Key tasks in the education of children

National Curriculum assessment usually refers to the statutory assessments carried out in primary schools in England, colloquially known as SATs. The assessments were introduced following the introduction of a National Curriculum key tasks in the education of children schools in England and Wales under the Education Reform Act 1988. As the curriculum was gradually rolled out from 1989, statutory assessments were introduced between 1991 and 1995, with those in Key Stage 1 first, following by Key Stages 2 and 3 respectively as each cohort completed a full key stage. In all 3 Key Stages, tests became the main form of statutory assessment, but a separate strand of Teacher Assessment was also used.

This allowed teachers to make judgements about pupils they taught, based on their knowledge of the pupil’s learning and attainment against the attainment targets contained within the national curriculum. This model continued, with minor adjustments to reflect the changing content of the National Curriculum, up to 2004. From 2005, the role of the tests was downplayed at Key Stage 1, with tests being used only internally to support teacher assessment judgements. Further changes came in 2008 when the government announced that testing in Key Stage 3 was to be scrapped altogether. In 2013, then Education Minister, Michael Gove announced that when the new version of the National Curriculum was introduced to schools from 2014, the system of attainment levels would be removed. National Curriculum Assessments are now carried out only at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2. At both key stages the process includes a combination of tests and teacher assessment judgements.

The first round of assessments in the new model was undertaken in 2016. There are two elements to the statutory assessment process in Key Stage 1: tests and teacher assessment. Each judgement band is illustrated in the Teacher Assessment framework documentation by a number of descriptors of performance. To achieve a given standard, pupils must achieve all of the descriptors within that band. Judgements in Reading, Writing and Mathematics are supported by test papers which are administered during May of Year 2. The Reading and Maths tests are statutory for schools. Schools can choose to use an optional Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test to support judgements in Writing.

There is no test available for Science. In addition to the tests, teachers are required to provide teacher assessments in the core subject areas of Reading, Writing, Mathematics and Science. As at Key Stage 1, these judgements are based on a framework of descriptors, for which a child must meet all requirements to be awarded the band grade. The judgements available at Key Stage 2 differ for the subjects because of the different roles played. The National Curriculum only extends to pupils in Years 1 to 11 of compulsory education in England.

Outside of the statutory national curriculum assessment in years 2 and 6, the only other centrally collected assessment data is from GCSE exams, usually taken in Year 11, and from the phonics screening check in year 1. In the Early Years Foundation Stage, where children are aged under 5, assessment takes place using a separate framework. Like many tests of this nature, the assessments have been subject to a variety of criticism. Two of the main points of concern are that they place children under constant stress for their whole academic lives, and that the principal purpose of national curriculum testing is for school league tables. The two main teaching unions spearheaded a boycott of the tests in 1993. In a 2008 report evaluating and analysing National Testing, the House of Commons, the Select Committee and the Department for Children, Schools and Families registered its concern with the current testing arrangements in state schools. 2010, which resulted in a quarter of schools not administering the tests.