accountability measures’.   But parents shouldn’t have to pay to escape a regime which focuses entirely on test results.  An education freed from high-stakes tests would be better for all children.








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